Four hours before kickoff, Husky Stadium rests. It's in such a deep sleep you could cut it open without causing agitation. That's what Washington is...
Four hours before kickoff, Husky Stadium rests. It’s in such a deep sleep you could cut it open without causing agitation.
That’s what Washington is doing, of course. A $250 million renovation is going smoothly, the remodeled structure is rising quickly, and the anticipation of a more comfortable place to gather next season is building.
Still, this season will be a little cumbersome.
Home is dormant, undergoing surgery. The surrogate home is, well, different. A season at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks’ place, began Saturday night with plenty of adjustments needed and without the charm of being located in one of college football’s most beautiful settings.
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It’s a small sacrifice to make for the necessary makeover of old Husky Stadium. And the Seahawks have one of the nicest venues in the NFL. But change, even if it’s just for this season, is awkward.
At 3:27 p.m. in the University District, it was evident the party had moved elsewhere. There was only mild foot traffic on University Way, which is usually bustling four hours before a Husky home game. A student wearing Washington quarterback Keith Price’s No. 17 jersey waited at a bus stop with fans wearing purple Dawg Pack T-shirts.
Closer to the stadium, a mellow baseball practice served as the only action in the cluster of on-campus sports facilities. Lake Washington, normally full of fans tailgating by boat, was relatively quiet, too. In front of a nearby rock-climbing practice facility, a woman did cartwheels for an audience of one.
That passed for competition at Montlake on this game day.
The traffic in and out of the area was especially light. Cars moved so fluidly that you should expect the Mariners to suggest that Chris Hansen build his NBA arena in that neighborhood.
It took me seven minutes to drive from Montlake to Sodo, where the Mariners played an afternoon game at Safeco Field before the Huskies’ nightcap. When the baseball game ended, purple-clad Husky fans walked alongside Mariners fans wearing yellow Felix Hernandez “King’s Court” T-shirts, and if you pretended those Hernandez shirts were gold, you would’ve thought it was one big UW fest.
It wasn’t. Attendance at CenturyLink Field was 53,742, only about 80 percent full. For all the excitement Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian has inspired, the Huskies still have a way to go before they can pack a guest house for an opener against San Diego State, especially on a day in which the Mariners and Bumbershoot provided some level of competition.
This was a different atmosphere. Loud and fun, but different. Husky fans acted as if they didn’t want to ruin the Seahawks’ carpet. Even though Washington played the Apple Cup at this stadium a year ago, there’s still an adjustment period.
It’s mostly because CenturyLink Field, for all its amenities, isn’t located in an area suited for college tailgating. Parking lots are segregated. The area is infamously congested. Fans were sprawled everywhere from downtown to Pioneer Square to Sodo to the International District. Instead of a great outdoor party, it was better for many to cram into bars.
Many fans, especially families with children, waited for the stadium to open. They stood with irritated body language as a stadium worker shouted, “You can actually stand closer if you’d like to. But the gates don’t actually open until 5:34.”
Parking lots asking for $40 or $50 sat mostly empty. Many fans chose to utilize public transportation, which had been advised.
For you to consider this game-day atmosphere a party, it would have to be one of those strange middle-school parties in which the boys and girls aren’t mingling.
“Normally, I get to Husky Stadium as early as I can get down there,” said Josh Miller, 27, of Mill Creek who has been attending Husky football games his entire life. “It’s a party, man. We have a good time, the people are friendly, Husky Stadium is a special place. Down here? There’s not a whole lot of space to do what we’d usually do. Everything’s all closed up. It’s very limited.”
Miller went to Bumbershoot for a few hours, then came to the stadium. Like many, he dialed his friends on his cellphone and debated the best place to meet.
“Well, I’m hoping as we get used to this area, the tailgating will be as good,” he said. “I’m hoping they’re going to serve beer inside.”
They did serve beer at CenturyLink Field on Saturday, but only in the premium sections. Even some of the perks came with an asterisk.
Ultimately, this adjustment was akin to having to eat a different cut of steak. It’s still good steak. It’s still good football. If you can afford to have it, you’re going to enjoy it.
And if that perspective isn’t a good pacifier, well, Husky Stadium is only 363 days from re-opening.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.