By Bruce Johnson
Bruce Johnson graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in History and is one of four generations in his family who bled purple at Husky Stadium. He teaches teach Language Arts and U.S. History at Whitman Middle School in Seattle.
I was 8 years old when I attended my first football game at Husky Stadium. It was 1961 and the Huskies had just come off two consecutive Rose Bowl victories. They were the biggest sensation in Seattle.
My end-zone seat was high up in the horseshoe, and though a half a century has passed, I can still recall the grand spectacle it was: the lush, immaculately lined field and the dark purple and bright gold of the Huskies as they ran out of the tunnel to a spontaneous eruption of cheers. That sound was like nothing I had ever heard before, resounding throughout the packed horseshoe and echoing down from the upper deck. I remember the smell of hot dogs and the faint scent of cigars. It was the most thrilling moment of my brief life. It was love at first sight.
The early ’60s were an exciting time for a child to become aware of the world: a young charismatic president and his family charmed the nation. The new space age had made names like Shepard, Grissom, and Glenn household names. And, in Seattle, the Huskies enchanted the city and names like Schloredt, McKeta, and Fleming were also household names.
In 1963, my father bought me a ticket in the bleachers for the USC game. The Trojans were undefeated, highly ranked and punting with their backs to the end zone, and to me. I stood behind a small barricade watching as Koll Hagen broke through the USC line. I can still hear the thud the ball made against his chest a second before the Husky crowd erupted again. That play put the Huskies in the 1964 Rose Bowl. They won in a hard-fought, gritty manner that showed me a toughness I wanted to emulate.
For several decades since I’ve watched the Huskies from Section 48 of the original upper deck. They were good seats that afforded a decent aerial view, especially if the Huskies were at our end, nearest the lake. In 2000, Larry Tripplett stuffed an Oregon State tailback right below me on a crucial third down, forcing an errant field goal that ended up putting the Huskies in their last Rose Bowl. Todd Marinovich saw purple below me. And in 2009 I stood next to my brother Rob as Jake Locker orchestrated a last-minute drive that beat a shaken, third-ranked USC team, temporarily erasing the memories of an 0-12 nightmare the previous season.
I’ll miss those seats and the iconic spiral ramps where I’d often stand at halftime, getting occasional sun and sometimes another whiff of cigar. I’d watch the boats go through the ship canal and disappear under the Montlake Bridge, which at times was raised high, as if in tribute to the national powerhouse domiciled to the north. After a particularly satisfying win, those ramps were abuzz with the hordes winding down them, their happiness, at least for the weekend, complete.
But those seats and the ramps that led to them are gone, replaced with a new upper deck, a mezzanine, luxury boxes, and a renovated stadium. And for me and thousands of season-ticket holders, this season will be a homecoming to a rebuilt home.
In March, I chose new seats for the new home. But not without a bit of angst.
Change does not come easily for a longtime resident of Section 48. I wanted roughly the same area where the spirit of my father, from whom I learned that Hugh McElhenny was King, loomed as well as the connection to decades of Husky History. I wanted that same airspace and couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.
My time for choosing new seats, a new home, came during a 20-minute allocation in the Legends Center. I did not dare risk selecting online and having a computer glitch leave me seatless when the Huskies are on the verge of greatness. No, I rode my bike across the vast Union Bay acreage to choose in person as I had done the previous year at CenturyLink Field, our temporary home.
But this season we were back home on hallowed ground. I wasn’t just uneasy about where I might end up, I had concerns (and still do) what the powers-that-be might do to the experience in rebuilt Husky Stadium.
Few things are as steeped in tradition as college football. There’s an authenticity and history to Husky football that I hope doesn’t get lost in the bells and whistles of the new stadium. For Washington fans, the experience at Husky Stadium has always been about purple and gold, the team, the band, the crowd and the game. These things should not be overtaken by a constant, amplified disco beat and continuous promotions. I hope that they let us enjoy the game and the conversations among Husky faithful.
Now my time had come. I entered the Legends Center, which was adorned with Husky memorabilia, and was greeted by a friendly, young receptionist who confirmed my appointment. She asked if I was excited about the new stadium.
“I’m stoked,” I told her. “I just hope that they turn down the amplified noise a bit. My wife had to leave the San Diego State game it was so loud.”
She said some of that was because of CenturyLink.
“I hope so,” I went on. “I’ve always gone to see the game and hear the fans and the band. That’s what’s authentic. Let the game speak for itself.”
She was kind and listened as I waxed on about the tradition of Husky football and the hope that those running the show would respect for the game, that the announcer would call the game and give us the facts as Wendall Broyles and Lou Gellerman had done. Leave the cheerleading to the students.
Change is the only constant. I am aware of this. (Though I cringe at the white helmets and pants and the superfluous piping that compromise our purple and gold.) But I do hope that those running the show in the remodeled stadium remember that Husky Stadium is indeed sacred ground and it is the team, the band, and the crowd that make the Husky football experience authentic. “Tequila” is authentic, as are the shouts of “Go!” on one side and “Huskies!” on the other. Tone down the artificial, avoid the rave that sent my wife Janine packing from CenturyLink, and let us enjoy the game and the setting.
The receptionist kindly directed me over to another young woman who would help me with my historic choice. I told her what I was looking for. She honed in on her computer like a CIA agent zeroing in on a target. Three seats popped up on her screen, near the vicinity of my former seats.
“I’ll take ‘em,” I said, seizing the moment and securing a new home in the new edition of an iconic stadium where the future looks bright and the past gloriously revered.
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