Husky Stadium remodel keeps charm

Washington's Husky Stadium renovation removed the track and moved seats closer to the field. Tom Hauck for ESPN

I have always loved Husky Stadium. Perhaps my greatest moment of sheer, unabandoned joy and exhilaration was watching Fred Small recover the kickoff in the end zone at the 1981 USC game/hurricane. (Please, do not tell my wife I said that.)

Husky Stadium enjoys the finest setting in college football. Granted, as a University of Washington graduate, I'm biased. But I'm also right.

Of the approximately 50 major college football stadiums I've visited, none matches Husky Stadium for location. Lake Washington and the Cascade mountain range lie to the east, UW's gorgeous wooded campus and the Olympic mountain range lie to the west, and in between is the 93-year-old stadium housing a purple-and-gold clad college team (well, sometimes purple-clad these days), swaying cheerleaders, an enthusiastic marching band and a loyal crowd on wonderful autumn days.

Trust me, those other sights came in very handy during the Tyrone Willingham era.

After a one-year hiatus for construction, Washington fans will return to a remodeled Husky Stadium for the season opener Saturday against Boise State. They will both enjoy the improvements and be comforted by much of what they remember. In fact, when I tweeted a photo of the finished remodel, someone tweeted back, "Looks the same to me.''

Well, that's the whole beauty of it. The remodel wasn't so much about changing Husky Stadium as fixing it up and making it better, much like the Red Sox did with Fenway Park (which is only eight years older than Husky Stadium).

Yes, there are many new luxury suites and VIP areas but those will never affect most fans. The biggest substantial difference to Husky Stadium, though, is the removal of the track. That pushes fans closer to the field, particularly in the west end zone, where they are dramatically closer to the action. Fans are close enough now to hear opponents' tears flow after another loss to the Huskies.

There are more concessions and restrooms (but as one person mentioned, still no beer vendors). There is more legroom in the seats (if only the airlines would take notice) and easier movement entering and exiting the concourses (which used to get as backed up as the nearby Highway 520 floating bridge). The old single elevator powered by hamsters on treadmills has been replaced by multiple lifts with TVs. There are hundreds of TV monitors throughout the stadium, plus an improved video board that will hopefully show many highlights of the Huskies scoring touchdowns and intercepting passes and sacking quarterbacks and beating Oregon (hey, a guy can dream, can't he?).

There are some beautiful photo murals of campus scenes on the interior walls. The red brick exterior on the west end complements nearby Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The bronze husky statue has been moved to the main entrance area.

I would like to see a little more color inside rather than the rows of blindingly bare aluminum seats. Rather than just one purple section of seats one either side of midfield, perhaps alternating purple and gold sections throughout the entire stadium? Of course, during game days, you won't be able to see the seats when purple fans are crowded together cheering yet another touchdown.

I do have one major issue with the remodel, though. The student section, along with the band, was moved from some of the best seats along the north sideline to the end zone, where they don't even have seat backs. The student section is where the Wave was popularized. (Yes, Krazy George started it at the Oakland Coliseum, but we're the ones who made it go big.) It's where older alumni trained their binoculars on the cheerleaders. It's where I spent some of the happiest days of my college life.

It's important.

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward claims the remodel could not have been financed without the move, which allows the program to charge wealthy alumni significantly more money for those seats than students scraping by on year-old boxes of macaroni and cheese. But Woodward also says the school isn't using a single dollar of its staggering stash of new TV money for the remodel costs.

Couldn't it have put a tiny bit of that money to use by maintaining the tradition of the student section? After all, this is still a college team we're talking about, right? Students are what set college football apart and make it special. They should be a priority.

That leads to my biggest concern regarding stadium renovations nationwide. At a time when colleges face increasing cuts, athletic departments are spending billions of dollars in an escalating arms race. I mean, Oregon's new football facility features Brazilian Ipe wood flooring in the weight room (like there is no lumber in the state of Oregon) plus handwoven rugs from Nepal.

"Something is going to have to give," Woodward said about the arms race, emphasizing he was not referring to Oregon (yeah, right). "It gets to the point of being obscene. That's what we didn't want to be. We wanted to be good, not obscene. ...

"It's kind of like porn, you know it when you see it. I think it's the same thing [with the stadium arms race]. You just know it when you see it. Gauche. Over the top. Gilding the lily. I don't think you can say that about this project."

Well, there is a two-sided fireplace in coach Steve Sarkisian's office. I don't recall that Don James needed a fireplace in his office while taking the Huskies to the Rose Bowl six times.

All these luxuries are made to keep up with competing schools. The problem is there still will be the same number of losers as winners every season. Thus, programs don't get better on the average; they all just get more expensive. And they will continue to do so until something gets done.

Woodward is correct, though. The Huskies did not go over the top with the remodel. They simply made it better while keeping it largely the same.

That is good. In the end, what is most important is what happens on the field, not in the luxury suites or on a rug imported from Nepal. And when Washington wins, fans will cheer just as passionately and joyfully at remodeled Husky Stadium as they have over the previous nine decades.