To everything there is a cycle

Following the dismaying loss to Oregon State this past Saturday, I read some depressing comments on Sunday morning. One local Seattle columnist referred to the Huskies as being "the football equivalent of the Hindenburg." He also added: "If there is a word that describes accurately the Washington football team it is most assuredly `embarrassing.' This team has regressed from sublime to ridiculous."

A Husky fan named Jim from Bothell wrote: "Could it be that the poor record and inept performance of the Husky football team is really the result of lousy coaching? These coaches seem unable to adjust or even comprehend what is happening on the field."

Walt from Seattle wrote: "The coaches have got to get the team motivated, even if it means half-time Knute Rockne-type oratory. That is an essential part of their job. They also need a return to fundamentals-- namely offensive blocking on the part of the linemen."

On and on it drones. But the irony is that the above comments were written in 1977. I found them this past Sunday while researching microfilm of the Seattle P-I at the University of Washington. That was the year the Huskies started 1-3, before turning things around and ending up as Rose Bowl Champions. To Husky fans, Coach Don James wasn't yet a legend, but rather some unknown guy from back east. He was into his third season and knew that the patience of fans and boosters was on the wane.

Those above quotes from fans and media came the week after the Huskies lost to Syracuse, which in 1977 was the equivalent of losing to Nevada today. After James addressed the media that day, reporters were stunned when the normally stoic coach slammed his fist into the door while exiting the media room.

Unlike that '77 squad, this year's version of Husky football is certainly not going to the Rose Bowl. It is one of the worst teams the Pac-10 has ever seen. If one were writing a novel about a pathetic football team, and wanted to depict the hitting of rock bottom, the writer could utilize the scene against Oregon State. The ice-cold torrential downpour was at times being carried sideways in the blustery wind, drenching a stadium half-filled with people. The Huskies had a first-and-goal at the Beaver nine yard line—and yet there was a palpable sense that Washington was probably not going to score. Sure enough, two plays later, the Husky fullback runs into the quarterback, the ball pops loose, and the Beavers recover.

It symbolized the entire game, as well the past two seasons.

Following the turnover, the Husky players jogged slowly back to the sideline with their heads bowed. Head coach Tyrone Willingham, dressed in a black-hooded jacket, stood stoically amid the relentless driving rain. The stadium's lights reflected off the saturated track surrounding the field. Viewed from the right vantage point, it was quite an image in futility. Willingham's face looked terse; his diminutive frame looked even smaller than usual, set against the backdrop of his dispirited team and the cavernous expanse of empty seats throughout a waterlogged Husky Stadium.

Or take the dreadful manner that Washington's suddenly porous offensive line was overwhelmed by the mediocre Beaver defensive front seven. Time and again, the Beavers blitzed and stunted and were untouched in their pursuit of the Husky ball carriers and quarterback. The offensive line's efforts reminded me of an old rerun of `I Love Lucy", when Lucy was working at a chocolate factory's conveyer belt. It got going so fast that many of the chocolates were zipping past and she was grabbing them and cramming them into her mouth, stuffing them into her apron and tossing them over her shoulder-- doing anything to keep up with the frantic pace.

Overall, things at Washington have never been bleaker. A second straight 1-10 season looms as a fearful possibility. When Tyrone Willingham was hired, the main concern of many Washington fans was whether the program was dooming itself to another ten years of 6-5 seasons. Nowadays, a 6-5 record seems like an impossibly lofty goal.

But given current circumstances, Tyrone Willingham's track record actually points to something positive. He has consistently produced solid football teams that have gone to bowl games. He inherited what was the worst football team in America last season, and was barely given a month to recruit his first class. This season, he has had to mold an undisciplined and untalented group of players, and attempt to motivate them to perform on Saturdays. In the next couple of years, the current roster will begin to turn over, and the current players will be replaced by incoming freshmen that more reflect Willingham's character. Willingham was able to fill out quality recruiting classes at Stanford, and he will impact Washington in a similar manner.

It is understandable that in yearning for gratification, many supporters of Husky football are immensely frustrated and demanding answers. It numbs the soul to watch Husky football these days. It is getting to the point where everyone associated with the program is wondering what the point to all of this is. With luck, when plans for potential new stadium designs are unveiled this coming January, Husky fans will finally feel a sense of direction and vision from Athletic Director Todd Turner.

Within three to four years, it may come to pass that Willingham will return the Washington Huskies to good standing. Whether good standing will plateau at 6-5 every year, is a concern for a future time. The Huskies have to re-learn to walk before they can run.

This off-season, whether the image we hold is of Willingham standing in the rain looking terse while his team is being humiliated by Oregon State; or that of Don James slamming his fist into a door in Syracuse, New York after losing to the lowly Orangemen (and having fans openly question whether he was incompetent), we must remember that nature does work in cycles. The seed that is planted in the spring and nurtured in the summer—will be harvested in the fall. For some the cycle takes longer (see Oregon State); for some the cycle reaps a supreme bounty (see USC). But it's true for all things in life, and there's no getting around it. And as the expression goes, "God is in the details."

To anyone who is respectful of the cycles of nature and is mindful to the little details of their vocation, good things will eventually happen.

Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories