The Miracle in the Desert

Sun Devil Stadium was mostly empty as the Huskies did their pre-game stretching and looking around. It was a scorching, late Saturday afternoon on September 5, 1998. It was to be the first football game played in that stadium since it hosted the Super Bowl earlier that year. Amid the withering heat, and while walking upon the pristine grass, Huskies Brock Huard and Dane Looker simultaneously had a near-mystical feeling about this impending battle.

"We're walking upon that grass, and it was in perfect condition, like a putting green," said Huard recently. "Dane and I just looked at each other and knew that this was going to be a special game."

Husky defensive lineman Josh Smith was stretching nearby. Little did he know that four hours later, doctors and panicked teammates would be gathered around him, as the rigors of exertion in stifling conditions nearly proved too much for his body to take.

The Washington Huskies had arrived in Tempe ranked 18th nationally and full of optimism. They had concluded the previous season with a 51-23 trouncing of Nick Saban's Michigan State Spartans in the Aloha Bowl. Plus, Brock Huard had resisted going pro and was returning for his junior season.

Meanwhile, the Arizona State Sun Devils were ranked 8th cockiness abounded. With running back JR Redmond and Mitchell "Fright Night" Friedman on the roster, there were loud proclamations from Sun Devil fans about a possible national championship.

As the game progressed, the Washington offense began shifting into high gear, despite having lost J'Warren Hooker in the first quarter to a separated shoulder. By late in the fourth quarter, the game had turned into a quintessential Wild West shootout. The scoreboard read WASHINGTON 35, ARIZONA STATE 31. With 4:30 remaining, the Huskies held their collective breath as they sent in the punt team. From the Arizona State sideline, the fearsome talent of JR Redmond trotted out onto the field to receive the kick. The punt was thumped and the muscular, yet lanky Redmond settled under and hauled it in. Then he set forth up field, juking and darting through the flailing arms of would-be tacklers, before flashing wildly 61 yards downfield to the Husky 20-yard line. Moments later, on fourth and goal from the Husky 8-yard line, Sun Devil QB Ryan Kealy threaded a football through two defenders to receiver Tariq MacDonald for the dramatic touchdown.

Now there were only two minutes left, and Arizona State was leading 38-35. The stadium, jammed with 72,000 delirious fans dressed in maroon and gold, was a combination of stifling heat and thunderous cheering. The Huskies were in a desperate situation.

Washington took over, and quickly found itself in a 3rd and 3 from near midfield. Huard took the snap and ran the option, only to make an atrocious pitch to the trailing Jason Harris. The ball bounded backwards and the Huskies barely recovered the football to retain possession. But now they faced a 4th and 17 from their own 37-yard line. There was only 0:38 left, and the clock was running…

Former Huskies Brock Huard and Reggie Davis recalled recently to Sports Washington the details of what happened next, and how that moment impacted their lives in later years.

"It was on that third-down play that we had tried the option, even though it wasn't exactly my forte," said Huard with a chuckle. ""Of course I made that bad pitch, but fortunately we were able to recover it. So now it's fourth down, and everyone's in shock. But I had a calm come over me. I didn't look to the sideline at all. I made the call up on the line of scrimmage. We had a check off called "Copper", which called for the receivers on each side to run a hitch route. So I make like I'm flipping a penny, which was the sign for "Copper," then I called the protection for the line and got ready to run the play."

Huard checks into "copper"

Reggie Davis describes his perspective: "We got up to the line and saw the defensive alignment. Brock checked into the Copper route, which meant that the wide receiver on the outside of me was going to run a 5-yard hitch route in order to keep the defensive back down, while I was running the corner route. I saw the safety cheating in, and I felt good about our chances."

The Sun Devil fans smelled blood. The cacophony of bellowing noise from the stands heightened the tension of this fourth-down play. The left-handed Huard took the snap and dropped straight back into the pocket, immediately looking for Davis down the right side of the field.

"I was under pressure and got hit when I threw it," said Huard, with enthusiasm in his voice. "I knew it was going to be a good ball. As I lay there with a lineman on me, I couldn't see anything. But I could hear the crowd getting quieter and quieter, until I could only hear the sounds of my teammates celebrating, as well as the Husky fans in the corner of the end zone."

Huard had thrown a beautiful, arcing spiral which connected with his agile tight end running down field. Reggie Davis assumes the narrative from here:

"The ball seemed to hang in the air forever," he said with a laugh. "While the ball was on its way, I was thinking JUST CACTH THE BALL, JUST CATCH THE BALL!" After I caught it, I had gotten behind the defender and then tried to put a little move on Fright Night—and then I just kept running until I was in the end zone."

As "Fright Night" Friedman pursued Davis from an angle, the Husky tight end put a nasty little shoulder juke on him. The hard-hitting Sun Devil's grappling arms slid off of Davis like he was helping to remove a dinner jacket in fast motion.

"I saw the film later," said Huard. "And Reggie made a great catch and then made an unbelievable play on Fright Night. Then Reggie was in the end zone. It was a moment of absolute, pure joy."

"There was a funny thing about that play," said Davis. "All summer and fall Brock and I couldn't hook up on that play. I would either drop it or he would slightly overthrow me, or whatever. The only time we ever connected on it was that play to beat Arizona State."

Upon the putting green of a football surface, Huard fell to his knees and pointed skyward with both index fingers. Then he got up and ran to the end zone to join in the jubilant celebration of his teammates. Moments later, the clock expired, and the Huskies had posted an unforgettable 42-38 triumph. But unbeknownst to Huard, Davis and the others, another twist of fate was to show itself.

"After the game we were in euphoria," said Huard. "It was a just a wonderful feeling of total, complete joy. And it was really, really hot – 100 degrees even at night there. We go into the locker room, and there is Josh Smith lying on blocks of ice. A pile of ice, about 5' x 6' had been made for him. He was literally white as a sheet. He had lost so much water from the game, he was so dehydrated that he nearly died right there in the locker room. They couldn't get an IV needle into him, and he went into convulsions. We all went dead silent wondering if he would die. We all waited... I can still see Dr. Scheyer getting that IV needle into him."

Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, some color returned to Josh Smith's face, and the defensive tackle was on the road to recovery.

"After we knew that Josh would be OK, then it was a feeling of relief and overwhelming happiness," said Huard. "In football there are high times when you hear the cheering, and there are low times when you hear the more negative responses. In my career I have experienced them both. But that moment was just complete joy… So sweet. Mom and Dad were there and I got hugs from them. We were up until 6 AM. Nobody slept until we got back home. It was just an unforgettable night."

Now in 2005, after playing for the NFL's San Diego Chargers, Reggie Davis is a tight end coach for the University of San Diego. Recently, he had an interesting exchange that stirred up memories of that night in the desert. He delights while recalling it.

"There is a woman at my church who was at that game. She was an Arizona State fan. We were at church, and during Bible study we started talking about that game. She said "THIS CAN'T BE THE SAME REGGIE DAVIS!" We laughed about it. She apologized for cursing me when I made that catch. We joke about it." Brock Huard, until recently a member of the Seattle Seahawks, describes another interesting detail that has arisen since that night.

"There is a die-hard Husky fan that I became friends with at the UW named Dave Cohen. He now works for the Atlanta Falcons. To this day, seven years later, he has a tape from that game in his office. When he is having a bad day and things aren't going right, he pops that tape into the VCR and watches the ending. He has it set for when I made that horrible pitch on the option play. So then his day goes from bad to horrible…

"But then all of the details of his bad day get washed away, when I throw that touchdown pass to Reggie Davis and we beat Arizona State."
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories