Doggone Huskies!

As a monumental opportunity awaits his home-standing Stanford Cardinal, veteran Bootleg columnist Greg Schindler provides his personal take on the sometimes agonizing rivalry with the "Malodorous Mutts of Montlake", which, much to the chagrin of superiority-seeking Huskies fans, has turned into quite the competitive series in recent years.

Doggone Huskies!

One of the most common questions people ask me about my experience as a Stanford offensive lineman from 1998 to 2002 is which opponent I most "disliked". It's not the answer most expect, but I suspect it's the same one supplied by many of my former teammates. Sure, there was plenty to contemn about Cal and USC, and Notre Dame made me nauseous. But no one gave our Cardinal squads more sleepless nights than those doggone Huskies from Seattle.

When Stanford (2-1, 1-0 Pac-10) hosts No. 24 Washington (2-1, 1-0) on Saturday, it will not just be fighting to stay atop the Pac-10 standings and reach the half-way mark in the quest for its first bowl game since 2001. Whether the Cardinal players are aware of it, they'll be battling to exorcise myriad purple-and-gold demons that have haunted several generations of Stanford players and fans. Though seldom mentioned as one of Stanford's most-hated rivals, the Huskies have been eerily linked to the Cardinal during the past decade, often yielding unsavory results for The Farm's faithful.

Washington remains firmly stuck in my craw as the lone Pac-10 team I never beat. Our Stanford squads went 17-7 in conference games from 1999 to 2001, yet that record would have been downright gaudy were it not for three heartbreaking defeats to the Huskies. It wasn't just losing three straight games to a Pac-10 rival that stung; it was the nauseating nature of those missteps and the implications they bore.

Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo passed for 302 yards and rushed for 207 more in our 1999 showdown, helping the Huskies overcome a 23-12 third-quarter deficit en route to a 35-30 victory. That slip-up in Seattle cost us an unprecedented perfect Pac-10 record. If not for Washington's eventual upset loss at UCLA, it would have cost us a berth in the Rose Bowl, too.

In 2000, we trailed 24-6 late in the fourth quarter in rainy Stanford Stadium before showcasing an onside-kick clinic and a suddenly rejuvenated offense to complete a storybook comeback that revived our Rose Bowl aspirations — or so we thought. Tuiasosopo promptly led the Huskies on a three-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the final minute, givingWashington a 31-28 victory that left our bowl hopes as sodden as the playing field.

We took a No. 10 ranking into Seattle in 2001, and rallied from a 28-13 deficit to tie the score in the fourth quarter. But Washington scored two unanswered touchdowns in the final four minutes, redirecting our postseason destination from Pasadena to — surprise, surprise — the Seattle Bowl.

San Francisco 49ers center and former Stanford All-American Eric Heitmann has started more than 100 games in the NFL, but he still hasn't recovered from our trio of Husky heartbreaks. "I think the most painful one was our senior year (2001) at Washington, when it cost us a chance at the national championship," Heitmann said. "I don't think most people realize the magnitude of that game. That and the one against Washington State the same year: We win one of those, and we're in a BCS game."

Former Cardinal nose tackle Trey Freeman was a member of my 1998 recruiting class. He, too, has been unable to muzzle the phantom Huskies inside his head. According to Freeman, defensive tackles coach Dave Tipton was so irate with our Cardinal defense's miserable 1999 performance in Seattle that he couldn't bring himself or his players to watch the game film the next day. Things didn't get much better from there. On the night before our 2000 Washington game, our team went to see "Remember the Titans" - a movie Freeman can't watch without being flooded with painful, muddy memories.

"The absolute worst game was in 2001," Freeman said. "If we could win, there was talk about the national championship. I remember I had my leg shot up with the "magic juice", just so I could be out there. But we lost, and because of that loss, not only did we not win the Pac-10, we got shipped off to the damn Seattle Bowl. Worst bowl game EVER for a team that went 9-2."

The Stanford vs. Washington series has been remarkably competitive during the past decade. The Huskies are 5-3 against the Cardinal since 1999, but Stanford has won three of the past four encounters, and the teams' combined scores during that stretch are separated by just nine points (Washington 203, Stanford 194). But the programs aren't just linked by close clashes. In recent history, strange coincidences, coinciding performance arcs, and even tragedy have connected the formerly disparate programs.

