You CAN go home again

There was a point during the Oregon State game, when suddenly the skies opened up and the cold rain started coming down. As if on cue, everyone around me frantically grasped for jackets and parkas.

I glanced over at my Dad, and then turned to look up into the gloomy sky. For the first time this season, it was heavy with dark clouds, which hovered right above us. These falling raindrops had been as nonexistent as inspired play had been upon the field.

Yet Saturday, something felt right again.

My gaze continued to circumnavigate the stadium. I looked to the flagpole. Old Glory was violently jostling about in all directions. Periodically, some debris would go scurrying along the track and migrate harmlessly across the field. The scoreboard showed that Washington was actually winning against the Beavers. The Husky sideline showed the majority of the players eagerly bunched to one side, as if straining to get the best possible view of the action while it took place on the field.

When the Husky defense was playing, it was as if the players could smell some blood. Beaver QB Derek Anderson was shaky in confidence, and making poor throws and decisions. The Husky players could feel it. The fans could smell blood too. There was a slight swagger to Washington's walk. The defense was on the field, and it felt good to watch them. It felt good to help stoke their feeding frenzy with our yelling and stomping. It felt good to explode out of our seats and exalt, when we snared each of those five interceptions. That special connection between the fans and the players seemed to be suffused together again. It was like a special recognition of sorts.

For the first time all year, it felt like Husky Stadium. I could have sworn that for a brief moment, I saw the ghosts of Jim Owens and Don James patrolling the sidelines (even though, for the record, they're not dead).

Our victorious Saturday against the Beavers certainly didn't start out with any great promise. At the beginning of the game, KJR sideline reporter Bill Schwartz commented with a perplexed tone of voice that he didn't sense any intensity coming from the Husky sideline. The Beavers however, looked primed and ready to go. The game started, and Washington sputtered to a three-and-out. This was followed up with another miserable punt. That nauseous feeling was starting to set in amidst the home crowd, like how it feels thirty minutes after consuming prawns that had gone bad.

But then a single play transformed Washington's season. Derek Anderson dropped back to pass, and launched a ball deep down the right side of the field. So many times this season, this story would have been an ugly one. The enemy receiver would see the ball and begin to make adjustments to it. The Washington DB would seem frantic enough just trying to keep up stride-for-stride, and not even turn to look for the ball. Then the enemy would leap and grab the ball, before speeding off for the end zone, while our guy was left to sprawl to the ground, awkwardly in the receiver's wake.

Not this time, however. Washington defensive back Derrick Johnson was stride for stride with the Beaver receiver. He turned as the enemy turned; it was Johnson who was in great, aggressive position, leaping up like a wide receiver and making a spectacular catch. His purple comrades on defense erupted. The Husky sideline went nuts; unlike any time I have seen this year. It was different than their reaction to Reggie's 80-yard game-winner against Arizona. That was a feeling of exalted relief. This time was different. This time was a feeling of ‘look what we are capable of doing!' The fans too exalted in this play as much as any other in the game.

To the Beavers, it sent a message:
This is not the same Washington team that you saw throughout your film study the previous week.

As Chuck Knox used to say, "nothing succeeds like success." One aggressive play followed another, with Johnson picking off another pass and going 42 yards for the score. At about the 10-yard line, he started to go into a showboat high-step. But it seemed awkward and out of practice. By the time he reached the goal line, he was just running in basic form. Oft-maligned Chris Massey snared another Anderson pass just minutes later, and took off for pay dirt. This was an amazing shot in the arm that UW has thirsted for all season. These two players provided the spark, and made the play with aggressiveness.

Oregon State showed resilience, and rallied to cut the deficit to 24-22. However, despite the inability to run the ball, Washington seemed to will its way down the field. The Dawgs tallied a score right before half, giving them a 31-22 advantage.

In other 3rd quarters this season, the Huskies would come out flat and be steamrolled by the opponent.

Not this time, however. Washington came out and sustained the effort, seeing it all the way through to the finish. Just a week earlier against UCLA, there was always a feeling of impending disaster with each play. But against OSU, there was no sense in the second half that we would let this one get away. The home field advantage seemed to assert itself like the days of old, and Washington prevailed.

It felt really good to watch this team again. It wasn't just the fact we won, but it was in the inspired way we played.

With this sudden, late-season spark, the Purple Warriors now carry with them some momentum. As the season draws to a close, they get set to march south across the border and invade the town of Eugene.

Set your VCRs.
Derek Johnson can be reached at djohnson@Dawgman.com

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