STEVE: Don James really started to emerge as a national-profile coach in the 1980s when Sports Illustrated offered its list of the best college coaches in America: 1. Don James. 2. Don James. 3. Don James. Coincidentally and unfortunately, another national, if not international, phenomenon hatched here in the early 1980s — the damnable Wave. First orchestrated by Husky Band Director Bill Bissell and UW yell leader Robb Weller, the Wave made its debut at the 1981 Stanford game in Husky Stadium.
ART: A fair accounting of any sports history includes mention of the dubious moments too. The Wave was cute for about six months. But it’s been three decades now and needs to be retired, along with sports announcers who begin every other sentence with, “Lemme tell ya sumpin’.”
STEVE: This is how pervasive The Wave became. Not only has it been “performed” at World Cup Soccer matches, but at The Vatican in front of the Pope, fergawdsakes.
ART: When the Taliban complain about American pop culture polluting the world, I think this is what they mean.
STEVE: One of the more memorable games from the 1980s also occurred the same year as the birth of the Wave — the USC game late in November. Marcus Allen became the first player in college football history to reach 2,000 rushing yards in a season. But on a wet, windy day, the Huskies won it 13-3, holding USC without a touchdown for the first time in 176 games. That win set up UW for a Rose Bowl appearance opposite Iowa, in a game in which UW fans were introduced in a big way to Jacque Robinson.
ART: Robinson, the father of Nate Robinson, the former Huskies’ hoop highlight film now in the NBA, was a stud in his time too. One of his most memorable games was in 1982 against Tech Tech and their enormous defensive tackle, Gabe Rivera. Nicknamed Senor Sack, Rivera was one of the most dominant figures ever to set foot in Husky Stadium. He nearly swallowed UW whole, except for Robinson, who rushed for 203 yards to help Washington eke out a 10-3 victory.
STEVE: Rivera, later paralyzed in an auto accident, was one of most impressive, dominating players I’ve seen in Husky Stadium — up there with Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green (1979) and USC tackle Anthony Munoz, and nearly up there with Steve Emtman. In fact, Rivera played, stylistically, almost exactly like Emtman. The quarterback in that USC-Texas Tech game, Steve Pelluer, also provided a memorable performance the next year when he led Washington to a 25-24 win over Michigan at Husky Stadium. Washington needed a two-point conversion to win.
ART: Another biggie in the 80s was quarterback Chris Chandler’s first career start. It came against USC. The Trojans were leading 20-13 in the fourth quarter and driving to what seemed like the clinching TD when they lost a fumble on the 2-yard line. Chandler, hooking up frequently with WR Lonzell Hill, drove Washington 98 yards for the winning score with just seconds to play.
STEVE: That same year (1985) featured one of the nadirs of the James tenure — a loss at Husky Stadium to Oregon State, a 37-point underdog in the midst of its 28th consecutive losing season. The loss became known as “The Barney Fife Game” due to a flip remark by a Seattle Post-Intelligencer smartass.
ART: I know that smartass well. In fact, I’m looking at him. You described Oregon State as the “Barney Fife of college football,” among other pleasantries. You went out of town to a Seahawks game, leaving me to rep you on the field. A beefy OSU lineman came up to me, poked a finger in my chest and said, “How stupid do you feel?” Actually I felt a lot more afraid than stupid. But since he was a Beaver, I knew I could out-wit him. I said, “nuh-uh,” and ran.
STEVE: Funny thing about that game: at the time it ranked as the biggest upset in college football history (point spread). About every five years since, some media type calls me, still asking for my reaction to that upset, which was engineered by a walk-on freshman quarterback named Rich Gonzalez. Fortunately for the Huskies, the reek over that loss didn’t last. The Huskies went to the Freedom Bowl that year and, behind Chandler, beat Colorado.
ART: The 1986 season started well with a massive triumph over Ohio State, 40-7. But at the end of an otherwise prosperous 8-3-1 season, the Huskies ended up in the Sun Bowl, where they were plastered 28-6 by an Alabama team led by linebacker Cornelius Bennett and running back Bobby Humphrey. James was so shaken by the disparity in speed and aggression that he made his staff commit to recruiting a different kind of athlete, which over the next four to five years brought Washington to some of its greatest glory and most disruptive controversy.
STEVE: The Alabama loss marked the end of the first half of James’ coaching tenure. Before things became better in the early 1990s, they got worse. In 1987, the Huskies had to buy their way into the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA., just to keep their bowl streak alive. In 1988, the new north section of Husky Stadium collapsed in a heap during construction.
Two late ’80s episodes I recall distinctly. First, in 1988, Army came out to play the Huskies, and the crowd so freaked out the Army mule mascot that West Point officials had to set it to grazing in the grassy area now reserved for for pre-game events.
Just before that game there was one of the more amusing moments I’ve seen at Husky Stadium. A few hours before kickoff, Army players came out in military duds to do a walk-around of the stadium to get a sense of the atmosphere. As the soldiers take it all in, suddenly along comes a truck used for vacuuming up excess water on the Astroturf. The driver would suck up water, then spray it — firehose style — on to the running track. He scored a direct hit on the Army team, soaking all the players. At least the ’80s ended on a funny moment.
(Later this afternoon, we’ll have a look at the best moments of the 1990s)