Washington safety Curtis Williams was paralyzed during our 2000 meeting, and eventually died from the injury's complications. A year later, Stanford safety Simba Hodari lay motionless on the Husky Stadium turf after suffering a frightening head injury that ended his career. Tyrone Willingham was at Stanford's helm when the Cardinal battled the Huskies for Pac-10 prominence from 1999 to 2001.

Four years later, he was the head coach at Washington. The Huskies reached their once-unthinkable nadir last season when they were the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to go 0-12. Such a collapse can never be attributed to one factor, but Washington's wheels seemed to come off when dynamic quarterback Jake Locker suffered a devastating hand injury in the fourth game of the season - a 35-28 loss to Stanford.

Stanford and Washington have even traced similar trajectories since the days when their showdowns routinely carried championship implications. The Cardinal and Huskies both slipped into relative obscurity for several years, only to regain national relevance with shocking upsets against USC. "Must-win game" is one of the most overused and misused terms in sports, but Saturday's contest is arguably the two programs' most meaningful matchup since 2001.

A Washington victory would go a long way in assuring the Huskies' once-proud and always raucous fans that last weekend's 16-13 victory over No. 3 USC was no fluke, and their beloved Dawgs are back on the map under first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian. A Stanford win would allow the Cardinal to sniff the national rankings for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, and move the program halfway to the postseason with a grueling schedule lurking ahead. But as much as I'd love to see the Cardinal drub the Dawgs, another highly competitive and entertaining shoot-out might be the best outcome for the sake of this budding rivalry.

Any two programs that have dueled for generations have likely produced enough fodder to manufacture something resembling a rivalry. Every longtime Stanford fan or former player can produce ample anecdotes to illustrate why they particularly despise the Cardinal's next opponent. But what made our series with the Huskies so special to me is that it was fueled by the right reasons. Say what you will about the Washington athletic department's checkered past, or some of the shady characters who have prowled the Huskies' sideline (Neuheisel! *cough*). I was never given reason to hate the Huskies on a personal level.

Washington was not "Erickson-era" Oregon State, when the Beavers never stopped yapping long enough to realize they were too talented to resort to trash talk. The Huskies weren't the USC Trojans, who preened through most seasons with more All-Americans than victories. Oddly, the Washington teams I faced reminded me of my most successful Stanford squads, presenting a blend of elite talent and unsung heroes - all of whom would happily bust you in the mouth, then help you off a pile.  

I'm sure my view is infuriatingly myopic to Stanford's more seasoned fans. After all, I watched exactly one Stanford game before joining the Cardinal as a player. I wasn't there in the early 1990s when Washington was too busy shining in the national spotlight to cast more than a passing glance at Stanford. Separated by more than 800 miles, the Cardinal and the Huskies likely will never feud with the intensity of neighboring rivals. The programs didn't even square off every year until the Pac-10 recently expanded its schedule. I'd bet all the apples in the Evergreen State that most Washingtonians would consider the notion of Stanford as a habitually worthy adversary to be an insult. I'm OK with that.

I know that when Washington's purple zealots head north from Stanford Stadium on their way home Saturday, they'll dub U-Dub's loss a catastrophic letdown, rather than credit the Cardinal for its own resurgence. I'm fine with that, too. I know a Stanford victory won't give our 1999 team a pristine Pac-10 record. It won't send our 2000 squad bowling, nor grant a retroactive pass to Pasadena in 2001.

I can only hope that if the Cardinal continues to reverse Washington's historic haunting, the Ghosts of Huskies Past will eventually quiet enough to let me sleep.

About the Author: Greg Schindler, LSJU '03, was a four-year starter and four-year letter-winner for the Cardinal from 1999-2002, starting 42 of 46 games. After redshirting as a true freshman in 1998, he was the team's starting right tackle in 1999-2000 and the team's starting right guard in 2001-02. Prior to Stanford, Schindler starred at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, CA and was named a First-Team All-American by Prepstar in 1997. Following his Stanford career, Schindler was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent after graduating in 2003 with an English major, which, as you can see, he puts to excellent use here at The Bootleg!

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