On the first Saturday in September, this will all sink in.
Yet, so far, it doesn’t quite seem real — the words banging around in our stubborn brains but failing to truly register. The concept, after all, seems utterly inconceivable — the plot so preposterous it’s impossible to accept.
The Pac-12, they say, won’t play football this month. The Washington Huskies have been hurled into an indefinite hiatus. Their stadium on the lake will sit empty and silent, more than 70,000 seats and so little to see. Boats will float by Husky Harbor, but their anchors won’t drop. Jimi Hendrix’s guitar won’t growl out of stadium speakers.
There are more important things in the world than Washington football, of course. And someday, maybe soon, the games will go on. This sport won’t be squashed by a global pandemic. There will be touchdowns and turnovers and play-calling complaints and losses lamented on manic message boards. There will be rivalry trophies and trash talk and bratwursts too big for overmatched buns. There will be boats with purple flags floating in Husky Harbor.
Just not on Saturday, which would have been the 2020 season opener against Michigan.
That, of course, is when we’ll miss it all most.
We’ll miss the feeling of waking on a game day, of heading to the stadium hours early because you couldn’t stand to wait. We’ll miss the anxious energy hanging unmistakably in the air. We’ll miss the smell of hot dogs and burgers and hope and desperation, wafting above a crackling chorus of laughter and drums. We’ll miss watching kids in oversized jerseys pirouetting between the rows of parked cars, dodging phantom tackles from imaginary Cougars and Ducks.
We’ll miss the view — which, if you haven’t heard, may be unlike any other. From Husky Stadium’s southeast bleachers, you can simultaneously see it all — boats scattered across the brilliant blue waters of Lake Washington, the mountains beyond, a practice field peppered with tents and tailgaters, trees of all different colors and two teams trying to tackle each other below.
We’ll miss what cliché-slingers call “bulletin board material,” the greasy garbage that coaches despise and football fans devour. It’s Cal linebacker Evan Weaver guaranteeing a win against the home state team that never offered a scholarship, and Nick Harris scribbling “WE DON’T LOSE TO COUGS” across the front of his undershirt. It’s Jimmy Lake wishing WSU coach Mike Leach a prolonged stay in Pullman — precisely because his offense is so darn predictable. It’s new Coug coach Nick Rolovich installing an Apple Cup countdown clock — which, we’re guessing, has since been shut off — in his home locker room. It’s the pristine pettiness that makes rivalries real.
We’ll miss running back Richard Newton’s delightfully destructive running style, a bruising ballet of spin moves and stiff-arms. And we’ll miss Lake’s continued quest to replace traditional positions with 11 defensive backs.
We’ll miss trick plays, but only when they work.
We’ll miss the moment when the air gets sucked out of the stadium — what J.R.R. Tolkien famously referred to as “the deep breath before the plunge.” In this case, it occurs when a quarterback uncorks a deep pass into the atmosphere, and 70,000-some fans collectively hold their breath and hope.
We’ll miss watching the undersized walk-on who outperforms all expectations — like Myles Bryant, or Ryan Bowman, or Edefuan Ulofoshio. Last fall, Ulofoshio — a linebacker from Anchorage, Alaska, with a gap-toothed grin and a dream to be a doctor — piled up nine tackles and 1.5 sacks in a November road win at Oregon State, earning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors in the process. This season, when it comes, he’ll be both a leader and a starter.
We’ll miss the unending debates about which redshirt should burn, or which quarterback should start, or which former four-star recruit should finally justify his ranking.
We’ll miss linemen scoring touchdowns, the double rainbow of football feats. And we’ll miss the delirious decibels on a key third down.
We’ll miss the wildcat formation most of all.
(OK, just kidding.)
We’ll miss the inexhaustible offseason hope, be it delusional or deceptive, that this — finally — will be the year.
But on the first Saturday in September, there will be no such hope. The sun will rise and so will we, but a football season won’t follow. We’ll walk the dogs or watch the kids, or hike into the wilderness. We’ll attempt to fill a hole that college football left behind.
There are more important things in the world than Washington football, of course. But that doesn’t mean we won’t miss it, or await its return.