It was about an hour before game day. The Washington Huskies were taking on the Arizona Wildcats and it was do or die time for the Huskies after being crushed last week by Stanford. At least that’s the story according to the local university newspaper, which had devoted a good half of their Saturday paper (including the cover) to the ever present upcoming game.
The excitement all over the University of Washington campus (and well beyond) was tangible. That night Husky Stadium would be jammed with over 59,000 purple clad “Dawgs”. Outside the stadium, the tailgating got underway three to four hours before the game. The extravagance of the setups were astounding. Everywhere you went, there was a sea of purple and gold clutching plastic cups of Miller and Bud. Ol’ boys walked from SUV to SUV chatting it up. Wives (and husbands) BBQed chicken, asparagus, bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers and just about every fatty, grilled meat you could imagine.
Set up on the grassy knoll above the lot, stylized “DAWG” Winnebagos were lined up. Powered by diesel generators, these party zones blasted tunes and other current college games on large crystal clear, satellite equipped TVs. Games of beer pong were everywhere. So were drunk people. But what was most engaging, inspiring and surprising was how genial the whole scene was.
Perhaps it was the age diversity of the event, which included kids barely old enough to throw a football running between die-hard DAWGs who’d witnessed the 1990s championship game as middle-aged Boosters. There was a family, carnival vibe to the whole thing. Even to the young guys who meandered up to your group and just stood there swaying back and forth because they were to drunk to do much else exuded it.
Or maybe it was just the established nature of the whole thing. People understood that despite a steady patrol of officers throughout all the massive parking lots, no one would be hassled as long as they were discreet about their drinking and behavior. There seemed to be a mutual understanding. Color within the lines and everyone would have fun.
Or perhaps its just the nature of college football in general. Far from the uproars of violence endemic in hockey, it seemed to be a game of controlled and channeled violence. I’m told there are rarely fights on the field because you can vent your aggression in the next down (with the ref, the fans and your coaches blessing).
Whatever the case, it was hard to not notice how different of a vibe there was to the whole event than the infamous “Vancouver Riot” earlier this year.
The game itself was a ball. But also was noticeably a pageant. The players, after every down, (no matter how few yards were gained) would engage in their victory ceremonies of helmet banging, back slaps, jumping up and down like kangaroos. In defeat, different ceremonies – sympathetic back-slap, head held down hustle back to the side lines.
The cheerleaders and cheer(men?), endlessly pepped up, bounced around the sidelines down after down. Every third down, a big angry husky dog would be displayed on the stadium’s jumbotron and bark viciously to help do its part to shore up the teams (occasionally weak) defense. At half time, a whole slew of alumni (distinguished professors among them) along with what seemed to be U-Dub’s entire rowing team (oars and all) lined up to create a massive 100 meter long tunnel through which the whole team ran through to the hardcore lyrics of Detroit prodigy Eminem. Oh and then there was the marching band. Dozens (hundreds it seemed like at times) lined the field and in constant marching order, serenaded all 60,000 of us with one classic rock song after another. There uniforms with their giant “W” and sparkling golden plumes were almost as impressive as their massive formation marches.
Talk about an amazing experience for a couple Canadians. Such a community seems to only exist South of the border.