DT Steve Emtman (Getty Images)
During the week leading up to the monumental game against #5 USC, Keith Gilbertson decided to have his usual fun. Pass-rushing terror and heralded Linebacker Donald Jones always got such an amazing jump off of the snap of the ball. But the joke among Husky players was that all opposing teams ever had to do was routinely alter the cadence and snap the ball on two, and that would catch #48 in the neutral zone.
Jones’ rocket-launching movements toward the QB were always simultaneous with the first movement of the football by the opposing center.
As the Husky players commenced to do their 11-on-11 drills, Gilbertson gathered up the first team offense into a huddle and called the play. “OK! Let’s make Donald Jones offside, on two… Ready BREAK!”
As usual, it worked to perfection.
For the most part however, it was not fun and games that week of practice. The team was very focused. Washington was leading up to a confrontation with their most hated rival, the USC Trojans. The Huskies were 2-0 but had exhibited lackluster performances with their wins over San Jose State (20-17) and Purdue (20-14). Now would be the time to step it up, if they were to achieve the lofty goals they set during the previous spring and summer.
“We had a goal in the off-season, NBR, which was Nothin’ but Roses”, former Husky All-American Greg Lewis recently told Dawgman.com.
“We had been really dedicated that off-season. A lot of guys were staying in Seattle to work out. We knew we were set at every position, but that the only question was at QB.”
Lewis stated that everyone on the team knew that Brunell was a great young talent, but the question was whether he could lead the Dawgs while being so raw and inexperienced.
USC was coming off of impressive wins over Syracuse and Penn State, and would go on to defeat Ohio State the week after playing in Seattle. They had the “Robo-QB” Todd Marinovich, and a #5 national ranking. Unlike past miserable weather-related experiences they had had in Seattle, the Trojans were looking forward to this particular weather report. It was to be a chamber of commerce kind of day, temperatures around 90 and blue sky, in Seattle . . . in late September!
“Those guys from USC were real cocky”, Lewis recalled. “They were talking trash in the tunnel, on the field, even in the newspapers. USC is just that type of team.”
The Husky players were extra intense and focused, and there was much talk amongst them of how much disrespect they were getting from the Trojans. Interestingly enough, their head coach didn’t seem any different, according to Lewis.
“Oh no, Don James was business as usual that week. He was always meticulous in preparation. He always stressed being prepared and tough, regardless of the opponent.”
As the team strapped on their helmets and then made its’ way down the tunnel, Lewis and the other Huskies were absolutely bursting out of their skin ready to play.
“I could have played that game at 5:30 AM!” said Lewis with a laugh. “I didn’t sleep much the night before. Coming down the tunnel I felt like a horse being corralled. All I was thinking was let me get out there! I was thinking that this was THE GAME. We were in a position to prove something. It was my senior season, and I knew that if we lost that game against USC then all the things I had worked for over the past four years probably wouldn’t come to fruition. And the number one reason that I came to Washington for was to play in the Rose Bowl.”
As the game began Lewis watched the dominating Husky defense from the sidelines and in a sense felt bad for Marinovich.
“It was pretty much pick your poison out there with our defense. If you’re an opposing QB, you’ve got Donald Jones on one side and Jaime Fields on the other. Then you’ve got Steve Emtman and Tyrone Rogers collapsing the middle. There’s really nothing you can do.”
Marinovich entered the game as a Heisman Trophy candidate with a lot of national hype. But he wilted beyond recognition in the face of the juggernaut blast furnace pressure applied by the relentless Husky defense. With every attempt to throw the ball, Marinovich would drop back only to see a tidal wave of purple rise up and then engulf him. With every attempt to run the ball, USC running back Ricky Ervins would be smothered by seemingly thousands of Husky defenders.
The Husky crowd was absolutely at its zenith that day. The stadium was packed to the rafters, the mood was buoyant and festive, and when the avalanche began the fans smelled blood and wanted USC’s proverbial head upon a platter. (Note: In the 46 years my Dad has attended games, and in the 27 years that I have been going, we both agree that this USC game was the loudest we had ever seen or heard Husky Stadium).
Meanwhile, the Huskies drove 66 yards in 10 plays, culminating in a 1-yard plunge by Lewis. This would be followed by a field goal by Mike Dodd, then a 1-yard run by Darius Turner followed by a 12-yard passing strike from Mark Brunell to Mario Bailey. Suddenly it was halftime, and a game that was expected to be a tight battle was turning surprisingly into a laugher, UW 24, USC 0.
When asked what was going through his mind at halftime about the circumstances and USC, Lewis was blunt.
“What I was thinking was . . . that for all their talk, these guys couldn’t play with us. Our defense was constantly three and out, and their defense had to stay on the field a long time. It made it easier for our offense. We were getting push.”
Lewis continued. “There was one play that I remember well. The O-line was blocking well and I cut it back side and I didn’t see a single maroon jersey until I was forty yards downfield. That just showed how much our offensive linemen were dominating them.”
Washington would score again in the second half, to bring the score to 31-0. Even through the Dawgs were staked to a big lead, the home crowd was deeply into the game until the final seconds expired from the clock. The scene at Montlake was a cross between Mardi Gras and New Year’s Eve. Even after the game as Husky fans exited the stadium, random bellowing cheers would erupt spontaneously.
Greg Lewis was named the Pac-10’s Player of the Week after rushing for 126 yards and a touchdown, as well as snaring 3 passes for 99 additional yards. Mark Brunell came of age, leading his team in a huge game, completing 12-of-23 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown. LB Travis Richardson recorded seven tackles and two quarterback sacks.
The Husky defense held USC to 28 yards rushing.
Todd Marinovich had the nightmare game of his career, completing a paltry 7-of-16 passes for 80 yards. The Husky defense intercepted him three times.
Following the game, a dazed Todd Marinovich talked quietly with reporters. He uttered words that ultimately defined that era of Husky defensive football.
“All I saw was purple. No jerseys, no numbers, just purple.”
Derek Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org