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Originally published December 20, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified December 21, 2010 at 7:06 PM

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Huskies hope their return to bowl season is a sign of things to come

Washington's trip to the Holiday Bowl will be 30th bowl game for Huskies.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Holiday Bowl

Dec. 30, UW vs. Nebraska @ San Diego, 7 p.m., ESPN

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During the course of a season, the members of the Washington football team walk up and down the tunnel of Husky Stadium hundreds of times.

And as they do, they glance at the row of bowl placards, 35 inches by 35 inches, lining the tunnel, each commemorating one of the team's postseason appearances.

"You see like '91, '92, '93, all these bowls," said linebacker Cort Dennison. "And then it just went blank for a while."

Indeed it did, a drought that began in 2002 and didn't end until this year's Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30 in San Diego against Nebraska.

Washington's return to the postseason resumes one of the most storied bowl histories of any program on the West Coast.

Despite the unexpected skid, Washington will make its 30th bowl appearance this year, which is tied with UCLA and trails only USC (49) among Pac-10 schools.

And only USC matches UW in going to at least one bowl game to conclude a season in every decade since the 1920s.

The Huskies' list includes 14 Rose Bowls, second-most among Pac-10 teams to USC, ranging from 1924 to 2001.

The Huskies are 14-14-1 in their 29 previous bowl games, many of which rank among the most memorable games UW has ever played.

Which is the most memorable?

"Well, that depends on how old you are," said Dave Torrell, the curator of the Husky Hall of Fame.

Indeed, Torrell says each of UW's first two bowl appearances — the 1924 and 1926 Rose Bowls — were among the most noteworthy of the first half-century of the game.

For instance, in 1924 UW scored the tying TD against Navy on a fourth-and-goal tackle-eligible pass from the 12-yard line, the game finishing in a 14-14 deadlock. And in 1926, the Huskies lost to Alabama 20-19, a game that highlighted the talents of back George Wilson, maybe the school's best player of its first half century.

To many Huskies fans, though, Washington's bowl history really starts with the back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances in 1960 and 1961 under coach Jim Owens.

Before Washington's 44-8 win over Wisconsin in 1960, the Pac-10 had won the Rose Bowl just once since 1945.

"Suddenly everything changed because of Owens," Torrell said. "Not only for the Huskies but for the West Coast. I would rate those two games as high as anything."

Owens made it to another Rose Bowl following the 1963 season, but the Huskies again hit a drought until the 1977 season, Don James' third at UW.

That year, the Huskies won the Pac-8 (the year before it expanded) then beat a heavily favored Michigan team in the Rose Bowl, 27-20.

"That was really the start of the Don James era," says Torrell. "And to me, the James era is defined by James outcoaching his opponents in bowl games. It was always said then that give him an extra couple of weeks and no one is going to beat him."

James did lose a few bowl games. But his 10-4 record makes up the bulk of Washington's 14 bowl wins. The Huskies are 2-6 in bowl games since James retired.

James was 4-2 in Rose Bowls and 5-2 in what would now be considered BCS bowls, including the 1985 Orange, the famed "Sooner Schooner" contest that would be at the top of anyone's list of memorable Husky bowl games.

Torrell says that maybe the most forgotten of James' Rose Bowl wins is the 1982 contest against Iowa, a 28-0 Huskies victory, the first Rose Bowl shutout in 29 years.

"Everybody thought Iowa was going to kill us and they didn't get past our 29-yard line," he said.

During the James era, the rules changed and there became a lot more bowls.

And while most of those games pale in comparison to the New Year's Day games, Torrell says there have been highlights.

One came in 1979, the first non-Rose Bowl for UW (other than a 1938 Pineapple Bowl that the Pac-10 doesn't recognize). That year, UW played Texas in the Sun Bowl in El Paso and won 14-7. "That was a huge game for Don James because we beat Texas in Texas," Torrell says.

It also started a school-record run of nine straight bowl games from 1979 through 1987 that was the longest in conference history until tied by USC last year.

The Huskies had a streak of eight under Jim Lambright and Rick Neuheisel that came to a sudden halt following the 2002 Sun Bowl.

"It's going to be nice to come back and see that Holiday Bowl frame put up," Dennison said.

Signifying what UW fans surely hope reignites a Huskies tradition.

Notes

• Washington practiced Monday morning at Husky Stadium for the final time this year in Seattle. The Huskies are off until traveling to San Diego on Thursday and resuming practice there on Friday.

• The school confirmed that QB Jake Locker is engaged to longtime girlfriend Lauren Greer, a former member of Washington's softball team.

• Reserve defensive tackle Chris Robinson remains out with a knee injury. Sarkisian said it was unclear if or when he will be back. That leaves UW with just three healthy, scholarship non-redshirt defensive tackles, including Everrette Thompson, who has played primarily at end this season.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

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