|Can't beat the view at UW|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
SEATTLE -- The University of Washington might be a 10-point underdog this Saturday against USC, but Husky Stadium's location should be worth a touchdown all by itself.
I've visited a lot of college campuses during my sportswriting career, and none has a more beautiful campus or a better setting than the University of Washington. As a UW alumnus, I know I'm hardly impartial. But even the poor drunks who spent their college days in the armpit that is Washington State University in Pullman would agree.
Tailgating might be more elaborate at LSU. It might bring out more people at Michigan or Ohio State. It might be more of a weekend-long party at Florida or Georgia. But nowhere is the view more spectacular than at Husky Stadium, which rises from the shores of Lake Washington and Portage Bay as majestically as 14,000-foot Mount Rainier rises in the background.
"I grew up across the lake, and all I ever wanted to do was play football for the UW," Husky safety Owen Biddle said. "I was a walk-on and I didn't have a scholarship and whenever I would get tired during practice, the big motivation for me was to look out at the mountains and the stadium."
The football isn't bad, either. Well. Maybe not this year, but generally speaking.
Of course, if you think I'm going to be objective about the University of Washington, forget it.
Readers regularly write to tell me that I have the greatest job in the world, and I won't disagree. But I wouldn't have this job had it not been for the UW. I didn't plan to go into journalism when I was a freshman. I wanted to be an actor or a lawyer or some other silly thing, until I met UW professors such as Fendall Yerxa and Mark Patterson, who encouraged me to begin writing.
I lived in Minnesota from 1989-2000 and I cover baseball's postseason every October, so I haven't been able to get out to Husky Stadium as often as I would like. But the UW Alumni Association didn't lose track of me. They never do. If the UW Alumni Association was in charge, not only would they have found Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein by now, they would also hit them up for $200 donations toward a new practice field before turning them over to the U.S. military.
This year's Stanford game was the first time I've actually boated to Husky Stadium. I did so through the gracious hospitality of longtime Husky fans Les Sargeant and his wife, Patty. When I challenged Husky fans to match the LSU tailgating experience, Les was the first to offer his boat, the good ship Silver Bullet.
It was a gorgeous autumn morning, the type of day when there is no finer city to live in than Seattle. Salmon jumped alongside our boat as we passed through the waterway connecting the Ballard boatyards to Lake Union. Rowers stroked by in their racing shells. Seaplanes flew overhead. The Space Needle and the Seattle skyline appeared as we cruised into Lake Union.
We passed the "Sleepless in Seattle" houseboat, picking up two more couples from a neighboring dock. The "Sleepless" houseboat can't be seen from the road, but it is a major destination for lake cruises.
"That house sold for $385,000 just after they made the movie," Steve Boyle told me as we made our way to Husky Stadium. "Now, I think it would go for over $1 million. You wouldn't want to walk around the living room naked, though."
We pulled up to dock outside the stadium and Les poured the world's best Bloody Mary, while Patty and friends served a delicious Mexican egg bake with to-die-for sausage. Their entire boatload of friends were so welcoming that I felt guilty when my wife and I excused ourselves to meet another tailgate party I had promised to attend.
My wife and I were enjoying ourselves so thoroughly, in fact, that it almost seemed a shame to go into the stadium for the game.
We did, however, and were rewarded with a come-from-behind Husky victory over Stanford. At times, it seemed as if no years had passed since my student days, especially given that the marching band still plays the same music. Which is nice. There is something reassuring in the knowledge that however old I get, however many years pass since my student days, the band will be playing "Tequila" and "Celebration" and "Bow Down to Washington."
In "A River Runs Through It," (the great book on flyfishing and life that Mark Patterson assigned to me in an UW English class on sportswriting), Norman MacLean finishes by writing, "I am haunted by waters." The same is true in Washington, where water is an inescapable part of our lives, from the glaciers of Mount Rainier to the mighty Columbia River to the lush rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula to the sea of Puget Sound to the rugged coastline of the Pacific to the brewing process of Red Hook beer.
Thus, as pleasant as my sunny September day was at Washington, Husky Stadium's true character is revealed only during the rains of November, when opponents shiver miserably on the sideline while the Huskies revel in the raindrops. (The team was originally named the SunDodgers.) I still fondly recall the 1981 USC game, played in a virtual hurricane with winds so severe that the great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote, "Even the toilet bowls had whitecaps."
It's nice to remember such games now, because these are not good days for the Husky athletic department.
Former coach Rick Neuheisel is suing the school because the department fired him for taking part in an NCAA basketball tournament pool. A doctor is being investigated for improperly providing painkillers and other prescription drugs to Husky athletes. And the team recently was upset by Nevada in one of the most embarrassing losses in school history.
None of that will matter, though, on Game Day. And that's the beauty of college football. Sure, it is rife with scandal. Sure, the players are exploited. Sure, the BCS system is a disaster.
But when the marching band plays "Tequila" and the team races onto the field and the mountains loom across the lake, you forget all that is bad about the sport and delight in all that is good. The band plays and suddenly you feel as young and as strong and alive as you did when you first walked across the Quad as a freshman, when every co-ed was attractive and every male was fit, when you were completely certain of yourself, and when every classroom opened a lifetime of possibilities.
And if you don't feel that way, I suggest you drink another one of Les Sargeant's tremendous Bloody Mary's.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.