STEVE: The University of Washington football team will play its last game in the current version of Husky Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against No. 6-ranked Oregon, immediately after which a $200 million renovation will commence. From the drawings I’ve seen, the new Husky Stadium, scheduled to open in 2013, will bear little resemblance to the decrepit concrete heap that looms over Montlake today.
ART: Best part about it — the project is privately funded. The university is issuing bonds to cover $150 million, and the $50 million balance will be from private and corporate donations. UW officials and boosters wasted a lot of time in recent years lobbying the Legislature when school had the resources at their disposal. But that is over. Now the sledgehammers can swing on a facility that was out outdated 20 years ago. Top-tier facilities such as at Oregon — thank you, Uncle Phil Knight — are difference-makers when it comes to recruiting.
STEVE: Outdated though it may be, Husky Stadium has played host to a slew of fabulous players and many memorable games and moments. Starting with the decade of the 1970s, let’s focus on some of those players, games and moments. We’ll continue the series by decade through Saturday on Sportspress Northwest. Let’s start with Sept. 17, 1970, when Sonny Sixkiller made his debut in a game against Michigan State.
Up until that time, Washington had primarily been an option team. But with Sixkiller, coach Jim Owens switched to a passing attack, and Sixkiller provided a thrill that the fans who were there still talk about: 276 yards, three touchdown passes and a 42-16 win over a team that beat the Huskies 19-0 a year earlier. It was the start of a special era in Husky history.
ART: Sixkiller’s name, his Native American heritage and his skills made a perfect meal for local and national media to gobble up. After poor seasons and racial controversies, his name and game made it fun to be a Huskies fan again.
STEVE: Sixkiller was involved in a number of riveting contests in his three years, especially in his junior year, 1971. On Sept. 18, Sixkiller had a memorable matchup against future pro Gary Danielson of Purdue. In a game that featured eight lead changes, Sixkiller completed 24 of 48 passes for 387 yards (career high) and tossed the game-winning touchdown pass of 33 yards to Tom Scott with two minutes to play.
ART: How about that game against TCU with the back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns?
STEVE: Little-known about that game, aside from the fact that in no other contest in UW history have back-to-back kickoffs returned for touchdowns (Jim Krieg for the Huskies and Freddy Pouncy of TCU): The cover shot of Sixkiller that appeared on Sports Illustrated came from that TCU game. Also, Sixkiller once told me that was the worst rain he’s ever seen in a stadium famous for it.
ART: In the 1970 game against UCLA, Washington had a real mad-on for the Bruins from the previous season when, in a 57-14 win, coach Tommy Prothro went for an onside kick late in the game — the tasteless antecedent to Stanford/49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
STEVE: When the Bruins came to Seattle, the Huskies ran it up to the tune of 61-20. Sixkiller told me that one of the highlights of his career came late in that game when the Huskies, well ahead, paid back UCLA with their own onside kick. That so flustered Prothro that he took off his hat on the sideline and stomped on it.
ART: Another opposing coach at Husky Stadium who could have stomped on his hat, then eaten it, was Washington State’s Jim Sweeney, who in the 1975 Apple Cup had a 27-13 lead and decided to get greedy.
STEVE: Sweeney wanted to run out the clock with about three minutes to play, but his players convinced him to throw a pass. They wanted to pile it on the hated Huskies. Unfortunately for them, Washington’s Al Burleson took that pass 93 yards the other way. Washington got the ball back, and Warren Moon threw a pass to midfield, where it bounced off a Cougar player’s helmet and right into the arms of Spider Gaines, who took it in for the game-winning touchdown. Sweeney left WSU after that.
ART: Sweeney picked a fine time to flee because it was Don James’ first year at Washington, when he began what would be a domination of Northwest football. But first, he had to convince the unenlightened in the Huskies’ fan base that a black man could be a quality college QB.
STEVE: He had a hard time. A lot of locals favored Chris Rowland as UW’s starting quarterback. Early on, Moon was erratic — he once, infamously, lost track of downs deliberately threw the ball away on fourth down — and didn’t endear himself to fans. In fact, Moon was booed unmercifully. But late in his senior year, one play changed his career. It happened at Husky Stadium in a late-season game against USC, when Moon effectively beat the Trojans with a 78-yard keeper for a touchdown. Suddenly, and especially after UW’s subsequent Rose Bowl win over Michigan, Moon became a local hero.
Interestingly, his winning over Seattle fans had a direct impact years later on Moon choosing, as a free agent from the Canadian league, to play for the Houston Oilers instead of the Seahawks. He had been a “failure” in Seattle once. He didn’t want a repeat of that in a Seahawks uniform — so he went to Houston instead.
ART: The racial denigrations never will be forgotten by Moon or those who were appalled by them, but he let his deeds became the best retort — a Hall of Fame pro career. His achievement was a benchmark at Montlake in getting past the racial divides that emerged in the Jim Owens era.