Sept. 6, 2009
by Jeremy Cothran
SEATTLE - When Steve Sarkisian took over as football coach of Washington last year, he promised a culture change more than anything else. And this meant his players would act like winners, while fans would once again turn Husky Stadium into an intimidating environment.
Soaked in purple and gold Saturday night, the stadium lived up to its billing as a cauldron of noise.
The ear-splitting decibel level enveloped the field, making life difficult for the Louisiana State offense. The energy was palpable for anyone on the sidelines, especially with the former players. Even the national broadcast tandem on ESPN gushed over the atmosphere. It was definitely the beginning of a new era on Montlake.
"I was impressed with the entire atmosphere of the game," Sarkisian said. "The crowd was really into it. It was exciting to see the stands full when we came out of the tunnel to start the game. I thought the crowd did a great job on third downs ... That's how I always envisioned this place to be."
All in all, 69,161 fans shoehorned themselves into Husky Stadium. Most were curious to see Sarkisian's debut, which on all accounts was impressive despite the 31-23 loss to No. 11 LSU. The biggest endorsement came from LSU, which offered UW the one thing Sarkisian said was his goal this week - respect.
There were several new wrinkles in terms of the game-day atmosphere. One was the fog machine, which introduced the players and coaches to the fans in a billow of smoke. Another is the ferocious dog barking piped through the loud speakers on third down. The noise became so much at times that the stands shook and LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson had trouble changing plays at the line of scrimmage.
"It was electric; it felt like we rejuvenated everything," said sophomore defensive lineman Kalani Aldrich. "Husky Stadium when it's filled up, there is no place like it."
The last time Husky Stadium swayed in such a manner, Aldrich said, was the Ohio State game in 2007, when 74,927 fans crammed inside for a matchup against one of the Big Ten's best. Yet, Aldrich reiterated there was a better atmosphere Saturday night.
"Oh for sure," he said. "I hadn't been in anything like that before."
A cadre of UW officials and former players offered similar sentiments. One particular legend on hand was ex-NFL running back Corey Dillon, who was in town to be honored for his contributions as a Husky during the 1996 season. A Seattle native who grew up on Husky football in the Central Area, Dillon said the atmosphere on Saturday represented the best aspects of the program.
"Wow. Night game. Electric atmosphere. LSU fans here as well. This is awesome," Dillon said. "It was jammin'."
Washington football lost some of its luster last season while struggling through an 0-12 season. But once Sarkisian came aboard, he wiped the slate clean and cut off discussions regarding the 2008 season. The coach courted the fans back to Montlake, enlisting them to pack the rafters at Husky Stadium. As someone who's personally felt how potent the stadium can be at capacity as a player (Sarkisian and his BYU team were blitzed by a UW team 29-17 in 1996, their only loss that season), he wanted to replicate the atmosphere, which can be particularly devastating for intersectional opponents not accustomed to such noise.
Perhaps the best news Husky fans could imagine is that Sarkisian promised after the game the rebuilding era will not take long. He saw enough positives to suggest the team will begin to assert itself in the Pac-10 Conference sooner rather than later.
And Husky Stadium could play a huge role in the process, especially with renaissance moments like those from Saturday night.