The event: Senior Night, 2004, and the final regular season game for both teams. Washington, playing for an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament, would have to defeat the undefeated Stanford Cardinal in order to secure any hope of going dancing. Stanford, at 26-0, looked to finish off a perfect regular season and a sure #1 seed heading into the tourney. Both teams had everything to play for, and the atmosphere in Hec Ed on this Saturday afternoon reflected as much.
The Dawg Pack had begun planning for this day weeks in advance. Noticing an undefeated Stanford team rolling through the Pac-10, and a scheduled meeting with the Cardinal on the final day of the regular season, students realized the potential of this heavyweight matchup. Having never organized such an event before, a contingent of Pack members arranged for a campout, securing electricity and access to bathrooms for the tent city that would emerge in the area around Hec Ed.
As the days crept by, destiny continued to shape itself into perfect form. The Huskies continued knocking off opponents, erasing all memory of their horrible start to the year and ever closer to an NCAA Tournament appearance. Likewise, Stanford beat everyone in sight, including narrowly escaping the Washington State Cougars in Pullman on March 4th.
On the evening of March 5th, the stage was set and students who otherwise would have spent the night in heated dorms, apartments, or houses, made their way to Montlake Boulevard and began setting up sleeping bags and tents to camp out for the coming day’s events. A restless night with temperatures in the low-30’s was met by a group of Stanford fans who peppered Romarville with eggs, fruit, and rocks. And yet it was entirely worth it. By the time morning came around, news crews and good Samaritans who had heard of the Pack’s efforts began making their way to the arena. They brought coffee and doughnuts and loads of spirit. Coach Romar even appeared with Krispy Kreme in tow, leading an impromptu pep rally in the process. Later, players emerged and sat shoulder-to-shoulder with their fans. Nate Robinson and Curtis Allen spent an hour playing Madden with students as players, fans, and coaches got to know each other. The day was nearly complete, and hadn’t even yet begun.
By 1:00 PM, fans were being streamed into the arena. By 1:15, the Pack was condensed into a tightly-knit sea of purple with no room to sit and barely enough room to stand. Minutes dragged on and by 3:00, tipoff, the gym was buzzing with intensity, warmth, excitement, and sweat.
The aftermath: In what became a symbol of victory for the Huskies of 2004, a freshly-bleached Mike Jensen won the opening tip and the crowd reacted as if the Dawgs had just won the game; a Jensen tip-control was as good as a win in the history of Huskydom. Curtis Allen, the team’s lone senior, started in place of Nate Robinson and received a hero’s welcome when he was announced during pre-game introductions. Allen, one of the most selfless leaders on a team of deferent superstars, took to the floor with a billowing gold t-shirt underneath his uniform and was a blur of oversized fabric moving from one end of the court to the other.
The game started slowly and sloppily, each team unable to convert scoring opportunities early on. Fans were undeterred, refusing to sit despite the awkward opening. The lower bowl would remain standing the entire game, joining in with the Pack who rumbled and swayed in unison, churning in response to the action.
The nationally-televised contest had brought ABC to Seattle and the voice of Brent Musberger on the call. In a DVD recording of the game, Musberger, a pro’s pro when it came to calling college basketball, was often drowned out by the thunderous reactions of the crowd. The noise never relinquished.
Stanford star Josh Childress, who would depart for the NBA after this, his junior year, would misfire early and find his way to the bench after picking up two quick fouls. Before the end of the half, he would pick up his third foul. He would finish with 15 points but you wouldn’t know it; the star would fail to shine on a day when his team needed him the most.
As the game progressed, momentum was rarely established by the Cardinal, and even when things weren’t going so well for the Huskies, the crowd refused to let them down. During the start of the second half, Stanford cut away at Washington’s ten-point halftime lead and whittled it down to one. The game remained close until the de facto fourth quarter, when Tre Simmons channeled Larry Bird and began knocking down shots like an overzealous alcoholic. With three consecutive three-pointers, Simmons brought the crowd to a fever pitch and widened the lead to an insurmountable level. With 7:00 minutes remaining, the game was all but over.
Once the final horn sounded, an immediate surge took place on center court. The Huskies had sent the Cardinal to a one-loss season and were all but assured of their spot in the NCAA tournament. A generation of fans who had never seen an upset of this magnitude celebrated with players who celebrated like champions. Allen, the senior, was hoisted onto the shoulders of people he barely knew and paraded around the arena like a soldier returning from a victorious conquest. People cried. People yelled. People jumped. Jubilation which would turn into exhaustion later on. The players, who had given every ounce of energy they could muster, alongside fans and students who had done likewise. Voices hoarse, legs tired, sweat-stained and euphoric. From afar, nothing separated the warriors from their cheering section. As one, in a moment of unadulterated joy, we were family.
The campout, the game, the celebration.
*SSN would like to thank all the individuals who contributed to the work of this Top 11 countdown: Anthony Auriemma, Amit Bhavan, Craig Bosman, Jameson Greenfield, Norman Charles Jannsen, Michael Leichner, David Pearce, Patrick Schaefer, Jeremy Webb, and Josh Webb, as well as all the Husky players and fans who made it possible. Thanks!