The bus had to wait on a chilled November Saturday in 2008. Rick Neuheisel was busy.
UCLA’s head coach, viewed as one of the great villains of Husky football history, was glad-handing in front of Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
His people came out to see the former Huskies head man in his first return to the program that he elevated, then, by most accounts, set aflame.
Neuheisel stood, his frequent words exposed by the chill in the air, talking with former players. He was flanked by people who were legends in the hearts of Washington fans less than a decade prior. Two wore long black coats with a bursting red rose on the back. They yucked it up.
Neuheisel came back to Washington and his Bruins piled on the misery of the winless 2008 season. Slick Rick was back, then left with a 27-7 butt-whipping of the Huskies.
He took out the new regime last season, 24-23, down in Los Angeles.
When Neuheisel took over at UCLA, rhetoric naturally followed. The school took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times proclaiming USC’s football stranglehold on the town was was about to end. Asked about that on Monday, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian’s typically sound mind didn’t bring a flashback.
“I don’t remember that,” Sarkisian said.
Thursday night will be Neuheisel’s second visit to Husky Stadium (5 p.m., ESPN). Each fledgling program has allowed minutes on ESPN air to skew tradition and start the game prior to people leaving work. Washington will wear black uniforms, gold helmets and desperation.
In Jake Lockers’ final home game, a win is necessary for the Washington bowl effort to remain. The Bruins, at 4-5, have moderate leeway.
The Thursday guarantee is that Neuheisel will be vilified.
“I’m sure that’s the case for some segment of the crowd and I don’t know how large that segment is,” Neuheisel said. “I know they’re pulling for their Huskies, as it should be. I’m hopeful they’ll be rooting for them rather than against me.”
They may end up booing both.
In the interim, Neuheisel feels like his first visit tempered the venom.
“I imagine more water is under the bridge now,” Neuheisel said.
His words continue to flow. It’s an exceptional level of charm that allows Neuheisel to have an Eskimo thinking he’s doing Neuheisel a favor when buying an igloo from him.
On a Tuesday conference call, Neuheisel asked one renowned Huskies homer in the media if she missed him. She said yes. “You’re so full of it,” Neuheisel chuckled.
Later in the week he referred to the Locker will-he-won’t-he as the “biggest joke of all-time.” There, he was speaking for reporters.
Thursday night he’ll be booed and rained on. The latter will have more affect on the game. The storyline is becoming tired, even for Neuheisel.
“I think that there were a lot of mistakes made,” Neuheisel said. “Certainly, I made some. But there’s been seven years. My last year coaching there was 2002. So there’s been ample time to fix things.”
Yet, they’re still broken. And Huskies fans continue to point.