BY Steve Rudman & Art Thiel 06:00AM 11/04/2011

Husky Stadium Closure: A Look At The 1980s

Washington plays its final game at Husky Stadium Saturday before a $200 million renovation that will close the facility until 2013. Part 2 of 4: A look at the great moments of the 1980s.

Husky Stadium, opened in 1920, will close after Saturday's UW-Oregon game for a $200 million renovation. The Huskies will play the 2012 season at CenturyLink Field. / Wiki Commons

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)


YourThoughts

  • cruddly

    Even though this is about Husky Stadium, some kind of reference should have been made to the team that beat Oklahoma in the 1985, “Sooner Schooner” Orange Bowl.  The way things played out that year, with the Huskies failing to go the Rose Bowl, but instead going to the prestigious Orange Bowl, where National Championships had been decided, it turned out to be great triumph for the program.  At the time, the Huskies upset win over second ranked Oklahoma was huge —  James totally out coached the legendary Barry Switzer.  Put it this way;  Even if the Huskies had managed to beat Stanford two weeks ago, it would not have been as big as the Sooner Schooner upset.   This was one of James shining coaching moments. 

  • cruddly

    Even though this is about Husky Stadium, some kind of reference should have been made to the team that beat Oklahoma in the 1985, “Sooner Schooner” Orange Bowl.  The way things played out that year, with the Huskies failing to go the Rose Bowl, but instead going to the prestigious Orange Bowl, where National Championships had been decided, it turned out to be great triumph for the program.  At the time, the Huskies upset win over second ranked Oklahoma was huge —  James totally out coached the legendary Barry Switzer.  Put it this way;  Even if the Huskies had managed to beat Stanford two weeks ago, it would not have been as big as the Sooner Schooner upset.   This was one of James shining coaching moments. 

  • Tbrakke

    I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I was there that fateful day in 1981 against a young John Elway and Stanford sitting in the student section. My recollection was the game was a rout and the crowd was bored. Returning alum Rob Weller was trying to keep the student section interested by various means including have the kids stand from bottom of the stands to the top and from top to bottom. He then had us go from right to left and after a couple attempts it just continued past the student section and went all the way around the bowl and then stopped. There was a pause and then the crowd just erupted with the loudest ovation of the day. I’ve felt a bit guilty ever since.

    • Steve Rudman

      Thank you for sharing this. I was also there that day.

  • Tbrakke

    I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I was there that fateful day in 1981 against a young John Elway and Stanford sitting in the student section. My recollection was the game was a rout and the crowd was bored. Returning alum Rob Weller was trying to keep the student section interested by various means including have the kids stand from bottom of the stands to the top and from top to bottom. He then had us go from right to left and after a couple attempts it just continued past the student section and went all the way around the bowl and then stopped. There was a pause and then the crowd just erupted with the loudest ovation of the day. I’ve felt a bit guilty ever since.

  • cruddly

    Rob Weller was more like a comedian than a cheer leader.  His humor reminded me of Johnny Carson at the time, but when I think about it now, he was more like Chevy Chase (the young Chevy.)  During the Sixkiller era, when TCU came to town, Weller invited some of the the TCU cheerleaders to come over to the Student side of stadium where he preceded to interview them.  It was hilarious.  The poor hicks from TCU did not know what had hit them.  They were totally unprepared for his sophisticated wit and charm.  

    Anyway, I’ve heard rumors that Weller really started the Wave unintentionally, back in the 70′s, by asking the students in each section, if they were drinking, to take turns raising their brown bags of bottled booze in the air.  It was supposed to be a gag, but from this, “the Wave” was born.  It kind of rings true.  He might have revived it back on that Homecoming visit in 81, but I believe it was created sometime in the 70′s.

  • cruddly

    Rob Weller was more like a comedian than a cheer leader.  His humor reminded me of Johnny Carson at the time, but when I think about it now, he was more like Chevy Chase (the young Chevy.)  During the Sixkiller era, when TCU came to town, Weller invited some of the the TCU cheerleaders to come over to the Student side of stadium where he preceded to interview them.  It was hilarious.  The poor hicks from TCU did not know what had hit them.  They were totally unprepared for his sophisticated wit and charm.  

    Anyway, I’ve heard rumors that Weller really started the Wave unintentionally, back in the 70′s, by asking the students in each section, if they were drinking, to take turns raising their brown bags of bottled booze in the air.  It was supposed to be a gag, but from this, “the Wave” was born.  It kind of rings true.  He might have revived it back on that Homecoming visit in 81, but I believe it was created sometime in the 70′s.