Iconic Husky Stadium bows out
Saturday's final game before a $250 million renovation of Husky Stadium ends a 91-year era that made the jewel on Lake Washington part of the fabric of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle Times staff reporter
By the numbers
Some significant numbers for Husky Stadium:
2 WSU Cougar "home" games there
6 Months it took to build the original stadium
19 Seahawks regular-season games played there
21 UW ties there
22 Months it will take to complete the remodel
168 UW losses there*
357 UW wins there*
547 UW football games played there
30,000 Capacity of the original stadium
72,500 2011 capacity
76,125 Record crowd (against Army, 1995)
$600,000 Cost of original stadium
$250 million Cost of the remodel
* Entering Saturday's final game
Old Husky Stadium has seen its final game before a $250 million renovation begins, ending a 91-year era that made the jewel on Lake Washington part of the fabric of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. See full coverage
Memories: What Husky Stadium means
Timeline: From May 7, 1920 to Nov. 2010
Then & Now
The new Husky Stadium
University of Washington fans will be closer to the action in a cozier, upgraded setting.
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Husky Stadium isn't really going anywhere, of course. It's just getting a face-lift.
A massive $250 million makeover at that. The price tag might make the original builders — who constructed it for roughly $600,000 in 1920 — shudder.
The task of tearing down the old walls and building some new ones starts Monday.
And, oh, if those walls could talk.
They have witnessed speeches by Ronald Reagan and Charles Lindbergh, watched U.S. and Soviet runners compete in track and field, and seen Joe Namath and Terry Bradshaw face off in an NFL exhibition game.
Mostly, though, those walls have echoed with cheers for Husky football.
"It's got a great history," said Tom Porter, co-author of the 2004 book "Husky Stadium: Great Games and Golden Moments."
Lincoln Kennedy, an All-American lineman on the Huskies' 1991 team that shared a national championship, says Husky Stadium is part of the fabric of our region.
"There are only a few things that stood out to me when I came here from Southern California — the Space Needle, the Kingdome and, of course, Husky Stadium," Kennedy said. "In my mind, it's one of the bigger icons that the Husky fans and the city of Seattle have for sports."
Husky Stadium's history begins and ends with University of Washington football. Saturday's game with Ore-
gon was the 547th for the Huskies in the stadium. The Huskies' record there was an impressive 357-168-21 entering the final game.
The Huskies were hardly dominant when they played their first game there on Nov. 27, 1920, losing to Dartmouth, 28-7.
That the game was played at all was something of a victory in itself. Porter says work was still being done on the stadium 12 hours before kickoff.
Even Husky Stadium's location, one of its grand selling points, was the result of chance and prescience.
Washington previously had played at Denny Field on upper campus but needed something bigger after the program blossomed in popularity under Gil Dobie, whose record was 59-0-3.
After Seattle's first world's fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, was held on campus in 1909, "somebody had the foresight that the area could be used for a stadium," Porter says.
When the Montlake Cut was constructed about the same time, silt was dumped onto the site and a berm built to the level of Montlake Boulevard Northeast, providing a foundation for the stadium.
The actual construction of the initial structure — the lower bowl and 30,000 seats in rows of bleachers — took six months.
"And to think that those 30,000 seats are still there today," Porter marvels.
Fans in those seats saw President Warren G. Harding speak on July 27, 1923, six days before dying of a heart attack. And they witnessed a dizzying array of events besides football, especially in the stadium's earlier days.
Porter says 42,000 people showed up for a 1923 Wayfarer's Pageant, a festival popular in that era. Charles Lindbergh, during a barnstorming tour in 1927, dipped his wings into the stadium before landing at Sand Point Naval Air Station, and then made his way down to the field for a speech. During World War II, a number of military-themed events also were held there. UW graduations are an annual event as well.
Husky Stadium hosted a number of other sporting events through the years, notably track and field. The 1951 and 1971 NCAA championships were contested there, and the 1990 Goodwill Games, a now-defunct Olympic-style competition between the U.S. and Soviet Union, were opened by a speech by former President Reagan.
