The chill of Martin Stadium is again an Apple Cup storyline, the snow falling and being hauled out of the home of the eastside host.
Weather was never more a factor than during 1992’s infamous Snow Bowl. To hear former Washington recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Dick Baird tell it, the Huskies were frozen out from the start.
“Our kids walked out of the hotel and I looked in their faces, ‘Oh we’re (screwed),’ ” Baird said. “I got Samoan kids out there sticking their tongue up in the air. They’ve never seen snow. And when it got cold, slippin’ and slidin’ all this stuff, you could just tell, reading our kid’s eyes, we were (screwed).”
True. Drew Bledsoe made sure of that in the second half almost two decades ago. The issue now is that Washington has been out in the cold since 2002.
That was the last time the Huskies showed up for a bowl in late December, a streak they can snap with a win on Saturday against Washington State. The preposterous bowl landscape allows even a 6-6 team to break bread during the holidays under sunshine.
This year’s Apple Cup should be named the Next Step Bowl. Accomplishing a middling record — the Mariners would be proud of these potentially .500 Huskies — brings expansive value beyond postseason dollars to Washington.
It’s an issue of legacy legitimacy for the program’s two figureheads, Jake Locker and Steve Sarkisian.
Locker has taken an all-around beating this season, much in thanks to his school’s overexposure of him prior to the season’s start. Stanford contributed much of the physical thumping. Among Locker’s standardized public ambitions, making a bowl was repetitive. He mentioned it each season, then cited it as the prime reason he returned for his senior year. He’s dragged the Huskies along numerous times this year. He has also contributed to their demise on rare occasion. It would be a palette-cleansing win for him on Saturday.
Sarkisian sold the moon and delivered a partially risen sun. That will be the case when shouted assurances from booster events make the airwaves. He told the rich guys Washington would not lose at home this year. It was embarrassed twice. His earlier proclamation that it would not take long for the program to turn sounded comical when considered after the Stanford game. That drubbing made all think of 2008 and just how much distance may be left on the journey.
Yet the bowl game can spin perceptions. Sarkisian will reinvigorate his hot, young coach label (settle down, ladies) and provide tangible evidence for national pundits to consume and spew. “Washington from 0-12 to a bowl game in just two years!” It’s validates this sugar-rush coaching staff — the highest-paid in the conference, Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh will emphatically remind — for players, fans and administrators. Also inspiration for cash cows to provide milk.
Outside of the glamour, a bowl berth brings more of what every player loves: We’re talkin’ about practice.
Fifteen more, an equivalent to a full spring of reps. Washington has not had “winter ball” for seven years, missing out on 105 practices. Where would it be without seven sessions of spring ball? Where could it be with the extra practice and exposure lost all those years?
Oh, feel free to bring the recruits to these practices. Be assured any bowl swag is stuck under their nose for viewing. If on an official visit, they can attend position meetings, receive a distinct look at how things work.
“It’s all part of the sale,” Baird said.
With Oregon and Stanford pointed toward the BCS, the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, TX, is next in line to snag a Pac-10 school. That will likely be Arizona. Next is the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Should Washington win and achieve bowl eligibility, the likelihood is a trip to southern California.
That suits one of Washington’s lead recruiters, special teams coach Johnny Nansen.
Saturday’s matchup of the hapless versus the almost is also about the dig for California gold. The Huskies won at USC and Cal this year. Beat Rick Neuheisel and UCLA here. The Holiday Bowl jets them back to southern California with a chance to go 4-0 in California-associated games, a football prospector’s dream.
“San Diego is one of our main areas that we’re recruiting in southern (California) and it’s a big thing,” Nansen said. “Most definitely we’re going to use it to our advantage when it comes that way.
“It’s a beginning to what we’re trying to accomplish here, but the ultimate goal is the Rose Bowl. When coach Sark took the job, one of our main focuses was we’ve got to get back to the bowl games because we knew that was going to be a big selling point, not only for the states back home, but also for the California schools.”
Old-timers will claim Washington’s 1978 Rose Bowl spawned the core of future recruiting classes for the next five years, allowing the Huskies to return in 1981 and ’82.
Those are the lofty pursuits. For the bludgeoned fifth-year seniors of this current roster, a little sunshine on their behind would go a long way.
“If we do make it to a postseason game, I think we definitely will be more appreciative than other schools or other classes,” senior Nate Williams said. “I think we’re really still focusing on setting right the mindset and standard for the next class. A bowl game every year. That should obviously be our main goal.”
The bowl is a large step in the incremental evolution of program resurrection. The Huskies’ facilities will begin to move from decayed to relevant with the stadium’s facelift. Bowl games will be new arrows for talkers in recruit’s living rooms, a cash boost, program exposure without kowtowing to ESPN.
The process grinds or is greased on Saturday.