I'm sitting in peace at a football game. Section 4, Row N. From the press box, that piece of Husky Stadium looked like a grandfather's bald spot, so flagrantly vacant, and I just had to see it up close.
It was the kind of view you'd pay $900,000 for around here, even if it included a football program that finished 2-9 last season. There was Lake Washington peeking from behind the stadium. There were the Cascades loitering from a distance. Amazing. Beautiful. Lonely.
I sat two rows in front of a couple. A few others sat in a section to my left, about 10 yards away. I could've done some construction work without disturbing a soul.
The experience made the importance of Washington's rebuilding clear. The announced crowd of 52,256 made the game the least-attended home opener in a quarter century.
Of course, in 1981, when 45,131 showed up for an opening win over Pacific, the Huskies finished 10-2. Attendance won't remain low if Tyrone Willingham's crew replicates that feat.
But let's get real.
"If they win two games, I'll be happy," said Bob Johnson, 63, a longtime UW fan.
Just two? Really?
That's a bar so low an ant could jump over it.
"Being a good fan is like being in a marriage," said Johnson, a Coupeville resident and five-year season-ticket holder who married into a family that has been going to Huskies games for 60 years. "There are good times, bad times. It's only worthwhile if you hang in there for the whole time. That's where the real payback is.
"It's not year to year. It's over the long haul. Not all fans agree, but we have to understand this is a process."
Too bad it must include wide-open real estate.
Too bad, in this microwave society, we consider the patient ones foolish.
"We kind of do our own thing," said Granite Falls resident Linda Hjelle, whose family has had season tickets for 23 years. "I don't know. People like to see people win. We're just different. If you love football, you love football."
The Huskies will have to rely on the unconditional love of their longtime fans a bit longer. They had to bat down a Hail Mary from San Jose State on Saturday to secure a 35-29 victory. Not long ago, it would've taken an Ohio State to challenge UW like that at Husky Stadium.
San Jose State finished 3-8 last season, but the Huskies had to respect the Spartans. After all, Washington had won only three of its previous 22 games.
Such futility created an interesting postgame question: How does it feel to be 1-0?
"It is absolutely fantastic," Willingham said in a tone that was either overly positive or slightly mocking.
"The best part of it is that the young men are excited," Willingham said later. "That's what winning brings. It brings excitement to the guys that you work with every day. For me, that is priceless."
That's a bar so low a worm couldn't wiggle under it.
The Huskies can only ask for simple rewards right now. Play hard. Represent the university with class. Improve. Their world is full of all these important yet ambiguous little goals.
Unless Washington plays over its head and enjoys unexpected success, progress will remain difficult to measure.
Once again, they'll be back to asking for faith. Fortunately for the Huskies, plenty of it was lounging around the stadium.
"I went to my first University of Washington game in 1940 as a student," said Bob Nord, 84, who lives in Everett. "Since then I've missed very few games.
"I can remember the old days. It was a real party. I was in the Greek system, and all my brothers from Chi Psi would sit together. It was exciting, all day."
Those games were everything you read and hear about. Energy that made the press box sway. Noise that intimidated stone-faced quarterbacks. Great scenery and great football.
The Huskies haven't lost a fan base; they've diminished it. But even the strong ones can only live off old memories for so long.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com
|Saturday's crowd of 52,256 was the smallest at Husky Stadium for a home opener since 1981, and the sixth-smallest since the Don James era began in 1975:|
||San Jose St.
|* Game later forfeited to Washington|