Husky Stadium is a special place for us, and we’re guessing a lot of our readers feel the same. Given that this is the last year for the stadium as we know it, we thought we’d offer up some of our favorite memories that came on Montlake. With memories, there’s always the chance that they’re only special to the people involved, but hopefully with this series you’ll see something of the importance these memories hold to us. With a few of them, maybe you were there as well. The bye week seems like a good time to start, with more posts to come throughout the season.
My first trip to Husky Stadium was the 1995 Apple Cup. I was in the eighth grade, and as near as I can remember, I went with my dad and his two cousins, Dave and Steve. Reading about that game now, it turns out that it was a pretty great game, with the Huskies winning on a late field goal. I have vague recollections; we walked out talking about Ryan Leaf’s debut, how the Cougars had themselves a quarterback. Mostly, I remember being excited to be at a Husky game at long last.
My first real memory at Husky Stadium came a year later. We bought season tickets for the first time, along with Dave and Steve, but they decided to stay home for a late-season game against cupcake San Jose State. My whole family decided to go, along with my friends Mike and Tyler. My birthday was the next week, so my parents gave me an early present: a corduroy coat I had picked out earlier. They thought I might want to wear it, and I did, but I decided to go with my ski coat instead, in case of rain. It was a good move.
We got to the game early and found seats in the east end zone. It was cold already, and in the open bleachers at that end of the stadium, the wind blows off the lake and right onto your legs and back and neck. On cold days, you hope the section is full and that big people are sitting behind you, because that’s the only thing that blocks the wind. When half the crowd leaves for concessions or the restroom at halftime, the temperature seems to drop twenty degrees instantly.
As the band was lining up to take the field, my dad looked toward the sky in front of us and said, “If this was Yakima, we’d have a hailstorm in about twenty minutes.”
The band played, and the flag was unfurled for the Star Spangled Banner. The flag holders made their dash across the end zone to retrieve their instruments, and the tuba players donned jerseys for their weekly pre-game game of football before the players took the field.
As the Huskies ran out of the tunnel, it started to hail. Then, it started to rain.
The 1996 Huskies were a very good team, sitting at 7-2 entering the San Jose State game. They would go on to win the Apple Cup in overtime before losing to Colorado in the Holiday Bowl to finish 9-3. It wasn’t one of the all-time great UW seasons, but a 9-2 regular season looks pretty inviting these days. The focal point of the offense was a first year running back named Corey Dillon. A Franklin High graduate, he had been ineligible to enroll with the Huskies out of high school. Two junior college years later, he was finally a Husky, and his powerful running style quickly proved too much for Pac-10 defenses. Brock Huard at quarterback and Dillon at running back behind an excellent offensive line gave the Huskies a balanced and talented offense to go with the Jason Chorak-led defense.
I don’t know what led the Huskies to play San Jose State on the next to last weekend of the season. This would normally be a first game of the year, an automatic win. And make no mistake, this win was as automatic as they get. The old joke, one that might dad has made often, is that the Huskies should be playing the Oregon School for the Blind at least once a season. On this day, the opponent’s visual accuity wouldn’t have made much difference. It was as though the Huskies were playing a completely different game.
The game started and immediately, Dillon took over. Every play seemed to be Corey Dillon in the secondary, racing for the end zone. My dad would point out later that playing San Jose State gave Dillon that extra bit of speed he needed to be a true homerun threat. In the Pac-10, Dillon was a blend of power and speed, but he lacked that top gear to consistently break away from Pac-10 defenses. This isn’t a huge complaint. It’s like saying Ken Griffey Jr. lacked the speed to steal 80 bases. He had plenty of speed to steal 30, even 40 if he wanted, and the rest of his skills made you not care about that lack of elite level speed. Corey Dillon against San Jose State was like Ken Griffey Jr. against a little league catcher. It was a complete mismatch, and there was no stopping him.
Dillon scored on runs of 78, 48, and in a show of mercy, 4 yards. I remember another brutally long run that was called back due to penalty. He even broke a screen pass 83 yards for a touchdown. He would finish the day with 222 rushing yards and 305 yards of total offense. Those are great numbers any day, but Dillon accomplished them in one quarter.
Meanwhile, we were cold and drenched. I’ve been to a lot of Husky games in the rain, but that is the wettest I remember. Part of it was preparation. Right now in my garage I have a duffel bag stuffed with rain gear and cold weather clothing. We have Husky rain jackets and ponchos, wool hats and gloves. We have extra socks, plastic bags, hand warmers and foot warmers. Normally, my dad is the curator and caretaker of the duffel bag, but on the rare occasions where he can’t make the next game, he makes sure one of us kids has it. On a warm and sunny September Saturday, it might stay in the car, but it always makes it at least that far. We are never unprepared. In 1996, we still had a lot to learn. We’re from central Washington, so we know how to stay warm, but warm clothes only do so much when it’s pouring rain, and our rain gear was in short supply. Within 15 minutes, we were drenched and huddled together under sleeping bags.
At the end of the first quarter, the Huskies led San Jose State 36-0. Look at that sentence again. At the end of the first quarter, the Huskies led San Jose State 36-0. This game wasn’t expected to be competetive, but I’ve never seen dominance like that. Blowout wins have been in short supply for the Huskies in recent years. There’s a lot more parity now, it seems. Eastern Washington University on its best day is a scary team now. Back then, the Huskies were simply more dominant than they are now as well. These types of blowouts were expected. People tell me now that at least these close games are more entertaining. I think of 1996 and tell them I’ll take a blowout any day. Dominance is plenty entertaining to me.
The Huskies won 53-10, with Dillon and the many other starters not playing after the first quarter. They finished with 559 rushing yards, a school record. They had three 100-yard rushers. 734 yards of total offense set another record. They could have won the game 100-0 if they wanted.
We didn’t make it past halftime. Normally, I’m a big proponent of sticking it out till the end, but there was little point here. We caught the bus back to the park-and-ride and went to walk around the then-new Seattle REI store before going out to dinner to celebrate the win and my birthday.
Corey Dillon’s numbers set national records for most rushing yards and total offense in a quarter, records that still stand, as far as I know. It could have been so much more. From a sportsmanship and football standpoint, I completely agree with taking him out so early. I don’t fault Jim Lambright or the other coaches one bit for that decision. Leaving him in would have been cruel and mean. Still, when I think back I feel a little cheated.
As we walked out of the stadium, I told my dad, “He could have run for 1,000 yards today.” I still believe that’s true. He was nearly on pace after one quarter, and imagine those San Jose State defenders in the second half, tired and cold and thoroughly beaten. Dillon literally might have scored on every carry. The single quarter records are great, and Dillon went on to set the school record for rushing yards in a season before leaving for the NFL. Still, he was three quarters away from absolutely obliterating every record in the books. I’ll never forget November 16, 1996, but I’ll also never forget what almost was and how I almost got to see it.