Technique of the Drama

Saturday ended as a dark night of soul-searching, for Husky players and fans alike. For the players, it was as they flew westward for five long hours, immersed in their Walkmans and thoughts. For the fans, it was as they commiserated over beers with friends in living rooms, watching Sportscenter, and wincing yet again the next morning as they unfurled the Sunday paper and absorbed the painful headlines.

Whereas many Husky fans right now feel bitterness, frustration and a need to affix blame, I see this as potentially being perfect and beautiful. For we have just witnessed the first chapter of what, by January, may prove to be an enthralling story.

In story writing, there are a handful of key points to keep in mind while composing. First off, you need worthwhile protagonists and well-motivated characters. We certainly have that with this group of Washington players. This is a good group of hard-working and talented kids who found themselves suddenly down 14-0 amid a hostile environment. They could have succumbed and surrendered and allowed themselves to be fed to the wolves. Yet, they battled back to reclaim the lead three separate times on Saturday. They actually lead 29-28 with 0:06 left on the clock. This was not a dismal showing such as the Oregon State and Miami games of last year. What disappoints us about the Mariners right now is the seemingly unwillingness to fight for victory at the end of games. They just simply roll over and die. Not a worthwhile protagonist to root for in a story. Not so, what we witnessed against Michigan. Even in defeat, this 2002 Husky squad unquestionably is a team of character; thus a group of protagonists worth following. In one of the most exciting college football games I have ever seen, the Huskies fought to the end.

The second key point for a great story is that you need a ruling passion for your protagonists. These Huskies have their sights set on the Rose Bowl this year. They believed it possible coming into the Michigan game, and from this contest they saw that they could adequately square off with any opponent this season. The Huskies are still 100% in control of their Rose Bowl destiny.

The third key is providing worthy opposition. There can be no contest, no struggle, and no story, without evenly matched contestants. Kicking the season off against North Dakota St. would not have presented any challenge to the UW. We would have learned nothing about the character of this team. However, in facing off against Michigan (on the road) to start the season, it was like Luke Skywalker in his first harrowing confrontation with Darth Vader. Yes, there were painful blunders, but overall Michigan clearly brought out Washington's resourcefulness and skills on Saturday. As linebacker Kai Ellis stated afterward, with ice covering the majority of his body, "you got 100% of me out there today." That could have been said of the team effort as well.

The fourth key for a great story is plunging the protagonists right away into conflict. The circumstances that lead up to Washington's defeat were so unfathomable, that the truth was indeed stranger than fiction. That "completed" pass and subsequent fumble, recovered for a first down; that incredibly ill-timed cramp in the leg of Greg Carothers; that horrific 12th man penalty that gave Michigan one final, desperate chance to win the ball game.

The sights and sounds of Michigan players swarming about the field in unbridled ecstasy, while the stunned Huskies numbly made their way to the locker rooms- this will obviously haunt the Dawgs for some time to come. In a sense, fate has dealt Washington a very tough blow. However, there are still eleven more games to play.

How will Washington respond? Since we are following worthwhile characters, we are now interested to see how they will respond to the adversity.

The fifth key to an interesting story is the existence of inner conflict in the minds of our main characters. Given the magnitude of the Michigan game, and the heartbreaking loss, there are probably twenty-five different Huskies replaying in their minds mistakes that they made, and wishing they could make amends. There is an entire coaching staff that is now taking heat, and rightly so, for the horrific blunders that occurred. They will agonize and watch game film and regroup and fight on. They have proven their worthiness overall from the solid game plan that Washington executed against Michigan. They have recruited amazingly well, and have put the proper kind of kids with both talent and character in position for great things. Against Michigan, the coaches oversaw some shoddy special teams play and are responsible for a horrific blunder in the end.

How will they respond now?

The sixth key is the involvement of slowly rising conflict within the framework of the story. There is in front of UW a string of winnable contests, before tough conference play begins. The possibility of the Rose Bowl looms in the end. This is an immensely talented Washington team, and their true colors and sense of commitment will be slowly revealed as they go through several emotional stages and challenges that the season will bring. The attacks and counterattacks. You hope for signs of growth in your main characters, which in this case would be not just victories, but reduced mistakes, crisper execution, stronger resolve, and enjoyment of the journey. The question for the Huskies is, will the Michigan game prove to be an albatross of doom hung around their collective neck, or will the pain of it spur them on to achieve greatness? We eagerly follow such a group of protagonists because they are worthwhile characters and we wish to see how they will respond.

The seventh key is the premise. The premise of a story is simply a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict of the story. We don't yet know the premise of this season. It is kind of like an equation, such as A + B = C. For the UW, it might end up as:
Devastating loss leads to a loss of confidence and unraveling of season. Or perhaps, it will be:
Devastating loss leads to strengthening of resolve and season-ending glory.

We shall see.

The eighth and final key is that of the story's final buildup and concluding climax. As Washington winds up its remaining games in Pac-10 play, will they be overcoming their obstacles? Will they use what happened last Saturday as motivation? Will they confront and overcome the other Northwest schools? As mid-November arrives, will they find themselves in a tear-filled and emotional locker room in the Palouse, holding high their Apple Cup trophy and invitation to Pasadena? Will they look back at the Michigan game as something that perhaps had to occur, for them to achieve what they did? Will they look back in pride considering what obstacles they fought through?

In story telling, one of the sweetest parts of all is the emergence of poetic justice. Imagine Washington taking the field in Pasadena, and staring across at those same Michigan Wolverines. It would be the return of Luke Skywalker for a second and final confrontation with Darth Vader. The haunting memories of that field goal splitting the uprights; of Michigan's joyous celebration; of Washington's stunned disbelief.

Washington would be lining up once more against this formidable foe. The final test of mettle to this group of young men. Hopefully more disciplined, sharper, having evolved from the overcoming of obstacles. In such a scenario, a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan would be ten times sweeter, than it would have been without the events of last Saturday. That set of circumstances wouldn't have made the character of this team; it would have revealed it.

And what a damn satisfying story that would make.
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories