Nov. 5, 2011
By Gregg Bell - - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - On the eve of it coming down in major renovations, Husky Stadium stands alone.
For 91 years, through three major expansions and updates, through generations of fans, players, coaches, and championships at the University of Washington, Husky Stadium has been an innovative and uniquely Northwest home for UW football.
Name another college football venue that sits inside a major urban center, yet is accessed by boat and has sweeping, postcard views of a lake and a snow-capped mountain range. Name another that has hosted 15 conference champions and four national champions. Or has hosted the Goodwill Games, the NCAA track and field championships and presidents from Warren Harding to Ronald Reagan.
What other stadium in college football has had Charles Lindbergh buzz overhead in his Spirit of St. Louis before giving a speech in it? Has had noise so loud it registered at the threshold of ear pain? Has even allowed its bitter, in-state rival play home games in it?
Wait ... whaaat?
Yes, archrival Washington State used one-game rentals of Husky Stadium to "host" USC in 1972 and Ohio State in '74 in Seattle.
Husky Stadium is credited with being the birthplace of the fan phenomenon known as "The Wave," during a Huskies game in 1981. And it once had its goal posts torn down for a Huskies victory - that happened 1,500 miles away.
Not a bad bargain for a mere $600,000 investment and six, rushed months of construction in 1920.
Saturday night's game against rival Oregon is the final one for Washington inside Husky Stadium as we know it, before a $250 million renovation begins Monday on the oldest stadium in the Pac-12 Conference. By kickoff of the 2013 season, UW's icon with be transformed into a state-of-the-art stadium with luxury seating, seats much closer to the field because the track is being removed, a new, 70,000-square-foot football operations center attached to it, a new clinic for UW Medicine, a parking garage under the south stands, and more.
"We are very excited about the renovation of Husky Stadium," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian says. "An enhanced fan experience, while still embracing the great tradition it holds, will all be part of making our football program more competitive.
"The renovation means so much to Husky football not only from a recruiting and student-athlete development and competition standpoint, but from a fan perspective as well. A renovated Husky Stadium will be the very best college football venue in America. It will give Husky fans something to be very proud of."
They've been proud of the old place for nine decades.
NOISE WILL BE NOISE
Originally known as Washington Field upon completion in 1920, Husky Stadium has been revered for almost a century for its innovative design and distinctive atmosphere. It was the model that inspired construction in 1923 of the venerable Los Angeles Coliseum, a national historic landmark and the world's only stadium to host two Olympic Games.
With a capacity of 72,500, Husky Stadium has recently been the 15th-largest on-campus stadium in the country. Nearly 70 percent of those seats have been located between the end zones under two unique, cantilever roofs that give UW one of the nation's loudest venues.
"What makes Husky Stadium special is how loud it is," says Ed Cunningham, the Huskies All-Pac-10 center who played at UW from 1988-'91 and went on the play in the NFL.
"Obviously the people inside it make Husky Stadium loud. But those roofs, they actually push the sound not just onto the field but onto the sidelines. I think that's what often freaks people out about the place when they come in as a visiting team. You try to talk to your coaches or to teammates to make adjustments at the bench and you can't hear the guy next to you. I think it shocks people how loud it is in Husky Stadium."
While Washington won its 17th consecutive game in 1992 against 12th-ranked Nebraska on national television in a rollicking night game, an ESPN sideline crew measured the noise with a meter at 130 decibels. That is the recognized threshold of ear pain and the noise equivalent of being 100 feet away from an accelerating jet.
"Seventy thousand screaming, yelling and stomping -- that crowd was probably the biggest difference," Army defensive tackle Al Roberts said after his Cadets lost a tense game inside Husky Stadium on Sept. 23, 1995, front of an all-time record crowd of 76,125.
"The acoustics here are amazing, a huge factor. I've been around C-130 transports a lot, and this almost felt like I was on a runway."
Those fans have accessed their Huskies football by some of the most unique ways in American sports.
The stadium opened five years before the Montlake Bridge did, meaning there were massive tie-ups of relatively new devices called automobiles on narrow roads all over Seattle in the early days of Washington Field.
Since then, tailgating has taken on a whole new meaning at Husky Stadium. Boat moorings are available for fans to travel to Washington games across Lake Union, Lake Washington and through the neighboring Montlake Cut. Members of the Husky crew team shuttle fans back-and-forth between their vessels and the docks in Union Bay of Lake Washington, which washes up a few dozen yards beyond the stadium's east end zone.
Inside, the north upper deck offers sweeping views of Mt. Rainier, the Olympic Mountain Range and downtown Seattle.
Jim Owens, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, coached the Huskies to 99 wins from 1957 through 1974 and was its athletic director from 1960-69. Owens played football at his native school of Oklahoma and was an assistant under Paul "Bear" Bryant at Kentucky and Texas A&M before coming to UW.
