Seventy-eight Huskies players have the Windy City’s streets buzzing, then the team holds a walkthrough practice inside the city’s landmark Grant Park. “This is cool.”
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
CHICAGO -- Steve Sarkisian did it again. He kept his Huskies engaged and intrigued on another road trip.
UW’s 39-year-old coach led his players on a walk out of their team hotel Friday morning, a day before No. 19 Washington (1-0) meets Illinois (2-0) at Soldier Field. But instead of boarding yet another team bus for yet another normal walkthrough practice the day before a game, the Huskies walked down Adams Street. They walked past the Chicago Board of Trade, a Notre Dame bookstore and an Ocktoberfest in the plaza of the federal building, across Michigan Avenue and into this city’s landmark Grant Park for a practice like no other in Washington’s football history.
Weekday businesspeople, panhandlers, bike couriers and 20-something volunteers along Michigan Avenue gathering signatures for a “Fight Hate” campaign gawked at 78 Huskies players walking the sidewalks in purple and gray T-shirts with “EXPECT TO WIN” on the back.
Some locals cheered and raised their fists triumphantly at the huge visitors. When defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi spotted a middle-aged man at Michigan and Jackson Avenues wearing a purple shirt, he offered a hearty fist pump. The guy smiled and shared his fist in return.
"Yeah, can’t say they didn’t see Chicago," a smiling Sarkisian said once the team reached a clearing on the northwest edge of the park.
Grant Park spans 319 acres off Lakeshore Drive and Lake Michigan, just south of the Navy Pier. The park is known as “Chicago’s front yard,” akin to New York’s Central Park, and is home to huge civic celebrations, concerts and festivals. An estimated one million people massed in Grant Park for each of the Bulls’ multiple NBA championship rallies there during Michael Jordan's and Phil Jackson's reign of basketball in the 1990s.
Sarkisian stopped in a clearing between Lakeshore Drive and Michigan Avenue that was near the Buckingham Fountain featured in the opening for the 1990s television sitcom “Married … with Children.” The coach designated as his makeshift football field a swath of thin grass between patches of trees on either end of the open space.
It was Husky football, sandlot style.
The Huskies ran through plays while navigating around a light pole in the center of the field. A “PARK CLOSES AT 11 PM” sign was tacked on it.
"I love it," former Huskies quarterback Damon Huard, now UW’s radio analyst for football games, said while watching the unique practice.
Huard had company. Soon after the team arrived, passersbys began stopping and staring with bewildered looks at a football team practicing inside a public park in the heart of Chicago. One family held an infant up to see the team. A gaggle of Huskies fans in town for Saturday’s game came across the practice and watched it from the tree line. They seemed stunned at their good fortune and timing.
Like Huard, Marques Tuiasosopo is a former Huskies and NFL quarterback.
Like Huard, Tuiasosopo said he never had a walkthrough practice in a public park – though he did once have a walkthrough at a softball complex the night before a Huskies game at Arizona.
"This is cool," said Tuiasosopo, the 2001 Rose Bowl MVP for UW who is now the team’s quarterbacks coach.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins loved it, too.
“It was awesome. We got to play in the park like it was old school, like when we were kids,” the Huskies’ junior tight end told our partner site coachsark.com following the practice.
The Huskies had a matinee movie planned following lunch, to keep them from merely hanging out in their hotel rooms all day. Then it was off to Soldier Field, just down Lakeshore Drive from the rare practice, for a walkthrough at the site for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game.
Check back to GoHuskies.com later today for the full game preview of Washington vs. Illinois.
The story will be a little more conventional than this one.