Millen recalls '84 win over Michigan

When I was 13 years old, my Dad and I were in the living room watching the Washington- Michigan game in Ann Arbor, when the phone rang. It was the third quarter, and the Huskies had the ball on their own 27-yard line, with a 10-3 lead. Things were tense. My Dad answered, and it was my Mom (my parents were recently divorced). My Dad, normally a soft-spoken gentleman, stood off to the side with the receiver to his ear.

On the TV screen, Husky QB Hugh Millen took the snap and dropped back to pass. He looked deep and launched a long throw down field. Wide receiver Mark Pattison hauled the football in and raced untouched into the end zone for a touchdown.

My Dad bellowed, "Heeeeeeeyyyyyyyy!!!!"

I began yelling and jumped up, running around the room and pounding the walls.

My Dad suddenly grew quiet, and hung up the phone. He turned and faced me. "Unfortunately, I think I upset your mother," he said. "She hung up on me."

We stood looking at each other in momentary silence. Then my Dad exclaimed: "But, what a great play by our Huskies!"

In a recent visit with Hugh Millen, I told that story, and the former Husky QB and current KJR analyst laughed. "That's funny," he said. "And that game was a great day for the Huskies, especially the defense."

To understand the scope of what that 1984 game meant to Hugh Millen, we go back to his formative years.

"My Dad went to Michigan, and was a huge Michigan fan," he said. "I grew up in Seattle. But we didn't have the Seahawks yet and the Huskies were terrible. It was 1973 and I was 10 years old. While I liked the Huskies, they had a really bad season (2-9). I think as a kid you naturally gravitate toward the things your Dad likes. So I became a big Michigan fan. And they were wining, which always makes it easier to be a fan.

"At age eleven, I wrote a letter to a newspaper called the Michigan Daily describing how much I loved Michigan football. I sent them some money. And I started receiving issues of the Michigan Daily. They also sent me several player photos that were signed by the players."

When Millen was in his mid-teens, he was looking at future Husky schedules, when something jumped out at him and seized his imagination.

"It was 1980," he said. "I remember seeing that the Huskies were traveling to Michigan in 1984. I wanted to be a part of that. You've got to understand that I was a HUGE Michigan fan... As an example, I had a Los Angeles Rams helmet and some fishing line. I peeled the Rams stickers off, and painted the Michigan design onto the helmet. Then I took the fishing line and used it to suspend that helmet from the ceiling in my bedroom... Are you getting the idea here?"

By 1984, after a two-year stint at a junior college, Millen had transferred to Washington and become the starting quarterback. The Huskies boarded a plane destined for Ann Arbor, Michigan. The hosting Wolverines were ranked #2 in the nation, after beating #1 Miami the week before.

"It was the first game that I ever got on a plane and traveled in my life," said Millen. "Michigan's defense had intercepted Bernie Kosar six times the week before. I'm watching film all week and seeing this. We were so cognizant about not turning the ball over. I didn't want to go into Michigan Stadium and turn the ball over six times."

I asked Millen what he remembers most from the 24 hours prior to kickoff.

"What struck me was that at the team hotel, there's all these boosters everywhere, and the Husky band was there. I was totally unprepared for the party that was going on. There were thousands of Husky fans in the hotel and there were people everywhere having a great time. For some reason, I had this idea that you just go on the road and play Michigan and then go back home."

Prior to kickoff, and with most of the players on both teams still in the locker room, Millen walked through the tunnel and emerged at midfield, entering the stadium he had idolized for the previous ten years.

"I go out there to warm up my arm. I look around and think, "It's Michigan, here we are!" Then a handful of Michigan players come out onto the field. I was looking at their uniforms and their blue was much more of a vibrant, royal blue, than the navy blue I had always seen on TV. I even wondered for a moment if they had changed their uniforms. Of course, they probably hadn't. But I had such a clear idea in my mind as to what their uniforms were like, and the reality was different."

"Going into the game, I had a great mindset. I said to myself, `You've waited so long for this day to arrive, so go out and make it as fun as possible.' I was in a great mental state to compete. If anything, the nerves helped me put a little more on my deep outs... Once the game started, I never looked up. I never wanted to look up. I didn't want to take in the size of that stadium, and see the 103,000 people, and start freaking out."

As the game started, the Husky defense established a ferocious tone. The Husky offense, playing conservatively, put together an 18-play drive that resulted in a field goal. The first half was a nearly-even slugfest.

It was in the third quarter that the Huskies held to a 10-3 lead and had the ball on their own 27- yard line. As they broke huddle, Millen brought the offense to the line of scrimmage. At that point, he had completed 10 of 12 for 69 yards. As he leaned over center and began barking out signals, one of the season's great plays was about to unfold.

"We were going to go into a 7-step drop and hit (wide receiver) Danny Greene on a deep hook route," recalled Millen. "But Michigan came with a blitz and brought their safety down. It's Pattison's job there– he's clearing out on a post route. In a situation like that, the QB has to beat the safety, and the receiver has to beat the corner(back). We were in a protection with play action, and if we can get a hat on everyone then that play will succeed. If one guy blows his block, the play probably won't work... Michigan tried to disguise the blitz, and it was there for the taking."

The pass protection was perfect. Millen dropped back, wound up and heaved the deep, arcing spiral down the center of the field that connected with Pattison. The Husky wide receiver, who had his man beaten by two yards, raced untouched into the end zone. The stadium fell silent. The Husky sideline was going nuts.

"I remember getting back to the sideline", said Millen. "Now it was 17-3. Our defense was playing so well. Michigan was utterly inept against our defense. To me it was like a baseball game, with Randy Johnson pitching and now you're sending in Mariano Rivera to wrap it up. I felt our defense was in total command."

Millen chuckled at another memory he had as the Huskies attempted to run off clock in the 4th quarter.

"Trying to milk the clock– once you have some experience as a QB, you look at the play clock, and try to break huddle at under fifteen seconds. So we break huddle and we're up to the line, and I thought, `Oh, I broke huddle too early.' So we get into a set position, and Michigan is set, and I am looking at the scoreboard. For the first time during the game, I look around. I suddenly realize that there's 103,000 people waiting for me to take the snap. And I'm looking at the play clock slowly tick down: 14...13...12...11...10... It seemed to take forever.

"That was such a surreal moment for me."

When the game clock expired, Washington had stunned #2 ranked Michigan 20-11. The exuberant Huskies poured onto the field. I told Millen that during my microfilm archive research, I read that he had jogged over to Bo Schembechler, as the disgruntled Michigan coach was exiting the field.

"I was 20 years old at the time," said Millen. "At this point, I don't know what I was thinking. But I stuck out my hand and told him that I had been a big Michigan fan and had wanted to play for him. He shook my hand, but there's no real story to tell here. He didn't exactly want to engage me in a conversation."

Twenty-one years later, Hugh Millen sums up that game in this way: "My parents were in Germany, at a military base. But that game was actually on the Armed Forces Network, so my Dad got to see the game. That was certainly a surreal experience for him... It was also the ideal Don James way to win a football game. It was total domination by our defense. I only threw the football 16 times. We had a great game plan and we were so completely prepared to win that football game. It all stemmed from Don James' preparation. It was a great day for the defense, and a great day for the Washington Huskies."

As the team boarded a plane to return to Seattle, what was going through Millen's mind on the flight home?

"I couldn't wait to get to F.X. McRory's," he said.

Derek Johnson is a freelance writer and can be reached at Top Stories