"I have played on and coached many great college football teams. But none of those teams played in a more scenic place than Husky Stadium, nor in front of more passionate fans," Owens said before he died in 2009 at the age of 82.
BUILT BY PLAQUES
The renovation of Husky Stadium is beginning the way the original stadium was built 91 year ago: With a fund drive.
In January 1920, graduate manager - and, eventually, athletic director -- Darwin Meisnest proposed construction of a new stadium. It was to replace Denny Field, the only on-campus home what had been a nomadic, 30-year history of Husky football being played in Seattle's parks and available open spaces.
By spring of 1920 Meisnest, UW students and Seattle businessmen were leading a state-wide fundraising drive by selling commemorative plaques at $50 (for purchase of one-year season tickets) and $100 (for two-year season tickets). The bronze pieces funded nearly half of the $600,000 total construction cost for the stadium along the west banks of Lake Washington's Union Bay.
UW students helped by approving a raise in student fees from $5 to $10. That provided another $124,000 towards construction. Groundbreaking was on April 16, 1920.
On May 7, Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company signed a construction contract calling for a 30,000-seat stadium to be completed in six months and 20 days. A UW student publication at the time declared, "The Stadium will rear above the surroundings as a monument of imposing dignity."
Working through 46 days of rain in the summer of 1920, Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging used a unique method of excavation known as sluicing - displacing earth with high-pressure water blasts - to clear construction site. Workers used 687 million gallons of water to move 230,000 cubic yards of soil.
The original, mostly dirt, sometimes rocks playing surface included a crown that peaked at 18 inches in the center. A four-lane cinder track was installed around the field.
On Nov. 27, 1920, one day short of 31 years following Washington's first football game between UW students and Eastern College alumni at Seattle's Jackson Street baseball park, workers completed Washington Field. The final work got done 12 hours before kickoff of the commemoration game against Dartmouth. Washington Governor Louis Hart was in the crowd of 24,500 that saw Dartmouth beat UW 28-7. Tickets were $1 each.
MORE THAN JUST FOOTBALL
Husky Stadium has hosted memorable moments beyond football since that dedication game.
President Harding gave one of his final speeches there -- six days before he died in 1923. There have been summer theater performances and Fourth of July performances. In September 1927, Lindberg flew the Spirit of St. Louis over Husky Stadium, waving and smiling to the crowd below. Four months earlier he flew it in the world's first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Colonel Lindberg landed the Spirit of St. Louis at nearby Sand Point Naval Station, then returned to the stadium to address 25,000.
Husky Stadium hosted war shows held by military and civil-defense forces during World War II, when attendance for Huskies football games waned.
The stadium had major stadium expansions from that initial, single bowl that held 30,000. The first came in 1937. Then in 1950, the stadium added its south upper deck and silo-shaped walking ramps. In 1987, the north deck was built, adding 13,000 seats and increasing the capacity to 72,500.
The 1951 NCAA track and field championships were held at Husky Stadium. Years later, National Football League and American Football League teams played exhibition games there. Other events at the stadium have included: The 1972 AAU track and field championships; President Reagan opening the 1990 Goodwill Games before a crowd of 70,000 on July 21; and the NFL's Seattle Seahawks renting the stadium for their 2000 and '01 seasons while Qwest Field was being built.
On Nov. 13, 1982, fans tore down the goal posts at Husky Stadium to celebrate a Washington win - that took place 1,470 miles away. With both seventh-ranked UW and No. 3 Arizona State in contention for the Pac-10 title, the game was broadcast back to neighboring Hec Edmundson Pavilion on closed-circuit television. The crowd got so huge a second screen was set up in the stadium. After the Huskies won 17-13, the viewers stormed the field to tear both goal posts from the turf.
The track was renovated for those 1990 Goodwill Games, an international sports competition that began in 1986 in reaction to the United States-led boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games and the Soviet Union-led one of the 1984 Olympics. There have been multiple proposals for more renovations of Husky Stadium's track for UW dual meets in the 21 years since, but each time plans were scrapped because remodeling of the entire stadium seemed potentially imminent. So that track is now 22 years old, not fit for competition.
By Sept. 7, 2013, the track will be gone forever. And Husky Stadium will be back, better than anyone has ever since it, for the new dedication game against Boise State.
"I can't even imagine in 18 months from now when the new Husky Stadium (is completed) how much more it's really going to mean to this program and university," Sarkisian said this week. "I'm excited for the sledge hammer to come, for the process to start. Eighteen months can't come fast enough.
"It will be tremendous for recruiting. But I'm just sitting back thinking, `I can't believe come Monday, Husky Stadium is coming down.'"