The Seahawks played three football games there in 1994 after ceiling tiles fell and forced repairs at the Kingdome, and Seattle's NFL team adopted Husky Stadium as its home field for the 2000 and 2001 seasons while what is now called CenturyLink Field was being constructed.
The Seahawks' record at Husky Stadium? A pedestrian 10-9, though Shaun Alexander set a team record that still stands, with 266 yards rushing against the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 11, 2001. That's the seventh-highest performance by a running back in NFL history.
Even before the Seahawks were born in 1976, Husky Stadium regularly hosted NFL exhibition games, often staged by groups hoping to show the viability of Seattle as a potential pro-football market.
That resulted in what might have been the greatest quarterback matchup in the history of the stadium, on Aug. 12, 1972, when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bradshaw faced off against the New York Jets and Namath. The two future Hall of Famers would end up winning a combined five Super Bowls and three Super Bowl MVPs. Bradshaw's Steelers beat Namath's Jets, 22-3.
And, though it seems unfathomable now, rival Washington State University even played a couple of "home" games at the home field of its cross-state rival. The Cougars are 0-2 in those games, losing to USC in 1972 and to Ohio State in 1974.
The stadium, though, was built for Husky football, and it is Husky football that will always define it — to those who bleed purple and gold and to those who don't.
"When you tell me you're gonna get rid of Husky Stadium, I say good — get it out of there," said former WSU head coach Jim Walden, whose Cougar teams went 2-2 there from 1978 to 1986. "I hope Husky fans don't get too mad at me for saying this, but I can't wait!"
Former ABC broadcaster Keith Jackson, who called UW games for 10 years early in his illustrious career at KOMO, describes Husky Stadium as "utterly unique." And unique certainly describes working from its press box, which dangles 165 feet above the field from the roof of the south upper deck.
"I learned to put on layers of clothing in case the weather changed," said Jackson, echoing the feelings of countless shivering fans over the years. "And I learned if the game got exciting, things would shake and to expect my chair to start to move — otherwise I might have wanted to carry a parachute."
But, most of all, Jackson considers Husky Stadium's breathtaking view of Union Bay and the Cascade and Olympic Mountains as unique.
"I'd put it out there by itself as the grandest view in all of sports," Jackson said. "I've hit most of the major stadiums in the world, and I don't remember one that offers that."
What players tend to remember most are the overhanging roofs that amplify sound and the tunnel through which they enter the field. Players jog down those 339 feet from relative isolation to the sudden cheers of 70,000 people. It's a sensation unlike any other.
"I don't know of anything that could give you a better rush than that," former UW lineman Elliott Zajac told The Seattle Times in 2001.
There will be a similar tunnel at the new stadium, but no track encircling the field, bringing the front rows much closer to the action. The UW hopes to keep the best features of the old Husky Stadium, and get rid of the worst.
Porter, who has followed UW football for more than 50 years, says he'll miss the old place, but that the need for renovation "is just a fact."
Indeed, UW football coach Steve Sarkisian believes fans can embrace the memories of the old place while being excited about the new.
"Sure, the personality will change," he said. "But I don't think the character will. I think the character of this football program and the fans and the stadium is built upon history and tradition and the great players and coaches that have come before and the style of play. I don't think that will change. There will be some things that will be different. It will be a little more cozy with the fans ... and hopefully that makes it even louder."
Sarkisian, in fact, was briefed on the renovation plans in 2008 when he went through the hiring process. He took the job knowing a new stadium was on the horizon.
Now that the renovation is here, though, he feels sentiments likely shared by many in Seattle.
"I'm just sitting back thinking," he said last week. "I can't believe come Monday, Husky Stadium is coming down."
Seattle Times sports editor Don Shelton contributed to this article. Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
Information in the online version of this story, originally published Nov. 5, 2011, was corrected on Nov. 6, 2011. Due to formatting errors, the information in the "By the numbers" box appeared jumbled. The correct information is now displayed in the box above.
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