From Chumps to Champs, Husky Fans Have Seen It All

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It’s an unpopular take: We’re just happy to be here.

Seriously? Who on earth is just happy to be anywhere? That’s not how society works. We set goals for ourselves. We tell prospective employers where we hope to be in five years, when really, all we want is a job. We want more than what we have, no matter how much we’ve got, and above all else we need to be successful. We can’t just be here. Who does that?

You have to admit, though, you’re happy. At the very least, moderately pleased.

Just look how far we’ve come. Look at where we were only a few short years ago. We sucked. We were absolutely terrible. We got our asses kicked by nearly every opponent we faced. I know. I watched it all go down.

Some grew up in an era of Rose Bowls and Orange Bowls. Others still were fortunate enough to witness a championship. Me? I got the cringe-worthy Tyrone Willingham years. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.

That was us a decade ago. All of us. Well, some of us. People stopped showing up to Husky Stadium for a while there.

But we still came, the students, naïve optimists that we were. Among crowds that thinned more than they thronged, we sprawled across a vast sea of bleachers that boasted enough elbow room to satisfy a sumo wrestler. Butts glued to the tops of seat backs as we reclined against the rows behind us, legs dangling onto the rows below. We were as comfortable as anyone could be while immersed in perennial ineptitude, lounging amidst a graveyard of sadness littered with empty beer cans, crumpled up programs, and soggy, decaying confetti left over from a lone, long forgotten touchdown.

Among a handful of diehards (fools?), we stuck out each and every contest to the bitter end. Why exit early when we could witness an opponent’s future All-Pro – Aaron Rodgers, Maurice Drew, Marshawn Lynch, Jonathan Stewart – erupt for a career day against our boys? Why give up when the USC fight song could be heard for the fiftieth time? Why throw in the towel when we could count the remaining devotees scattered about the upper deck?

There would be no afterparty. There was nothing to celebrate. We would ultimately drink, sure, but the booze could wait. We were committed to the pain.

Like Statler and Waldorf, we heckled from our perch above the stage, vocalizing the mixture of angst and creativity we had ample time to concoct. Hollering throughout listless second halves, we urged the bumbling idiots who called themselves our coaching staff to thrust into action every backup whose name we knew.

Were we to leave before the final second ticked mercifully off the clock, we might miss the debut of last-string walk-on quarterback Felix Sweetman, a cult hero to those of us who recited the roster like gospel. When Sweetman finally trotted onto the playing surface one day to take a snap, then a knee, our faith was rewarded. We rejoiced as if victory had never once eluded us. It was a moment of levity, a fleeting oasis, as the world around us slowly burned.

There were more tragedies to witness firsthand as the years went on.

A Brandon Gibson touchdown in the waning moments of an Apple Cup that Washington State dramatically captured.

Sam Bradford’s Oklahoma squad taking Washington into a Walmart bathroom and beating their behinds black and blue as if the Huskies had just been caught stealing a Charleston Chew from the checkout line.

Oregon, making their biennial Husky Stadium appearances in never-before-seen garish garb, running and running and running the ball up the field as they did likewise with the score.

Jake Locker falling victim to a WTF-inducing flag for sending the football airborne upon finding the zone, a penalty resulting in a missed extra-point that would have sent the contest to overtime, and the second loss in a winless 2008 campaign.

It was all a bit much, if we’re being honest. A real shit sandwich of a time. There’s losing, and then there’s LOSING, the latter of which the mid-2000s Huskies executed to perfection. They were dreadful. The culture was awful. The team putrid. The coaches uninspiring. The future bleak.

And then it all changed.

Willingham was ousted and Steve Sarkisian entered with a flurry of passion and excitement. By year two of Sarkisian’s tenure, the Huskies found themselves back in the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade, landing a trip to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Their encore performance the next season resulted in an Alamo Bowl berth. But that’s where the escalator came to a halt.

The team plateaued, following up their first two postseason appearances with much less esteemed ventures to the Las Vegas and Fight Hunger Bowls. Then after five years at the helm, Sarkisian was gone, just as quickly as he’d arrived, arising from an increasingly warm seat and departing for the year-round heat of Southern California. For a moment, there was concern. But within days, one of the brightest coaching minds in the game of football was pried away from Boise State University.

Chris Petersen took the reins of the program from his predecessor and guided his club to the Cactus Bowl in his first year on the job.

In year two, more of the same, this time resulting in a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

In year three? An explosion, a supernova. A 12-1 season, a Pac-12 championship, and a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff.

And that’s where we find ourselves today, awaiting a matchup with No. 1 Alabama, the opportunity of a lifetime.

So how do you feel? You want to win. I get it. I do, too. We all do. Everyone wants to win. Whether we expect to win is another story. But we yearn for it, certainly.

You’re feeling good, though, right? Who would have thought that in eight years’ time, the University of Washington football program would go from 0-12 to the national championship semifinals? It’s a hell of a leap, to say the least.

For those of us who have been there through all the turmoil, it’s especially gratifying. The once-sparse crowds gave way to raucous sellouts this year. A culture of failure has long since been jettisoned for one of success. The occasional beer can still surfaces in the stands, along with an increasing supply of confetti. But the graveyard of sadness is no longer.

These are thrilling times for Husky fans. The journey isn’t over quite yet. There is more to be had, a trophy for which a quartet of teams, ours included, now vie.

But win or lose, it’s hard to deny that we’re exactly where we hope to be in five years’ time. And you gotta admit, you’re happy to be here.

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