STEVE: The 1990s were a constant catalog of surprises: a co-national championship, the resignation of Don James, NCAA and Pac-10 probation, Steve Emtman, Napoleon Kaufman, Corey Dillon, Jim Lambright, the Huard brothers (Damon and Brock), Marcus Tuiasosopo and Rick Neuheisel, among them.
ART: In a word: Tumultuous. Probably the best team in school history, the 1991 co-national champions, was followed by scandal and probation, The Whammy In Miami, and arrival of a coach whose personality and tactics were unique and a complete departure from the Huskies’ Owens/James/Lambright tradition. For better and worse.
STEVE: My earliest memory of the 1990s is a 92-degree day at Husky Stadium Sept. 22, 1990, when the Huskies were beginning to roll toward what would become a co-national championship. UW rushed for 213 yards, held the Trojans to 28, and knocked USC’s airhead quarterback Todd Marinovich out of the game. This was what Marinovich said after a 31-0 thumping: “I’ve never been shut out in my life. It’s pathetic. I’m embarrassed. We never did anything to shut the crowd up. The only thing that Washington did that was a little different is that they showed blitz every time. I saw purple. That’s all I saw. No numbers, no faces, just purple.”
ART: One of the great quotes in UW opponent history. It was the first shutout by the Huskies since 1983, and a sign of what was to come: the first of three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, this first a 46-34 thumping of Iowa.
STEVE: One of the more memorable games in UW history came the next year, in 1991, against Arizona. On the first scrimmage play, Emtman shook off a double team, broke through the line and flattened Wildcat quarterback George Malauulu before he could hand off the ball.
Emtman then said to Malauulu, “I’’ll be back.” Replied Malauulu, “I know.” Next play, same thing. Before the third play, Malauulu called a timeout. The roar at Husky Stadium was never louder. “It’s ridiculous,” Arizona coach Dick Tomey told reporters after the game. “We think we’ve got the schemes to handle him and he’s in our backfield the first two plays of the game.”
If that wasn’t the loudest game in Husky history, then one against Nebraska in 1992 might have been. ESPN measured the decibel level at 130.
ART: Led by Emtman, that growly group of desperadoes went 12-0 by outscoring the opponents 461-101, holding five to six points or less. That team, whose 20th anniversary of the national championship is being saluted Saturday, had 11 NFL draft choices, including Emtman at No. 1. In contrast, in Jake Locker’s recently ended UW career, he played with four NFL draft choices — total. The team had gravel for breakfast, nails for lunch and bones for dinner.
STEVE: Unfortunately for the Huskies, Don James had only one more year before the NCAA and Pac-10 cracked down, penalizing UW for an illegal loan obtained by Billy Joe Hobert. Looking back, that was the beginning of a UW death spiral that Steve Sarkisian is only now beginning to fix.
ART: The Hobert loan investigation discovered a raft of misdeeds, at one point drawing in the Secret Service over player ownership of stolen cell phones. James’ response, a resignation 12 days before the season rather than ride out the probation, is still a sore point among many Huskies alums.
But the bowl and TV bans were too much for James, who felt he had no support from UW president Bill Gerberding and AD Barbara Hedges. The Huskies subsequently had some good players and some good seasons, but the damage to the program’s image lingered for years. The scandal did not change what James accomplished, but it tainted the legacy.
STEVE: You mentioned some good players. I’ll identify three consecutive running backs — Napoleon Kaufman, Rashaan Shehee and Corey Dillon. Kaufman and Dillon had long careers in the NFL and Shehee might have if not for injury. I’m not sure UW has ever had three backs in a row as good as that trio. And you have to wonder what the UW record book would look like if Dillon had played two or three years instead of just one (1996), when he ran for 1,555 yards and 22 TDs, including four TDs and 222 yards in one quarter against San Jose State.
ART: The only thing Dillon blew through faster than San Jose State was the one academic quarter he was at UW. That game on Nov. 16, 1996, was the single most dominant offensive set of series by a single player I’ve seen. His subsequent NFL career showed that he was at Washington only for an advanced degree in football, and got it.
STEVE: Talk about dominating performances: Ryan Leaf and the Cougars in 1997, clinching a Rose Bowl berth in Husky Stadium — the Cougars’ first Rose Bowl in 67 years. The Cougars won it 41-35 as Leaf completed 22 of 38 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns. The big memory, though, is the celebration the Cougars had on the grounds. The only consolation for UW is that Leaf became one of the biggest busts in NFL draft history.
ART: For Cougars fans living abused in Huskies country, it was an epic moment. Forget allegiances — anyone with a sporting heart had to feel good for them. That led to WSU’s first appearance in the Rose Bowl in 67 years. I was on the field moments after the game, and I have never seen more unrestrained joy and exaltation in a sports venue.
STEVE: And I’ve never seen a more shocked Husky Stadium crowd than the one that showed up to watch UW-Arizona on Oct. 3, 1998. In one of the more improbable endings in UW football history, Arizona QB Ortege Jenkins scored on a 9-yard run with four seconds to go to give No. 14 Arizona the victory. Jenkins directed Arizona’s 13-play drive, during which he was the quarterback for all but one play. On that play, replacement Keith Smith threw a 22-yard completion to Jenkins. From there, Jenkins marched the Wildcats to the end zone, scoring on second down when he leaped toward the end zone, cleared three defenders with a somersault and landed on his feet.
ART: If Jenkins owned the ’90s most stunning single play, and Dillon had the greatest quarter, then the best individual game had to be Oct. 30, 1999, when UW QB Marques Tuiasosopo, against Stanford, threw for 302 yards and rushed for 207 yards — the first 300/200 game in NCAA history. Only six QBs in NCAA history had done a 300/100. Because he never had much of an NFL career, Tuiasosopo tends to get a bit lost. But in thse long legacy of premier Huskies’ QBs, Tui’s ability to carry his college team to improbable wins remains unsurpassed.