The last time the Huskies went to a bowl game, I was a senior in high school. Back then, I was a month or so away from committing to the University of Washington. And when I say “committing,” I mean being accepted into the school. I wasn’t a college athlete or anything. I just like to say “committing” because it sounds way cooler.
From 2003 to 2009, I was a UW undergrad. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. The only people who last that long as undergrads are anomalies. It’s almost impossible to go to school fifty-percent longer than your cohorts and not get kicked out. Somehow, I managed to get a degree. It’s in a nice wooden frame, in case anyone demands proof. It’s not that I was dumb. I just didn’t care. And when you don’t care about the classes, the workload, or the material in front of you, it’s awfully hard to get out in four years.
Needless to say, I was very generous to the Husky football program. Giving them over half a decade to reach a bowl game during my collegiate tenure was nothing if not altruistic. And yet somehow, some way, they were more inept on the gridiron than I was in the classroom. Not only could they not reach a bowl, they found cruel and unusual ways to avoid the postseason.
Take 2006, for example, when the Dawgs stormed out of the gate at 4-1 before losing six straight games and ultimately floundering to a 5-7 finish.
In 2007, the team started the year with a 2-0 record. Another six-game string of defeats all but ended their season after eight contests.
Even last year, the Huskies were in position to do the unthinkable, going from a winless 2008 campaign to a bowl bid just 12 months later. At 3-3 halfway through the schedule, Washington needed to play .500 ball to punch their December plane ticket to warmer weather. Instead, they won two of their final six games, losing by a single point to UCLA and stumbling on a last-second touchdown pass to Arizona State. At 5-7, they carried their bowl-less streak to seven long, painful years.
And then there was 2010.
Think back, for a minute, to four months ago. How much hope did you have for this season? How much hype was there surrounding this program? Fans were confident that we wouldn’t just make a bowl game, but that we’d have a shot to win the Pac-10 conference, as well.
Then reality hit.
We opened our renaissance campaign with a loss at BYU. We bounced back a week later with a home victory over Syracuse. We were throttled at Husky Stadium by Nebraska. We beat USC in Los Angeles.
Up and down we went. We anticipated cruise control. Instead, we were riding a roller coaster.
Seven days before beating Oregon State in double-overtime on Montlake, we lost by 10 at home against ASU. We were 3-3 at the halfway point, mirroring our luck from a year prior.
Three games later, we were toast. Done. Cooked. We dropped a trio of contests to the likes of Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon. It was all but over. At 3-6, our season came down to this: win out or die trying.
The Huskies needed to beat UCLA, California, and Washington State. They handily disposed of the Bruins in Seattle on a Thursday night, winning by a count of 24-7. Nine days later, they squeaked by the Golden Bears, 16-13, on a walk-off touchdown run (if there is such a thing) by Chris Polk.
Ultimately, it came down to the Cougars, as it so often does. An Apple Cup for all the marbles. One team was playing for pride, the other for so much more. Washington was seeking a bowl bid for the first time in eight years, or 72 months, or 416 weeks, however you want to look at it.
Think about this. Since the last time the Huskies were in a bowl game, two generations of University of Washington undergraduate classes have come and gone. Three head football coaches have been fired; three have been hired or promoted. Children who were born in the days surrounding Washington’s 2002 Sun Bowl loss to Purdue are now in second grade. Nate Robinson has gone from a freshman defensive back to a five-year NBA veteran. Everything has changed, and yet one thing has remained the same: the Washington Huskies have not even sniffed the postseason.
And then, suddenly, the rains came. The Huskies did it. They defeated Washington State. They won three straight games to finish their season. They pulled off the improbable. At 6-6 they became bowl eligible, a phrase that had rarely been whispered around the UW campus for most of the past decade. The drought was over. The postseason was a reality.
Rarely do we get to experience something like this. Our team rising back to prominence after being down for so long. It’s a once-in-a-generation event. So please, don’t underestimate how special this moment truly is.
No, this team didn’t meet all the lofty expectations that we, as fans, placed upon it at the season’s outset. But on a day like today, does it really matter?
It’s been far too long since we woke up on a December morning with end-of-year travel plans in mind. Less than four weeks from now, we’ll be unpacking our summer attire, jumping on planes, high-fiving thousands of our closest friends, lounging by hotel pools, partying, and enjoying the holidays under sunlight and starry skies.
Husky fans, we are going bowling! Whether we end up in San Diego or San Antonio, I can promise you one thing: I’ll see you there.