It’s been a while since my Dad and I sat hunched underneath plastic baggies, watching Sonny Sixkiller lead the Huskies down the field to what looked like it could be a come-from-behind victory over the mighty USC Trojans. Alas, Sixkiller would throw an interception and the Trojans would hold on for a 13-12 win in Husky Stadium.
I was hooked. The cold, the rain, the wind, it never bothered me. I was in awe of how rabid the fans were, and how everyone on the bus to and from the game wore purple. Everyone could talk of nothing else but Husky football. It was 1971, and I had caught it.
Now it’s been 30 years that I’ve been watching Husky football, and it’s been the ride of a lifetime. The fever has never left, and it’s fun to relive some favorite moments over that time span. It would be easy to fill a book with those memories, but I won’t do that to you. Not yet, anyway.
Instead, I decided to make my all-time favorite Husky team. Of course, I only include the players that I had the pleasure of seeing in person, so that forced me to leave some incredible players off of the list. Legends like Hugh McElhenny, Don Heinrich, and Rick Redman, and perhaps the greatest Husky of all-time, George Wilson.
With that big fat disclaimer in place, I’ll now share with you my favorite Huskies, by position, and a brief reason why they have earned that place in my heart.
PART I: THE OFFENSE
QB Marques Tuiasosopo (1997-2000) - He came out of Woodinville High School as one of the most prized recruits on the west coast. Most schools wanted Tui to be a safety but one school was willing to give him a fair shake at quarterback. It was primarily for that reason that Marques gave his commitment to Jim Lambright and chose Washington over UCLA and Colorado. He went on to beat out the highly touted JK Scott (Superprep’s Western Player of the Year in 1997), and earned the back up job behind Brock Huard as a true freshman. Tui made his grand entrance into the college football world by entering the game against Nebraska. The Cornhusker’s Grant Wistrom had sidelined Huard after a sack and Tui was thrust onto the national stage. He responded big time, hitting Fred Coleman and Jerome Pathon with long bombs, and making things happen on the ground. Tui continued doing that throughout his career. He made his share of mistakes, including costly interceptions and fumbles, but those were mostly because he so desperately wanted to win. He had the heart of a warrior and he is the only Husky I’ve ever seen that had the ability to will his team to win. Washington would be behind with the clock burning down, but they’d take one look into Marques’ steely eyes, and they’d believe. It was an amazing thing to witness at field level. His performance against Stanford in 1999 was one for the ages. After Washington’s first series, Tui was forced into the locker room to get a painkiller shot in his butt. He hobbled back out of the locker room and wound up the day passing for 300 yards and rushing for 200 more. It was an incredible thing to see. He goes down in the books as my favorite Husky of all time. He embodies what being a Husky is all about.
Honorable mention: QB Mark Brunell (1990-92) – In a quarterback-rich year of recruiting, Don James eyeballed and successfully predicted that Mark Brunell, a raw lefty from Santa Margarita, California, would be every bit the quarterback that Brett Johnson (UCLA) and Todd Marinovich (USC) would be. Brunell patiently waited his turn behind Cary Conklin on the depth chart. He brought a new running threat to the Husky offense, leading the Huskies to an incredible 10-2 season in his first season as a starter. He went down with a terrible knee injury but was able to work back into the lineup. During the time his knee was in a brace, he developed his arm strength, learned how to throw from the pocket, and turned himself into an NFL caliber quarterback. He was the most exciting quarterback I have seen to this day. He didn’t have the best arm and wasn’t the most accurate passer, but he got the most out of his abilities and worked harder than any quarterback at Washington before or since. Brunell threw for just 3423 yards in his career, but it was the flare and passion he brought to the game that touched me most.
TB Napoleon Kaufman (1991-94) – I think everyone knew that Washington had landed someone special when “Nip” chose Washington over Miami and UCLA. When he arrived in Seattle from Lompoc, California, he was immediately the #3 tailback in a day when Don James never really looked at true freshman seriously. Backing up Beno Bryant and Jay Barry, Kaufman made Husky fans gasp for air when he entered the game. Bob Rondeau recalled that Kaufman’s legs were pumping so fast, they reminded him of a sewing machine needle. Nip ran a 4.31 electronically timed 40 and bench-pressed 425 pounds. He will forever be a hero for Husky fans not only for the school-record 4041 yards and 710 rushes, but because he stuck around when the school needed him most. He stuck by Jim Lambright in the program’s darkest hour and returned for his senior season in 1994. His 5.7 yards per carry is the all-time UW record.
FB Rick Fenney (1983-86) – With the possible exception of Robin Earl, Washington has never had a more dominating and complete fullback in their program. Fenney came from in-state powerhouse Snohomish High School and it didn’t take him long to establish his presence. In the 1984 season, he led the way for Jacque Robinson, who carried the Huskies in a convincing Apple Cup victory over the Mark Rypien-led Cougar team, and then over then #1-ranked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Fenney obliterated linebackers, caught screen passes, and was big time threat up the middle. In the Orange Bowl he knocked down Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth several times. Washington built their entire offense around him in 1985, but it backfired when he went down with an ankle injury. He would only rush for 497 yards and five TDs that season, but most of that came in five games. Fenney was a weapon that was never really realized in his time at Washington, but he was perhaps the finest blocking fullback to ever wear Purple and Gold.
