Less than a week from the start of the football season, fans have had plenty of time to process the hype surrounding the program. For many of the Husky faithful, the long awaited rise back to conference championship contention has finally been forecasted. For others, including myself, it’s a first taste of potential glory.
It's new, exciting, and uncharted territory.
Will the hype be enough to get fans in their seats? You would hope so. Attendance has been underwhelming at times in recent years: the last sell out was the 2013 Apple Cup. To be fair, Washington hasn’t put out a product that demands much attention of late.
This year, things could be different. And Chris Petersen is calling on all Washington fans for some support.
“I know this place (Husky Stadium) back in the day was one of the hardest places to play, because of all the passion that showed up in the stands,” he reminisced during his Monday press conference. “So I’m always making a plea to come to the games. Eleven o’clock kickoff or eight o’clock kickoffs are not, sometimes, ideal. But we need you.”
After talking to a few students, it seems like the Dawgpack is ready to respond to Petersen’s challenge.
Antonio Alvarado endorsed his calling out the fans, recalling a loss to Utah last season. It was a rainy night with a late kickoff and the Dawgs were, "down maybe a touchdown mid fourth quarter, and the student section was MAYBE 1/3 full,” said Alvarado.
Disgusted by the memory, he called it “incredibly disappointing."
But the feel around campus is that those days are in the past. A team ranked 14th in the country with a preseason all-american safety, a top five secondary, and magazines and websites including the purple and the gold in their title talks warrants a little more respect.
“It honestly feels like for the first time it's "cool" to be a huge, huge dawg fan,” is how junior undergrad Sean Underwood put it.
The fact the students are noticing the hype has already started generating more plans to be at the game, cheering for the Huskies early and often.
Underwood said his fraternity has had a countdown for over 10 weeks, crossing off each day as kickoff draws nearer.
Fans are planning tailgates months in advance. They are rallying around their “dark horse” team.
But what about a generation of fans who have been there before? There have been hype videos comparing Petersen to Don James, so maybe we should compare a Petersen era fan to a James era supporter.
A Husky alum, Steve Ashpole, was in school during the historical 1991 season. Ashpole said the hype for this year pales in comparison to what it was when the Dawgs were on top. That’s understandable. A 10-win season was the norm, not the goal. He said that if this year the hype was an eight out of 10, then the pre-national title talk was an 11.
What I find interesting isn’t the fact that fans like Ashpole experienced the height of Husky football, and that makes it harder to buy into the hype. It’s the lows that followed.
“0-12 makes you skeptical," he said, matter-of-factly.
The one similarity Ashpole pointed out that could link this season to the national title run is the defense.
Another UW alum, Mitch Mounger, said the difference between the hype from that era to now is that it used to be an expectation: today is a desperate yearning to succeed.
After talking to fans from different eras with different perspectives on the same program, my conclusion is fans young and old are ready for success today. Whether it’s dreaming of an unfamiliar triumph or waiting for the history to repeat itself, Dawg fans are ready to give this school the necessary noise to make a difference.