The 1977 Washington Huskies football team, which won the 1978 Rose Bowl and kick-started Don James' UW coaching career, will be honored during the regular Husky Legends ceremony at the end of the third quarter of the Oregon State game Saturday.
Don James might have had better teams than the 1977 Huskies, but he might never have had one that was as important.
And Saturday, that team — which won the 1978 Rose Bowl, kick-starting James’ Washington coaching career — will be honored during the regular Husky Legends ceremony at the end of the third quarter of the Oregon State game.
James says it’s an especially fitting tribute as that team was critical in laying a foundation for the success that was to follow.
“What you need is a bowl season, a marquee win” to get a program going, James said this week.
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He got it in 1977 to get the Huskies on track after going 6-5 and 5-6 his first two seasons at UW. The 1977 team’s success was not without a few bumps, though.
James’ third team, quarterbacked by Warren Moon and featuring running back Joe Steele, receiver Spider Gaines and linebacker Michael Jackson, began 1-3 before a 54-0 rout of Oregon started a streak of seven wins in eight games, concluding with a victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
That was UW’s first bowl game of any sort since the 1964 season and the first of 14 under James, an era that redefined Washington football.
“It was a huge start to the program,” said Tom Turnure, an offensive lineman on that team. “You think about the ramifications of that season for the whole program. He [James] didn’t have that good a record going into it and it just kind of started the whole thing off.”
Not that anyone really saw it coming, especially when UW lost 19-17 on a late field goal at Minnesota in Week 4. “That was a long flight back home,” James remembered.
Just 36,489 had bothered to attend UW’s second game of the season, a win over San Jose State, with the newly formed Seahawks (who arrived in 1976) threatening to take away much of the Huskies’ attention.
Facing the conference opener at Oregon, newspapers speculated about what was wrong with the program. James said he decided to have the players rip up their goal sheets for the year heading into that Oregon game and instead “write each day in paper ‘what can I do to help the team today’ and take it on a day-to-day process.”
Something undoubtedly clicked as UW held the Ducks to 97 yards in winning easily, a victory James calls the key win of the season. Washington won the next two weeks, lost a close game at UCLA, then won the last three, including a 28-10 win at home over USC to finish 6-1 in the Pac-10.
Still, the Huskies needed some help from USC — which was hosting UCLA on the day after Thanksgiving — to get to the Rose Bowl. It came with two seconds left when USC’s Frank Jordan kicked a 38-yard field goal to send the Bruins to defeat and UW to Pasadena.
James remembers a raucous celebration at his home, which he had opened to the media.
“There were people in our house I never saw before or since,” he said. “We got just enough wins and a little help at the end to get us there. But we helped UCLA get in the Rose Bowl two times later, losing to the Cougars [in 1982 and 1983]. You need a break sometimes.”
The Wolverines, rated No. 4 in the country, were heavily favored in the Rose Bowl. Huskies center Blair Bush remembers that it was unusually rainy during practices, and the Huskies resorted to using a parking lot due to muddy fields. James recalls that the last practice before the game was a disaster.
“Our last hitting before the game, we couldn’t stop our scout team,” he said. “But I think maybe that helped get our attention. Our approach was just to take the scoreboard out of it and just get ready to play the best you can.”
The inspired Huskies jumped ahead 17-0 in the first half, then held off a late Michigan rally to win 27-20, Jackson sealing it with an interception at the 3-yard line in the final minutes.
Bush reels off the names of some of the players on that team who had lengthy NFL careers — himself, Moon, defensive tackle Doug Martin, cornerback Nesby Glasgow, Jackson, guard Jeff Toews, defensive end Dave Browning. He says what the Huskies did that year maybe shouldn’t have been such a surprise.
“It was a far more talented group than anyone would have recognized at that point,” he said.
Far more pivotal, as well.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com