Mark Stewart looks back at '82 UCLA epic

Arriving that week to the homes of millions of Americans was a copy of Sports Illustrated. On the cover was a picture of a valiant-looking John Elway flinging a pass down field. The weekend before, he had quarterbacked his Stanford Cardinal to victory against the University of Washington. The title on the cover stated, "BOMBS AWAY! John Elway and Stanford Demolish Washington."

The Huskies had entered into that game with a 7-0 record and had been ranked #1 in the country for seven consecutive weeks. Yet there had been relatively little national attention directed the Dawgs' way. That is, until they lost to Stanford 43-31. Despite the difficult defeat, the Huskies had back-to-back games coming up against undefeated Pac-10 teams. It was late in the season and a barnburner race for the league crown was underway.

Terry Donahue led his ninth ranked Bruins into Husky Stadium with a 7-0-1 record. Tom Ramsey was the quarterback and some guy by the name of Rick Neuheisel was the Bruin backup. The two teams locked horns from the outset and for three hours neither side would back down. It was a defensive struggle of epic proportions that carried itself deep into the memorable 4th quarter.

Former Husky All-American linebacker Mark Stewart registered 17 tackles and five QB sacks that day. That is not a misprint.

Stewart sat down recently with to talk about one of the greatest games in Husky Stadium history. We discussed the profound differences in playing styles between the Bruin and Husky players. The Bruins were smooth and graceful in their style, while the Huskies conveyed grittiness and strength. The two teams were close to equal, but Washington had an advantage on defense. Stewart set the stage by reflecting briefly on the Stanford loss.

"You never want to say that you gave a game away to John Elway," said Stewart. "But he had the game of his life, and we were pretty loaded, and felt like we probably could have won that game. We wanted to stay in the Pac-10 race so we had our backs to the wall. UCLA was coming into town and they were undefeated."

Stewart reflected on his successful performance against the Bruins.

"I always did have good games against UCLA," said Stewart good-naturedly. "It probably went back to recruiting. Donahue didn't want to recruit me out of high school. He came and met me and walked away, then called later and said that they were going with another linebacker. So he didn't recruit me, and that was my chip on the shoulder. I always had pretty good games against UCLA, and always got pretty fired up to play them." Stewart then breaks into a chuckle.

"I wouldn't have necessarily gone to UCLA-- it's just that I wanted to be the one to say no."

Stewart then went into further detail: "I enjoyed that kind of game. Rolling up the sleeves and saying ‘OK here we go—we're gonna battle here.' UCLA's tight end, he was a good player; I believe he played in the pros for a couple of years. But I basically beat the crap out of him all day long. He was more graceful and more of a route runner. He wanted to run routes and catch the ball. Basically blocking wasn't his thing. I was manhandling him, and the tackle that they had out there wasn't able to block me that day either. They were not physically strong enough. I really brought my game on that day."

With the Huskies hanging on to a 10-7 lead, the contest came down to one defensive play for the ages. Husky Stadium was sold out and there was incredible noise and tension in the stands. With 1:00 left, UCLA faced a 4th down and 6 yards to go from about the Husky 40 yard line. Ramsey dropped back and threw a beautiful spiral down the middle of the field. For a brief moment, it appeared as if UCLA receiver Jo Jo Townsell had found a seam and was going to catch it for a big gain. You could hear the stadium crowd actually gasp. But as the lanky Bruin was hauling it in, Husky DB Bill Stapleton closed in and laid a devastating wallop that reverberated throughout Townsell's body. The ball popped loose and bounced harmlessly to the carpet. Townsell's body crumpled to the turf. Townsell then slapped the ground in frustration and buried his face into the Astroturf. The victory was Washington's.

Husky defenders were jumping up and down in incredible exuberance. Bill Stapleton especially, a skilled and tough all Pac-10 defender, was flopping all over the field, almost like he was devoid of any coordination. It was just total, unabashed joy, like a little kid on Christmas with no inhibition. It was the same for all of his teammates.

"I do remember seeing the ball go downfield and seeing Stapleton hit that guy," said Stewart. ‘He hits him and the ball comes out, and that was big! What is funny is that that game was such a slugfest and I don't even remember how we scored. I do remember one play running 20-30 yards downfield to make a tackle; the thought was that we absolutely could not let them score. On that last drive, all of us in the huddle were just going, we gotta stop them, and we're not going to let them score. And for pass defense, the guys we had back there-- Ray Horton, Vince Newsome, Bill Stapleton, all of the guys, were just big time hitters."

Following the Stapleton hit, the Huskies ran the clock out and dealt the Bruins their only loss for the 1982 season. Washington went on to finish with a record of 10-2, finishing the regular season with only one other loss, a terrible upset defeat in Pullman to an upstart WSU squad. The Dawgs followed it up with a thrilling Aloha Bowl victory over Boomer Esiason's Maryland Terps.

Interestingly enough, six years later the Seattle Seahawks went and played the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium. They were roughed up by Denver to the tune of 40-17. The following week, the cover of Sports Illustrated had on it a picture of a valiant-looking John Elway flinging a pass downfield. The title on the cover said, "BOMBS AWAY! John Elway and Denver destroy Seattle."

Almost makes you wonder if the editor of SI was a Cougar graduate with an axe to grind.

Note: Check out the March edition of Sports Washington for an interview with Mark Stewart. In it he discussed his football experiences and current position as head football coach at Meadowdale High School.
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories