On Husky Stadium’s 100th birthday, don’t forget about Bob Abel.
There have been so many others, of course, who have scored in the century-old stadium sitting serenely on Union Bay. There was Sonny Sixkiller and Bob Schloredt and Billy Joe Hobert and Mario Bailey, the Huard brothers and Warren Moon and Marques Tuiasosopo and Mark Brunell. There have been Huskies and Seahawks and even a couple Cougs.
The most recent Husky to cross the goal line was redshirt sophomore running back Richard Newton.
But the first was Bob Abel.
It happened on Nov. 27, 1920, when Washington hosted the Dartmouth Big Green in front of 28,000 fans. The Huskies had previously played at Denny Field on upper campus, but after Gil Dobie went 59-0-3 in nine seasons in Seattle (1908-1916), the team’s popularity spiked and a more suitable stadium was required.
So it was that Husky Stadium — then “University of Washington Stadium” — welcomed throngs of Washingtonians two days after Thanksgiving in 1920. According to The Seattle Times, the Montlake marvel attracted 4,500 cars.
But that was far from the only mode of transportation.
“It is an eight-minute walk from the street cars and cards will be posted all over the campus to lead pedestrians to the stadium,” read a Seattle Times preview on Nov. 21. “A pontoon bridge will be built across the canal for people living in the Capitol Hill district. (UW athletics director Darwin) Meisnest urges that people coming in from this direction park their cars in the Montlake District across the canal.”
On a surprisingly sunny day in late November, they came from all directions to UW — streaming past purple, gold, green and white decorations that The Times vowed would make Seattle resemble, for the first time ever, “the great college centers of the east.”
And they came, of course, for a football game.
But Husky Stadium’s opening called for a more grandiose celebration as well.
“The opening and dedicatory ceremonies next Saturday threaten to rival the game in interest,” read The Seattle Times story from Nov. 21. “The commanding general at Camp Lewis yesterday notified Graduate Manager Meisnest that three batteries of artillery would be on hand to fire the opening salute. If one of the United States destroyers that is due in Seattle Saturday makes port it will anchor out in Lake Washington in full view of the stadium. The yachts of the Seattle Yacht Club will be in holiday dress and will take up a position near the destroyer.”
Husky football games attracted sail-gaters, right from the start.
And barely five minutes in, Abel — a World War I veteran who played quarterback and defensive end, while also serving as chairman of the stadium’s student building committee and student body president — blocked a drop-kick with his chest and returned it 63 yards to officially open the scoring.
“Twenty-eight thousand persons, thrilled and delighted, spontaneously jumped to their feet five minutes after the Dartmouth-Washington football game opened yesterday, when Bob Abel, Washington, sifted through the sturdy Green line, threw himself recklessly in front of the ball rising from the cleated toe of Jim Robertson, Dartmouth, stopped its flight with his chest, pursued the bounding ball and then — while the great crowd in one grand salvo of applause spurred him on — scooped it from the clay and dashed 63 yards for a touchdown — the first to be made in the Stadium, the greatest football plant in the west,” wrote The Seattle Times on Nov. 28, 1920. “It was Washington’s one golden gleam in a 28 to 7 defeat.
“There have been other long runs in football in Seattle, but none which electrified so large a crowd and none with so much at stake. Long after the score has ceased to flit through men’s minds, the name of Bob Abel will be spoken with affection by Seattle football fans.”
Alas, there will be no Seattle football fans inside Husky Stadium on Saturday — when 2-0 Washington hosts Utah at 4:30 p.m. But that doesn’t make the site any less historic.
After all, this is where Washington went undefeated in 1991, where Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander ran for 266 yards against the Oakland Raiders in 2001, where a mass of merciless purple swallowed USC quarterback Todd Marinovich on a September Saturday in 1990, where the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw and the New York Jets’ Joe Namath met in an exhibition game in 1972, where President Warren G. Harding spoke on July 27, 1923 — before dying of a heart attack six days later.
This is the place legendary ABC and KOMO broadcaster Keith Jackson called “utterly unique.”
“I’d put it out there by itself as the grandest view in all of sports,” Jackson said of the stadium that overlooks Union Bay and the Cascade and Olympic Mountains in an interview with The Times in 2011. “I’ve hit most of the major stadiums in the world, and I don’t remember one that offers that.”
That fact, of course, is not lost on first-year UW head coach Jimmy Lake.
“It’s completely humbling (to be able to coach inside Husky Stadium),” he said Wednesday. “Completely humbling. To be honest I don’t really like to think about it, because of all the great coaches and the great teams that were here before us. All I like to do is keep my head down, and our staff keeps our head down, and we just want to work hard, continue to be bricklayers around here.
“Then at the end of this year we’re hoping we look up and we’ve made Husky Nation proud, and we’ve made the great coaches and great players that were before us proud.”
And chronologically, at least, that list starts with Bob Abel.