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December 25, 2013 at 10:23 AM

UW flashback: 2001 Rose Bowl victory caps an amazing ride for the Huskies

Rose Bowl MVP Marques Tuiasosopo raises his fist in celebration as the clock ticks the final seconds of the Huskies' Rose Bowl victory over Purdue on Jan. 1, 2001. (Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times)

Rose Bowl MVP Marques Tuiasosopo raises his fist in celebration as the clock ticks the final seconds of the Huskies’ Rose Bowl victory over Purdue on Jan. 1, 2001. (Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times)

On Friday, interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo will lead Washington (8-4) against BYU (8-4) in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. A ninth win would be the most for UW since Tuiasosopo’s senior season in 2000, when he led the Huskies to a victory over Purdue in the Rose Bowl. Here’s Bud Withers‘ game story published in The Seattle Times on Jan. 2, 2001:

Headline: An amazing ride to last a lifetime for Huskies

LOS ANGELES — Rick Neuheisel has always been good with an anecdote, and they spilled out of him yesterday. His eyes were red from lack of sleep and from whatever one does after coaching a Rose Bowl victory, but there was a glow on his face.

“What a ride,” he said.

It took the Huskies to 11 victories, to fourth-quarter comebacks, to a tragic injury to Curtis Williams, to a tearful team reunion with Williams on the first day of 2001. It took them to a Rose Bowl victory.

They make a special coin for the Rose Bowl flip at midfield, and this one had the block “W” on one side and the Purdue Boilermaker train on the other. It went, per custom, to the grand marshal of the event, TV newsman Tom Brokaw.

Neuheisel asked officials who gets to keep the coin. They said Brokaw. He asked Brokaw if Williams, paralyzed at Stanford on Oct. 28, could have it. Brokaw said it would be an honor, and he would deliver it himself.

“That’s what makes this game, this whole festival, so special,” Neuheisel said.

He recalled a talk he gave before the Oregon State game this year, when he asked players if they would push a mythical button and go to the Rose Bowl if it were possible. The message was that they shouldn’t want to.

“It’s not about the trophy,” Neuheisel said. “It’s about the climb to the trophy.”

When it was over Monday and darkness had fallen after a cloudless day in Pasadena, Neuheisel saw Willie Hurst, the reborn tailback, in the shower.

“I can’t believe it’s over,” said Hurst, who ran nine times for 53 yards and a touchdown. “It went so fast.”

“It seems like it’s over today,” Neuheisel said. “But it’s forever. You’ll have that for a lifetime.”

Surely, this will go down as one of the unforgettable Husky teams–a flawed but supremely dogged team. It had no right to be 11-1, to be on the brink of a No. 2 or No. 3 national ranking, but it succeeded.

It brought chemistry to life.

“You come from behind as many times as we did … ” Neuheisel said. “Something about your belief in one another caused that to happen.”

Neuheisel thought it came together when the Huskies went 80 yards in the rain at Stanford in the last 47 seconds, burdened with the uncertainty of Williams’ injury. Assistant coach Chuck Heater thought it was when the Huskies fought back to make a competitive game at Oregon, when a blowout had been imminent.

Neuheisel also pinpointed the Oregon State game, when the Huskies could have started 0-2 in the conference but survived, 33-30.

And nobody knew then. Boosters came up to Neuheisel that night and said, “Don’t worry, Coach, it’s a win.”

“You have no idea how good that team is,” Neuheisel said. “Oregon State beat the dog out of Notre Dame (41-9).”

Neuheisel credited Dave Burton, the trainer who joined him this year from Colorado, with helping get the Huskies on the field in the Rose Bowl. Rich Alexis aggravated his bad shoulder on the 50-yard run against Purdue and will have surgery soon.

Hurst had to come back from a broken collarbone suffered Nov. 11. Marques Tuiasosopo, the Rose Bowl player of the game, missed his first college snaps Monday with a shoulder sprain that required an injection in the locker room.

“The unsung hero of this team is Dave Burton,” Neuheisel said.

Neuheisel revealed that the practice injury last week to receiver Todd Elstrom was a tear in the medial-collateral ligament, the severity of which he didn’t disclose. He had not wanted Purdue to be able to adjust coverages knowing Elstrom’s condition.

Elstrom, who caught a touchdown pass and made three other receptions, played with a brace and apparently won’t need surgery.

But all that is in the past. The wheels spin quickly in Neuheisel’s head; he is never far from plotting what’s next.

Washington won’t be the favorite next year in the Pac-10, but he shuns the word “rebuilding.”

“That’s coach-speak for `This won’t be my fault’,” Neuheisel said. “We’re the Washington Huskies; we’ll find a way to try to compete for a conference championship.”

The offseason headlines will go to the quarterback battle, with Tuiasosopo finally out of the hair of Pac-10 opponents. Cody Pickett will duel incoming junior-college transfer Taylor Barton, whom Neuheisel coached for a year at Colorado.

Pickett’s three pressure snaps in the Rose Bowl will help him “immensely,” Neuheisel said. He added this scouting report on Barton, who will be in school this month: “He’s very heady, very accurate. He just has a knack for getting the ball where it needs to be.”

The other major imponderable is the offensive line, where the Huskies lose six seniors. There are pieces back, led by center Kyle Benn, but it will be a serious overhaul.

Michigan and Miami, the first two games, should keep Washington from getting fat and happy in the offseason.

Neuheisel said the schedule will likely stay as is, despite two overtures to tweak it.

Network television executives discussed with Washington and Miami moving the game from Sept. 15 to the first weekend of December, to be part of a tripleheader with the championship games of the Big 12 and SEC. That apparently didn’t fly, nor have talks with Idaho to try to move the Sept. 22 game ahead of Michigan and Miami.

Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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