The Time for Excuses is Over

Recently I was reflecting on how I have been writing for for over six years now. It doesn't seem that long, but the calendar does not lie. I thought back to the many people I have interviewed and the issues I have discussed in my articles. Then a sobering thought hit me: In that entire time, the Huskies haven't won a bowl game.

During my "reign", the Huskies have gone 29-42 and 0-2 in bowl games. They haven't even appeared in a bowl game since December 31, 2002, when they were humbled by a mediocre Purdue team in the Sun Bowl.

In the past six years, Husky fans have been pained by the team's pathetic downfall and off-field turmoil plaguing this program. Be it former Coach Rick Neuheisel's lack of integrity and competence, the 65-7 loss to Miami, former Coach Keith Gilbertson's volcanic tirades, the disastrous 1-10 and 2-9 seasons, the trials and scandals, or just witnessing Husky Stadium half-full during games, it has been difficult to maintain excitement.

Worst of all was that 20-3 loss to a hideous Stanford team in Husky Stadium last November. That was the lowest point Husky Football has ever been. That same week I received an email from a former Husky great who played in the early 90s. He was dismayed by the lack of intensity of the defense, and how opposing quarterbacks looked so comfortable throwing from the pocket.

"I was hoping for a better showing," he wrote. "One thing I notice is that the defense does not hit. I see them adjusting their helmets after every tackle. We wore our helmets tight so we could knock the (bleep) out of people. The only way to deliver painful hits is to bring the forehead through the target at full speed. The Huskies look like Pop Warner kids adjusting their helmets which are fitted for comfort as a recliner not as a weapon. This is a mindset."

But here we are in the spring of 2007-- and hope springs eternal, doesn't it? Coach Tyrone Willingham is entering his third season and has brought the program stability and consistency. His most heavily-prized recruit – quarterback Jake Locker—is just five months away from making the most anticipated Husky debut since running back Hugh McElhenny in 1949. Athletic Director Todd Turner has made some progress in reconnecting the program to thousands of fans who felt alienated largely during the regime of his predecessor Barbara Hedges. The most recent recruiting class brings forth a handful of exciting prospects, including receiver Anthony Boyles and running back Curtis Shaw - both of whom should make an impact this fall. In short, the time for excuses in explaining away the failures of Husky football is over. This program is due for some time in the sun.

Recently on a segment of "Football Friday" on KJR sports radio, host Dave "Softy" Mahler and analyst Hugh Millen had an interesting dialogue about the upcoming season. Millen—who is not usually given to hyperbole-- stated that Jake Locker possesses all the physical tools and leadership skills to become the greatest quarterback in Husky history. Mahler added the excellent comparison of Locker to former USC Trojan and Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer. Palmer was mediocre his first two seasons, before blossoming into a superstar and eventual NFL first-rounder. As a redshirt freshman this season, Locker will blunder and cause gaffes born of inexperience. But in addition to the rough edges, he will perpetrate brilliant plays that will illustrate his stratospheric potential. The idea of him leading the team for the 2008 and 2009 campaigns is obviously exciting to contemplate.

For 2007, it will be enough to see Locker play reasonably well and lead the Huskies to 7-8 wins and a bowl game. It will be enough to see the defense—led by inspiring linebacker Dan Howell—swarming to the ball and making quarterbacks pay once again for their dalliances in the pocket. It will be enough to see Husky Stadium jam-packed in welcoming in Ohio State and USC - and even better to see the Dawgs steal one of those games.

If all that can be accomplished, we will have had a fun season — with the allure of 2008 hovering on the horizon.
Derek Johnson can be reached at

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