Well, there’s obviously been a lot written about the 2000 Huskies through the years.
Local author Derek Johnson has penned the latest words on the team with his new book the “Dawgs of War.”
But instead of writing a review, I threw a few questions at Johnson and let him tell you in his own words why he wrote the book and what he learned along the way:
Q: Why did you decide to write this book?
A: Several people have commented that I must have written it as a response to the Seattle Times’ Victory and Ruins series from last year. But I was actually already working on the book. The idea came to me during the 2007 season one hour before kickoff. I remember a little girl seated in front of me asking her dad what the “25” that was painted on the sideline was for. He told that it was for a player that died– and that was all he said. It struck me that it would be good for a book to exist that detailed the story of Curtis Williams’ injury and the team rallying behind quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo to win the Rose Bowl.
I started ruminating about the idea and bouncing it off some people I know. Almost everybody thought it was a bad idea because, as one person put it– “Would you want to read a book about the 1997 Mariners that went to the playoffs? Too much time has passed. Who cares?” But the only person who thought there was something there was former Dawg and ESPN broadcaster Ed Cunningham. He said: “I think you might have something there.”
When I delved into the interviews and research, there was one moment that really moved me and served as a motor for engagement toward writing the book. It was from the Stanford game on October 28, 2000. The idea that Curtis Williams had been injured and taken to the hospital, and the entire Washington team was reeling in despair on the sidelines. The players were so overwhelmed that they didn’t care if they won or lost. They were literally reevaluating their lives right there on the field during the game. The Huskies completely collapsed and blew a 24-6 lead to fall behind Stanford with 47 seconds to go. And one person, quarerback Marques Tuiasosopo, stood firm and did not waver. UW is on their own 20-yard line and Tui entered the huddle and said NO, WE’RE NOT LOSING THIS GAME. WE’RE GOING TO DO WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN AND THEN WE’RE GOING TO THE HOSPITAL TO SEE OUR BUDDY. Then they drive 80 yards in 3 plays! The moment is captured powerfully in the book.
What that moment meant to the players on that team stays with them to this day. The idea of one man’s courage and leadership sparking courage within those around him is a powerful story. Anyone reading this book can take away that lesson and employ it in their own lives when times are rough. It was a powerful experience for me personally to write the Stanford chapter as well as the Rose Bowl chapter at the end of the book. I have since thought back upon those passages when facing challenges in my own life. And it also provides the remidner that when a leader is noble, strong and inspires confidence in others, the results are astounding.
The other huge part of this book of course was Curtis Williams. The interactions he had with his teamamtes and the things he went through following his injury have not been known to the public until now. Also, his brother David provided me such a detailed and touching account of what was happening behind the scenes. Of how the team delivered to Curtis a Rose Bowl and how Curtis’s courage in facing paralysis inspired his teamamtes too. There’s a lot of stuff that the public wasn’t privy to until now and the book fleshes all that out, I hope.
Q: Did you learn anything that really surprised you in your research?
A: When I began the project I didn’t have a particular fondness for this Husky team compared to other Husky teams. And I didn’t foresee that changing. But as I interviewed player after player and watched DVDs of every game that season, I grew to love that team. I loved what Marques Tuiasosopo stood for. I enjoyed getting to know so many of the guys on the squad, like Kyle Benn, Matt Rogers, Derrell Daniels, Willie Hurst. Rogers is such an engaging guy. Kyle Benn and Marques Tuiasosopo provided me details and answered questions whenever I needed them. Larry Tripplett and Hakim Akbar were very enjoyable to talk to. I remember one interview I had with Anthony Kelley that went for 3 hours. At the halfway mark we stopped talking football and were talking about society as a whole. While we disagreed on several issues, it was such an engaging time that I was grateful that this project had brought me those kinds of side benefits.
Q: What do you think the legacy of this team is in the eyes of Husky fans?
A: I’m not sure if you’re alluding to Victory and Ruins or the fact that that Washington team was probably the least talented 11-1 squad in college football history. So I’ll give you two answers: I think the Birkenstock crowd around Seattle that read Victory and Ruins will reflect on that team as Exhibit A when reinforcing their notions that football players are brutes who believe themselves above the law. The region’s die-hard Husky fans meanwhile will look back at that team as one that wringed every drop of potential out of their season and that was led by a stand-up guy on and off the field, in Marques Tuiasosopo.
Q: Do you think with time, Neuheisel will be remembered more for this team or for the way his career ended? Can you envision a day when Neuheisel is ever honored as a Husky legend?
A: Wow what a question. I think if Sarkisian got us to a bowl game this year and then next year UW AD Scott Woodward decided to honor the 10-year anniversary of Washington’s 2000 Rose Bowl season when the UCLA Bruins come to town, that could provide some great moments. It would be touching to see Neuheisel leave the Bruin sideline for two minutes to join his former Husky players in the end zone as the Husky Stadium crowd showered them with applause and appreciation. But given the way things ended for Neuheisel here, I can’t see an appropriate scenario where he would be honored by himself. That wouldn’t feel right. Maybe in 10 or 20 years.