It’s hard as a Canadian to wrap my head around American college football. Earlier this fall I went to a university football game in Saskatoon. It was charming – beautiful September night, about 7,000 fans, a down-home atmosphere in the pre-game festivities and an exciting game to boot. It was a quaint, perfectly lovely thing to attend, even if the hometown University of Saskatchewan Huskies couldn’t pull off the victory. Fast forward a few months, and with a stroke of scheduling luck, the University of Washington Huskies played the USC Trojans while I was in Seattle attending a conference in November. Walking into the stadium, it was clear this was nothing like the game I saw back in Saskatoon. All this experience would share with that September night is the name of the two home teams.
My first impression walking into the stadium was “wow!” It is huge and seats more than 72,000 people. I had previously been to an NFL game in Seattle, and this college stadium is larger than the professional stadium only a 20 minute train ride away. I had bought an upper deck ticket, but spent part of the warmups roaming around the lower level. I paused around midfield and wished I had a seat here.
For a November late afternoon in Seattle, the weather gods were on my side. Temperatures were around 10C, and although a bit windy, it was a pleasant enough day for football. The earlier day downpours had moved out of the area and the skies got progressively clearer as the night went on.
As game time approached, it was time to leave the fantasy life of lower level seats and move up top.
I have sat in some high up seats, but these ones take the cake. My seat was so high, that when I finished walking up the stairs and turned around to face the field, my knees buckled and I had the sensation I was falling. But that height and steep pitch of the upper deck seats provided this amazing view. From my seat, I looked out over Union Bay and to the mountains off in the distance. It was easy to understand in that moment why Husky Stadium is called “The greatest setting in college football”.
As the crowd moved from the tailgating surrounding the stadium into their seats, the UW band performed a routine on the field, eventually spelling out the team name to thunderous applause.
Shortly after, as the sun was setting, it was time for the UW Huskies to be introduced to their hometown crowd. Here they are running onto the field to great fanfare.
This was a hugely important football game. The #4 ranked Huskies were playing their rivals USC who were ranked #21 in the nation. I’ve always wanted to see a big time American college game, and here it was. With that came all the pomp and circumstance of a nationally televised game including a military flypast as the last notes of the national anthem faded. Seeing a large cargo plane buzz the stadium was really impressive.
It was soon time for the opening kickoff. USC kicked to the Huskies to get things started.
The Huskies had been dominating teams on offence all year, but USC was the best defence by far they had faced. Throughout the game, the UW offence kept making untimely mistakes – missing a wide open receiver for a TD (including one trick play where there were two open receivers without a defender within 20 yards) or taking a penalty that killed a drive. As the game went along, the fans grew progressively nervous as this wasn’t the type of performance they were used to seeing from their team.
As a spectator with no rooting interest, the game was enthralling. There was so much on the line for UW as they were chasing a spot in the national championship and USC still had aspirations for a PAC-12 championship spot. Early on, the back and forth game featured both teams settling for field goals when long drives stalled out.
Midway through the 3rd quarter, and down 11 points, UW hit its biggest play of the game, connecting on a 70 yard bomb to Robbie Ross that closed the gap to 17-13. The crowd went bananas and was so loud I couldn’t hear what the guy next to me was saying.
That ended up being the last high point of the game for the Huskies. USC put together an impressive drive in the 4th quarter to stretch the lead to 24-13. As much as the Huskies tried to rally, the USC defence kept stopping them – first an interception, then a late game safety that ended all comeback hopes. The mood of the crowd was sombre, as at the time, everyone thought the 26-13 loss ended their national championship hopes. Little did they know the craziness that would later ensue to see their team rally back into the #4 seed at the end of the season.
From the full-on American cultural experience to the fact that the game had me on the edge of my seat the entire time, I’m so glad I finally got take in a big-time US college game.