WR Lonzell “Mo” Hill (1983-86) - Mo was not really an NFL caliber receiver, but he was one of college football’s most exciting playmakers in his day. Hill was the master at running the post and the post-corner route. One of my favorite memories came in 1984, with the Huskies trailing late in the third quarter in a must-win game in Pullman. Paul Sicuro dropped back on third and long and lofted a ball deep toward the sidelines. Hill, then a sophomore, was running what looked to be a skinny post. He adjusted to the ball in flight, ran it down at the Cougar sideline and made the grab in front of two Cougar defenders before going out of bounds for a 28-yard pickup. One play later Sicuro found David Trimble in the end zone and the Huskies took the lead for good. A Joe Kelly interception would cement the win that would vault them to a 10-1 regular season and #4 ranking. Hill played for two pretty poor teams after 1984 but continued to make big plays and big catches. Mo averaged just under 16 yards per catch and found the end zone 16 times in his career.
WR Robert “Spider” Gaines (1975-78) - Washington’s first receiver with world-class speed, Spider Gaines was Warren Moon’s favorite target. And for good reason – Gaines averaged a whopping 23.2 yards per catch. For his career. Moon and Gaines hooked up on some huge gains, but none were so huge as the one they pulled off in 1975. WSU was ahead 27-14 and had the game wrapped up until Al Burleson made WSU pay for their greediness. With the clock running out, Burleson broke on the ball and made the interception at his own seven. He ran 93 yards for the score. After the Husky defense forced a Cougar punt, Moon dropped back and fired long. The ball bounced off of a WSU defender and Gaines ran down the carom and made the grab, bolting 78 yards for the winning touchdown. Gaines had touchdown receptions of 74 yards against Alabama and 54 yards against Minnesota. His 122 yards in the 1978 Rose Bowl were crucial in helping the Huskies defeat a heavily favored Michigan squad. That was the game that put the Huskies on the national map and got the entire Don James era rolling.
TE Rod Jones (1984-86) - Jones only tallied 685 yards in total receiving yards, but he was the total package. He was a weapon as a pass-catching threat before the Huskies really threw to the tight end very much. Jones had 75 grabs in his career but he was gregarious and got his teammates excited about being Huskies. My favorite Rod Jones moment came on the road at Michigan in 1984. Washington was inside the Wolverine red zone and an important measurement was about to happen. Jones somehow was able to slip in undetected and move the ball forward several inches AFTER the official had already marked it. The measurement was a favorable one for the Huskies and they went on to find the end zone in a 20-11 victory over then #3 Michigan. He was somewhat successful in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs and briefly with the Seahawks. I think he was probably the best tight end the school had ever produced until Mark Bruener came along four years later.
OL Mike Zandofski (1985-88) - Zandofski was a four-year letter-winner in the days when linemen just didn’t start as freshman. He was an outstanding Husky that rarely made mistakes. He was a playboy All-American in 1988 and had an NFL career that spanned over a decade.
OL Lincoln Kennedy (1989-92) – At 367 pounds, Lincoln was the biggest recruit to ever set foot on campus at Washington. He started his career as an overweight defensive linemen but Don James moved him to offensive tackle, where he owned the weak side of the line. In 1992 he was a consensus All-American and is having a fine NFL career with the Super Bowl bound Oakland Raiders.
OL Frank Garcia (1991-94) - Frank was too slow, too short, and too small to be a college football player so his hometown schools, ASU and Arizona, took a pass. Don James didn’t and Garcia soon proved that the Huskies had not made a mistake. Known as the meanest Husky lineman of all time, Garcia used the moves that made him a state-wrestling champion to absolutely abuse opposing defensive linemen. He defied the odds when he made the NFL’s Carolina Panthers squad. He had a reputation for being dirty in the trenches, and no one, I MEAN NO ONE, could intimidate him.
OL Jeff Toews (1975-78) - Don James loved experience, especially on the offensive line. That is why it was a strange occurrence when Toews (pronounced “Tayz”) actually started in his true freshman year. He was Joe Steele’s main blocker and was named an All-American in 1978. Jeff played for the Miami Dolphins for six seasons following his UW days.
OL Bern Brostek (1986-89) - “Baby Bern” was one of the best recruits that Washington has ever plucked out of Hawaii. Brostek was thrust into starting action as a redshirt freshman, following Dan Eernissee and Dan Agen at the difficult center position. Brostek made Don James proud when he graded out nearly perfect against his first opponent, Ohio State. James called it one of the finest performances by a Husky center since he’d been at Washington. He was named All-American in 1989 and won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10’s outstanding linemen that same year. He played in the NFL for eight seasons.
PK Chuck Nelson (1980-82) - In an era where Washington didn’t have any place kickers on scholarship, Nelson proved to be worth his weight in gold. Nelson passed up soccer attention to walk-on for Don James, and by the time he left Washington, he had been named All-American, had set the school record for points (109), set an NCAA record for most consecutive field goals without a miss (30), and made 82 percent of his field goal attempts. He was also an academic all-American, and was as close to perfect as a field goal kicker could be. In his final season at Washington he made 25 field goals and all 34 of his extra point attempts.
Next up: Part II – the Defense