s you entered spiffy new Husky Stadium — I call it the Taj MaHusky — the video board offered a greeting of grandeur: “Welcome Home To The Greatest Setting in College Football.”
It was a simple, graceful nod to a priceless treasure: the area. The University of Washington spent $280 million to rejuvenate a decaying stadium, but money can’t buy the most cherished aspect of enjoying a football game here. The picturesque setting is truly the greatest in the sport with Lake Washington as an accommodating neighbor, with the Cascade Mountains peeking in from the east and the Olympic Mountains from the west. Husky Stadium has been a complement to its perfect location for 93 years now, and from an aesthetic point of view, the renovation that the school unveiled Saturday night was essential to keep up with the surrounding beauty.
Husky Stadium had to live up to Montlake’s charm. And on this night, in one of the most anticipated season openers in Washington football history, the Huskies were tasked with doing the same.
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For certain, they played to the occasion.
And this stadium hybrid of old and new shook again, dancing amid eardrum-tickling noise and celebrating a team that made an even louder statement.
Welcome home: Washington 38, Boise State 6.
Welcome home to the greatest season-opening performance of the Steve Sarkisian era. Welcome home to an inspired team with a sleek up-tempo offense perfectly suited for quarterback Keith Price and a defense that just consumed a Boise State program that is traditionally one of nation’s highest-scoring teams. Welcome home to Husky football. Real Husky football.
The night began with reverence about a place — OK, a palace — and ended with dominance from its tenant.
“We’ve been waiting for this game for so long,” wide receiver Kevin Smith said. “Nine months since our last game (a 28-26 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl). We wanted to show them, show everybody, we can come out there and play.”
The Huskies didn’t just beat the perpetual giant-killing Broncos. They ran No. 19 Boise State into submission with their Speedy Gonzales offense. And despite the pace, the Washington defense shut down its potent opponent, limiting Boise State to just 3.9 yards per play and keeping the Broncos out of the end zone for the first time since 1997, when Washington State hammered a much different Boise program 58-0.
In the most important game of Sarkisian’s five-year tenure, the Huskies mirrored the stadium’s renovation with their own makeover. The Huskies had declared all preseason they were angry, upset over blowing close games against Washington State and Boise State to end last season. They certainly played like it.
Such a performance was a boon for Sark entering Year 5. Before the game began, he had a 26-25 career mark that is exactly what it looks like: A respectable job returning the program to competitiveness, but mediocre nonetheless.
Sarkisian promised better when he was hired in 2008, and, yes, it takes time to rebuild a program that finished 0-12 the season before he arrived. But five years is a significant number in the perception of a coach, and the pressure is multiplied because Sark is the lucky man who has now been given everything — from facilities to a hefty payroll for his assistants — that coaches say they need to build a winner.
It’s time to demand more. It’s time to stop putting qualifiers on what constitutes a successful season. It’s time to perform like this consistently and not even be surprised.
The Huskies weren’t surprised, by the way.
“I’m not going to say, ‘Yeah, we were supposed to blow them out,’ ” wide receiver Kasen Williams said. “But we knew that if we played our game, we were going to come out on top. We just continued to pound them and did what we’re supposed to do.”
The Huskies leap and tap an “Expect To Win” sign in their tunnel before rushing onto the field. They must’ve thought it said “Expect To Maim” on Saturday.
For a glorious night, the Huskies didn’t just demand more. They accomplished it. The marketing department’s “Retake Montlake” slogan was more battle cry than catchphrase.
Husky Stadium doesn’t live off its location anymore. The old building finally dressed itself up and made its surroundings proud. An updated stadium in a picturesque setting might make it the best place for college football, period. But if it really wants that title, if it really wants to be the spot, the football program has to be relevant, too.
“What’s really going to make the place special is how we play,” Sarkisian said. “I think we understand that.”
Oh, they understand.
Everywhere you looked Saturday, you saw special.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org