Bleeding Purple

 We’ve been posting a few of our favorite Husky Stadium memories over the last few weeks, and I thought I’d throw up one more before the game.  You might see a couple more before the season ends, or you might not.  The Good Guys like to keep you guessing!  I wrote this about eight years ago, while I was in college.  Some of it’s a little outdated, but the sentiment hasn’t changed.  It’s one of my favorite things I’ve written, so I thought I’d share.  Hope you enjoy.

-Matthew

*************************************

                So far none of us has jumped.  Still, my dad’s recommendation to stay on the bridge has come roughly every other autumn Saturday for the last eight years of my life.  I’m not selectively suicidal, diving into depression on these certain Saturdays.  My dad just wants to make sure we make it to the University of Washington football game on time, and a body dropping the some 100 feet into the water of the Montlake Cut would slow us down considerably.  Someday I might have to try it, except I want to get to the game on time as well.

                I was born watching Washington Husky football.  Well, almost.  I was born, and then later that day my dad held me as he watched the Apple Cup, the annual game against the cross-state rival Washington State University Cougars.  The Huskies have been a part of my life ever since.  I remember games playing on the radio as we built a shed in our yard, and my dad complaining about a lack of playing time for star running back Napolean Kaufman in the Rose Bowl.  Minutes later, I remember Napolean racing down the sideline for a near touchdown that helped win the national championship.  I centered birthday parties around the Apple Cup and watched the Huskies get beat one year in a blizzard.  Another year I fell asleep halfway through the game, with the baseball mitt I had just got for my birthday still on my hand.

                About the time I entered high school, we bought season tickets.  We bought them with my dad’s two cousins, Dave and Steve, and a new era of football watching was born.  Now we made the two hour trip over the Cascade Mountains to Seattle five or six Saturdays each fall.  Most often my dad would have to work that morning, so I would ride with him to his office and watch cartoons until he was ready to go.  We would drive across town and meet Dave and Steve and be on our way.

                As I grew, I started to occasionally drive.  My younger brother became a regular on the trips, and our original group of four swelled to six or seven or eight, depending on the year and the opponent and the weather.

                These drives became as important to me as the game itself.  The road from Yakima, my hometown, to Seattle first runs thirty-five miles north to Ellensburg before heading west over the mountains.  The drive between Ellensburg and Seattle is beautiful, filled with evergreens and waterfalls and snow-covered mountains.  There is no stretch of land in the state that better captures the image most hold of Washington.  The land between Yakima and Ellensburg, on the other hand, is brown.  There are no evergreens.  There are no waterfalls because there is no water, and snowfall is rare and more dangerous than beautiful for drivers.  Still, it is my favorite part of the drive.  The road rises three times through foothills, steep rises followed by drops nearly as sharp.  Far-off Mount Rainier stands ten thousand feet above the summit of this stretch of road, but this lower height is somehow more impressive.  Here, no trees or mountains fence me in; I can see over the tops of hills to the point where clouds block my vision.  On a clear day, this might be a hundred miles away.  More often on these mornings, clouds hang like pillars in the valleys between the hills, stretching thousands of feet above and below me.  I don’t know what it is about those clouds that I love.  I believe it’s the feeling that something so big and ordinarily unreachable as a cloud is hanging seemingly within grasp just outside my window.

                Three years ago this fall I moved to college.  My new home is just across Lake Washington from Husky Stadium, a fact that has its positives and negatives.  I now get to sleep in on these Saturday mornings, an important event for any college student.  At the same time, I miss the drive over the mountains.  Now I simply meet the rest of our group at the bus stop where we catch the bus to ride across the lake.

                Otherwise, our Saturday morning routine hasn’t changed in these eight years.  We ride the bus to within a half a mile of the stadium, and then hike with throngs of other fans to the stadium.  We try not to jump off the bridge into the Montlake Cut, which connects Lake Washington to Lake Union, and we wander past the parked cars of rich donors who tailgate in the shadow of the stadium.  Someday maybe one of us will be rich enough to get us access to the smoked salmon and wine of this crowd.  More likely, we’ll stick with our stadium sausage dogs and roast beef sandwiches from home.

                We walk along the south side of the stadium toward the lake, where the boats that act as ferries for other lucky fans are harbored.  We sit in the only section without assigned seats, so we always arrive early to get seats near the top of the bleachers where we can turn around and see replays of close plays on the scoreboard screen behind us.  Past the scoreboard, if the rain and clouds stay away, Mount Rainier rises in the southeast.

                The talk at these games has changed even less than the routine over these eight years.  High school football games from the night before are a hot topic, especially those involving my old school and the school where Steve teaches.  Apples invariably come up as well.  In eastern Washington and our group, this is a big topic, as my dad has sold them for twenty years now.  Some context for the talk has changed, of course.  I used to get asked if there were any girls I like; now I only get asked about one.  Questions of where I will go to college have changed to questions of what I will do after college, a query that is much more difficult to answer.

                I’ve seen great football games at Husky Stadium.  Marques Tuiasosopo and Reggie Williams have made plays in front of me that I will tell my kids about, just as my dad talks about Sonny Sixkiller and Billy Joe Hobert.  For several years they won almost every game and won them by coming from behind just as hope was running out.  In one game against Stanford, after safety Curtis Williams had been paralyzed while making a tackle, Tuiasosopo, the quarterback, led the Huskies 80 yards in forty seconds for the winning touchdown.  Several years earlier, in a near monsoon, Corey Dillon ran directly at us for an all-time record 222 yards in the first quarter.  There were bad games as well.  In one of the first I ever went to, I saw the Huskies get beat by the Cougars in the Apple Cup, sending WSU to the Rose Bowl and their fans running across the field.

                I was there for the first Husky night game in years.  I was there when Owen Biddle knocked the ball from Santana Moss’ hands and Washington beat the mighty Miami Hurricanes.  My cheers helped rattle Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey and so many other quarterbacks who fell to the pressure of the Husky Stadium crowd.  I was there when Reggie Williams, the greatest receiver ever at Washington, made his first and last catch.  I have cheered so many times as the Huskies ran out of the tunnel and Lou Kellerman, stadium announcer, greeted them with, “Here come some Dawgs!”

                But I don’t go to see the games.  At least not entirely.  Even when the team is terrible, as they have been much of the last several seasons, there is no place I would rather be in the fall, or any other time of year for that matter, than Husky Stadium with my dad and brother and whomever else they might bring with them.  This place has become a part of my life where I am content.  Whether everything is going perfectly or my mom is recovering from cancer, once I wake up that morning I know I don’t have to worry about it.  I am in a new world populated by barking men in Husky purple, by Oregon Duck students, and the University of Southern California marching band playing the same stupid song over and over.  I go to Husky Stadium because I know I will be happy, regardless of rain and losses.

                And increasingly I go to be with my family.  They have always been a major part of the trip, especially my dad, but in some ways they were just there.  Now as I think about maybe moving overseas for a couple of years or across the country to get my master’s degree in English, I go to be with them.  I think that is why I loved going all along, even if I thought it was to see the game.  I go because there is no place I feel more like we’re a family, and that is something I never want to lose.

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