Former Players Ready To Bring it Back

SEATTLE - Braxton Cleman was fired up as the Washington Huskies were about to come out of the tunnel for the second half of their game against UCLA. He hadn't been in the tunnel for a while - frankly he wanted to get a chant going. Something along the lines of 'Say who? Say what.' You might know the rest.

Cleman was slapping helmets of guys he didn't even know, but he didn't have to be friends with them; they were wearing purple and gold. That's all he needed to know. Those are his brothers, the ones that were supposed to be playing for him like he did for the guys that came before him. He was amped. He needed a couple of carries to cool himself down.

But instead of elicting a response from the young pups, they barely acknowledged him. Instead of running out of that hallowed tunnel with their hair on fire and bad intentions in their heart, they casually jogged out to polite applause from the 30,000 or so that had decided to stay late to see if this group of Dawgs had anything left in their tank.

They didn't. Washington was shut out the final 30 minutes and were outgained 125-30 as they whimpered their way toward a school-worst 0-10 record.

"So that's how they do it now?" Clemen queried.

Yup, Braxton. That's how they do it.

"Obviously there's not a whole lot that can be said about tonight," UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said after the Bruins' 27-7 win. "We didn't run it, throw it, tackle it, catch it, or do it in a manner that would put us in a position to be successful."

I don't think he actually said that Saturday night. I believe that was some stock audio from the Oregon game.

And while guys like Cleman, Elliot Silvers, Todd Elstrom, Spencer Marona, John Hart, Wilbur Hooks, Rock Nelson, Anthony Kelley and Elliott Zajac - all members of Washington's 2001 Rose Bowl win over the Purdue Boilermakers - were there, in part, to see Bruins' Head Coach Rick Neuheisel, they weren't there to parade around the UCLA sideline. Far from it.

In talking to a few of them, it was clear Neuheisel will always hold a place for them, but only because he was their coach at UW for a while. "Regardless of what went down, he was our coach, we did get to go to the Rose Bowl and we got a chance to share a pretty special year," said Hooks, who has lived in the greater-Seattle area since graduation. "No one can take that away from us."

"That (Rose Bowl) was the last thing this program did," added Cleman. "So I'm proud to say that I was a part of that."

But you didn't see any of them line up and make dinner reservations with Neuheisel. In fact some, like Zajac, haven't spoken to, or seen Neuheisel since his unseemly departure from Montlake.

"That's the way I'd like to keep it," he said, matter-of-factly.

And who could blame him? Rick did his thing in the middle of the field after his win, then walked on over to the visitors section, his fist slowly pumping by his side in a motion that clearly would indicate his team did something big, which they hadn't.

They just beat arguably the worst team in the history of the university, but that wasn't the point. It was all part of a grand theatrical presentation that only Neuheisel could produce. The encore was getting his wife Susan to come with him, boys in tow, to the boisterous cheering of the Bruin faithful. They walked toward the tunnel, photographers and cameramen buzzing around him like worker bees to their queen.

"Hopefully we can put this behind us as both programs look toward the future," he said afterward. Apparently he didn't get the memo. His former players already have, and the current Huskies barely know who he is.

"I give him a bunch of props," Cleman said of Neuheisel. "He's always been a great coach. But I love purple and gold. I'm always going to stay with that, no matter what. I'll never let that die."

The larger issue at bar Saturday night had to do with something that's been missing for about four years now. It's apparently called the 'Husky Core'. Far be it for me to understand what that all entails, especially when guys like Kelley can describe it in a way I never could.

"It's a sad thing to see," he said. "Everybody's talking about them being the worst Husky team, but you have to have a Husky pride about you. It's missing. It's not out there. It's in those chants and in the way you carry yourself. We weren't the most talented, but if we were going to lose we were going to start a fight or something to let us know that you were in Husky Stadium.

"That's embarrassing."

Welcome back, AK. It's been a long time coming. Kelley has been busy finishing up his Master's degree, which will happen this spring. He might be doing some work in the local high schools, possibly Garfield, Roosevelt or Nathan Hale. He's also coaching youth football, getting them ready to take a trip for a tournament in Las Vegas.

I bet that team has the 'Husky Core' in it.

"Seeing that presence, seeing Braxton and everyone here that I played with - you don't see those types of guys on this field right now," he added. "You see a bunch of guys that reflect one type of character. It's not conductive. Look at our group. We had so many dynamic things going on on our team that made us a great whole, and I think these guys have done a poor job of trying to coordinate those dynamics to keep those things going."

Reading between the lines? I think AK wants the chants back.

"(Former UW) Coach (Jim) Lambright may not have been a player's coach, but he held tight to the Husky Core, and that's something I can appreciate."

So as Willingham and the Washington Huskies v. 2008 get ready for what plans on being an epic Apple Cup, they should take a tip from guys like Braxton and AK. It certainly couldn't hurt.

"Nothing is good right now," he said when asked about the current mood of the locker room. "But we'll take a little break, get refreshed and attack the Apple Cup."

Maybe it was under their noses all along, but just didn't know it. Maybe the answer lies in belting out a couple of chants - just for old times' sake. "Maybe through osmosis we can provide a little bit of energy and some of that success we had with some of the guys out there," said Elstrom.

So my advice to a team looking to snap a 12-game losing skid? Break out a 'Say who' chant like you're alone in the shower. Don't be embarrassed! Get the chants flowing like rivers of gatorade through the moat. Have it go back and forth, like 'Go' and 'Huskies'. Play with it, have fun with it. After all, that's what those chants were supposed to be about in the first place: having fun and getting ready to defend something like you life depended on it. As a team.

Putting the 'Husky Core' back into this team's system just might be the 'seven minute message' they've been waiting to hear.

And if that doesn't work, Cleman would definitely love to take a crack at being a coach at UW. Any coach.

"Get me a coaching position, please," he said. "I will coach anyone, let me know. I'm a good people person." Top Stories