Husky Stadium roar stays with folks

Commentary: Matt Calkins

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

Published:

 

When the renovations are finally complete at Husky Stadium, the crowd will be that much closer to the field, meaning the noise will be that much louder.

But to anyone who played in that venue during Washington football’s heyday, hearing “Husky Stadium is getting louder” is kind of like hearing “the sun is getting hotter.”

When Washington hosts Oregon in Seattle on Saturday, it will be the final game at the 92-year-old site before it undergoes renovation. And Clark County athletes who have graced the storied gridiron feel it deserves nothing short of a proper salute.

“The thing I remember most about playing there is that when we came out of the tunnel to warm-up, it was basically empty, but then we would come back in for a bit, run back out and it would be packed. I never quite figured out how 75,000 people just suddenly showed up,” said Hakim Weatherspoon, an Evergreen High grad who played for UW in 1998. “And then everyone’s just screaming. The ground shakes, and we would all get disoriented. That’s a nice feeling.”

Of course, sometimes those extra decibel levels wouldn’t just make the ground shake — it would make nervous players’ hands shake as well.

Former Hudson’s Bay quarterback Ryan Miletich walked on to the team in 1998 and eventually earned a full-time job as a holder. Well, at the time, the Huskies’ kicking unit wasn’t particularly proficient, and he remembers running onto the field one game to tens of thousands of boos before the field goal was even attempted.

But Miletich also recalls how quickly the climate could change. When the struggling kicker was finally pulled, local hero (and running back) Joe Jarzynka came in as the replacement. And as soon as he took the field, the stadium bombarded him with cheers.

“That’s what I remember, just how loud it was,” Miletich said. “I mean, you’re sitting there on the sideline next to a guy, shoulder-to-shoulder, and you couldn’t even hear him talk.”

Former Huskies offensive lineman Dean Kirkland, who played high school ball at Columbia River, echoes the sentiment.

“I think it was the most challenging stadium to play in. And we’d fill it,” Kirkland said. “And the way it sits off of Lake Washington it’s an incredible experience.”

And you didn’t have to be wearing purple and gold to appreciate the volume. Former Mountain View lineman and current radio host Jason Scukanec had to lineup against the Huskies in Seattle when he was a lineman at BYU, and for him, the stadium’s atmosphere was as memorable as anything that took place on the field.

“Everybody talks about Autzen being the hardest place to play, but back in the 90’s that was UW,” Scukanec said. “Playing there was an overwhelming experience. It was like ‘Oh my goodness, this is real.’ I grew up watching games there as a fan, and then I’m like ‘I’m actually doing this. I’m actually big time.’ ”

Come to think of it, you didn’t even have to be on the field to conjure up a Husky Stadium memory or two.

Vancouver resident and former Oregon State kicker Sparky McGrew once ventured to Seattle with his friend Art Edgson when they were still in junior college. They didn’t have tickets, but Edgson saw a Lincoln Towncar sitting in the parking lot and decided to knock on the window just for the heck of it. Turns out, it was a game official, who hooked the pair up with tickets on the 50-yard line.

“It was a great time,” said McGrew, not remembering a thing about the game that day.

Hey, no matter what the venue, upgrades are always necessary. No Husky fan will deny that.

But know this — while wrecking balls are tearing the stadium apart — no one will complain about the noise.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or email matt.calkins@columbian.com