university-of-washington-huskies-helmet-spotlightNote: After completing their regular season with a Pac 12 North Division Championship and an 11-1 record the University of Washington Huskies football team then blew out the Colorado Buffaloes in the Pac 12 Championship game 41-10 to earn the right to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time in the last 16 years. There was only one problem—as the #4 ranked team in the nation the College Football Playoff Committee then named UW as the 4th seed in the College Football National Championship Playoffs. So, the USC Trojans will be the Pac 12 rep in the granddaddy of all Bowl games. The Dawgs have more important business to tend to—like beating the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide for a shot at the College Football National Championship. In just 3 years UW head coach Chris Petersen has brought glory back to Huskies football. It’s a momentous accomplishment, and as a Huskies fan for well over half a century now, there are a few thoughts I’d like to share. I invite you to read on…MA


Alright Husky Football fans—here’s a pop quiz for you:

When was the last time the Purple and Gold played the University Of Alabama Crimson Tide?

If you answered the 1986 Sun Bowl you would be correct.

Cornelius Bennet

Cornelius Bennet

I remember that game really, really well. To my way of thinking it is one of the most important games in UW football history, though not for the reasons one would expect. The Don James led Huskies went into that contest ranked about even with Alabama nationally, (Washington #13 and Alabama #12 depending on the poll consulted) but the Tide rolled that day, defeating the James Gang 28-6. The star of the game was an Alabama senior defensive end/linebacker named Cornelius Bennett. Ranging from sideline to sideline and all over the Huskies backfield, Bennett racked up 11 tackles and a sack in the game to walk off with the Sun Bowl MVP award. [1]

None of that is why this particular game is significant to Husky history, however. It was while watching Bennett and his incredible speed, as well as that of his Alabama teammates, that James realized that his team just had to get faster. In several articles written after this Sun Bowl based on interviews with James, he made a point of emphasizing this. The Huskies head man had made his decision, but it would take a couple of new recruit classes to get the players he needed to get the results he wanted to see on the football field.

Flash forward to the 1990 season. Who remembers the USC game that year, when on September 22nd at sun-bathed Husky stadium James unleashed the full fury of the team he had assembled out of the debris of that 1986 Sun Bowl?  (Who doesn’t remember it?) Staying true to his emphasis on team speed James had fashioned a monster squad that demolished the #5 ranked Trojans that day 31-0, prompting Southern Cal quarterback Todd Marinovich, whom the Dawgs had pounded mercilessly throughout the game, to state afterward, “All I could see was purple.” The Huskies went on to win the 1990 Pac 10 championship with a 7-1 conference record (10-2 overall) and defeated Iowa in the Rose Bowl 46-34.

"The Dawgfather" with Mario Bailey (L) and Steve Emtman (R) fine artist Robert Blehert

“The Dawgfather” with Mario Bailey (L) and Steve Emtman (R) …by fine artist Robert Blehert

As great as 1990 was, however, the full impact of James’ vision would not be realized until the following season. That 1991 Huskies team, led by the greatest array of Huskies players ever assembled at one time, including defensive lineman Steve Emtman, offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy, linebacker Dave Hoffman, quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Billy Joe Hobert, running back Beno Bryant, wide receiver Mario Bailey and a host of others, rampaged to a 12-0 record, a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan and a shared National Championship with a University of Miami team that also went 12-0. [2]

I could go on and moan about how the Don James era came to a close shortly after this, with the Billy Joe Hobert loan scandal and the sanctions levied against the Dawgs by the Pac 10 conference for Washington’s supposed “lack of institutional control”—but I am not going to. Suffice it to say that it was a sad time for all loyal Huskies fans. Those years, in fact the entire 18 year Don James career at UW, were the golden age of Huskies football; and from the moment the Dawgfather stepped down in 1993 we Huskies fans have been simultaneously trying to relive those years—and get back to them.

Huskies head coach Chris Peterson

Huskies head coach Chris Petersen

And that is what makes Chris Petersen and what he has done in his 3 years as the head coach at UW so special. When he first came to the Huskies after compiling a 92-12 record across 8 seasons at Boise State we all had hopes that he would be the man for the job. He was replacing Steve Sarkisian, who left the Huskies for his dream job at USC following the 2013 season. Sarkisian had revived the UW football program somewhat after the disaster of the Tyrone Willingham era, but for those Dawgs fans who pined for the Don James glory years there was still something missing from Sark’s teams. To me that missing element was defense. James’ teams were built around suffocating and hard hitting defenses, and I got so tired of watching the sieve that often was the Husky defense while Sark ran the program.

Understanding this about me, you can imagine my joy earlier this season as I watched Petersen’s Huskies throttle the then #7 ranked Stanford Cardinal 44-6 at an electric Husky stadium with an efficient offense, but also a great DEFENSE! I loved everything about what I was seeing, and I wasn’t the only one. A good friend of mine, like me a long time Huskies fan, called me after the game and left me a voicemail that spoke volumes. All he said in the message was “Woof! The Dawgs are back!!”

Huskies "D" abusing Stanford

Huskies “D” abusing Stanford

How right my friend was—and is! The Dawgs ARE back, and about a week from now will once again play Alabama; and this time there is a lot more than a Sun Bowl title at stake—this time it’s for a shot at the College Football National Championship game! It’s the biggest stage in college football, and for me, and for the tens of thousands of old Dawgs fans like me, who came to regard championship football as their birthright during the Huskies golden age, we know it doesn’t get any better than this.

And, in our heart of Huskies hearts, we know something else as well—that wherever he is right now, Don James has got to be smiling.

Go Dawgs!

Copyright © 2016

By Mark Arnold

All Rights Reserved


[1] Cornelius Bennett, after his Alabama career, would go on to become one of the elite NFL linebackers of his era; remembered best as one of the defensive stalwarts of those great Buffalo Bills teams of the early 1990s that went to, and lost, four straight Super Bowls. In the process he would garner not one, but two AFC Defensive Player of the Year awards.

[2] That shared national title 26 years ago has been a never ending source of angst for serious Husky fans. The issue of which team was best could not be settled on the football field back then, due to the fact there was no college playoff system in place and due to the Bowl contracts that required certain conference champions to play in certain Bowl games. Regardless, we all know what would have happened had the Huskies been able to play the Hurricanes that year—the Dawgs would have demolished them.


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4 Responses to The Dawgs Are Back, and Somewhere Don James Is Smiling—by Mark Arnold

  1. This is an outstanding article and your articulation skills are so good. I am about your age as I have seen all of those games myself. I, too, feel like we are on the cusp of greatness as well. GO DAWGS!!

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Thanks Terry! We’ll see how the Huskies do against Alabama this time. Like you, I’m looking forward to the next golden age of UW football!! Mark

  2. steve rodriguez says:

    Very well communicated Mark. The Dawg Father is smiling indeed, Go Dawgs!!!

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Thanks Steve!This is one big game on Saturday and am very excited to see how the Huskies do against the vaunted Crimson Tide. Go Huskies!

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