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The "Comeback Kids," a team that played from the heart
by Richard Linde, 1 January 2002

During a season rife with injuries, a young Husky team managed to find a way to win eight games, twice as many as it lost. On paper, the successes of this season should never have happened. 

It occurred because this Husky team played from its heart—and its gut—all season long. My head is spinning as I try to remember the notable events of this season. So much happened, so much is memorable—and, yes, there are some events I’d like to forget. 

Charitably speaking, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Washington had to replace four of the five members of its offensive line and break in a new quarterback, Cody Pickett.

Yet, the Huskies jumped off to a David and Goliath start wining its opener against Michigan, turning what appeared to be a lost game around when Roc Alexander ran a blocked field goal back for 77 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

That set the tone for the Idaho game and for Roc, who returned a kickoff for 95 yards and a touchdown in the early going. Not to be outdone, Chris Massey ran a blocked field goal in for a touchdown--a 69-yard effort--and Charles Frederick returned a punt for 85 yards and a touchdown.

However, the young team suffered a major blow in the game--and for the season--when junior tight end Jerramy Stevens broke a foot, much in the way that Joe Toledo broke a foot during Spring practice.

The next two games against Cal and USC featured fourth-quarter heroics that will forever be etched in the pantheon of Husky comebacks. Among the heroes in these two games, Derek McLaughlin boomed a 74-yard punt in the Cal game, which is a Husky record, and with just a few seconds remaining on the clock, John Anderson kicked a 32-yard game-winning field goal against USC.

Once more the Huskies were bitten by injury. In the USC game, Quarterback Cody Pickett suffered a shoulder separation that set the Huskies’ course for the rest of the season. A nervous Taylor Barton, who fumbled several center exchanges right off the bat, settled down and rescued the Huskies, managing to secure the win over the Trojans.

Having a week off before playing the Huskies, DeShaun Foster and UCLA pole axed Taylor Barton and the Huskies in Pasadena the next week--on a day as blistering hot, as were the Bruins. Foster ran for 301 yards and scored four touchdowns. Ironically, as it turned out, Foster should never have played the game, since he was driving an SUV loaned to him by a fan.

And there were some other notable faux pas during the season--two other lowlights:

(1) UCLA’s Dave Ball, whose chop to Taylor Barton’s helmet was seen all over the country on television, faxed Barton an apology later that week. Due to the physical beating he took during the game, Taylor Barton spent the next few days in the UCLA medical center before returning to Seattle.

(2) After Washington’s loss to UCLA, Oregon’s coach Mike Bellotti said the Huskies’ luck had run out. The Huskies had won 12 straight games before losing to UCLA on October 13th, many of the games featuring fourth-quarter comebacks. Luck? Try throwing a coin 12 straight times and come up “heads” each time. 

Plagued with a throwing shoulder that couldn’t be injured any more than it was, a most courageous Cody Pickett returned to action and finished the last seven games of the season, winning four of them.

Following the loss to UCLA, Pickett--the Caldwell cowboy from Chicken Dinner Road--managed to lead the Huskies to close wins over Arizona and ASU, who succumbed to the Dawgs by a total of five points. So, what else was new?

The following week, Washington played one of its best games of the season, beating Stanford 42-28.  OSU pounded the Huskies in Corvalis a week later, and the Huskies closed out its home season by beating a 9-1 Washington State team in the Apple Cup.

Symbolic of their road games this year, the youthful Huskies floundered against number one Miami in their last game, giving the ‘Canes a short field to work with in the early part of the game. Miami ran up 37 points in the first half, taking a 37-0 lead.

As the Pac-10’s second-place team, Washington was selected to play in the Holiday Bowl.

Before the game, rumors surfaced that Notre Dame was wooing Rick Neuheisel with its head-coaching job, willing to offer him as much $2.5 million per annum. But Neuheisel had a job to complete at Washington. He said that he was flattered that he was being considered for the Irish job but was staying at Washington.

In the Holiday Bowl, the Huskies lost a squeaker (47-43) to the heavily favored Texas Longhorns, taking a 19-point lead in the third quarter. In the last quarter, the Longhorns roared from behind, scoring 23 unanswered points to take the lead, 40-36, with 6 minutes to go. But Willie Hurst, winner of the "Guy Flaherty Most Inspirational Award," capped an 80-yard drive with a 34-yard touchdown and the Huskies regained the lead with 1:49 remaining in the game. It was Hurst’s "worst" run of the year, in that he left too much time on the clock for the Longhorns and Major Applewhite, the Texas quarterback, and the 'Horns posted the final touchdown of the game.

Many fans blamed corner back Chris Massey (the winner of my “bum rap” (idiomatic) award) for the loss. In my mind, I can’t think of any one player responsible for the loss--and that includes Massey. The Texas game was emblematic of this young team’s enthusiasm and dedication to winning, and I’m proud of it.

There was so much more to this season, and I’ve failed to list all of the highlights and low points. There is one tumultuous event that I’d like to forget.

Put in perspective, this season will be forever marred by the national tragedy of September 11th. We were in Key West, on the way to the Miami game that was postponed, when we received news of the catastrophe. Later, we found out that our son-in-law’s brother, who was in the first building that was attacked, lost his life. Football didn’t seem so important any more.

After the catastrophe, we Americans rallied to support our country, joining hands to fight against the tyranny that would deny us our freedom. It was a season mixed with pathos, exhilaration and tragedy.

Those Husky fans that traveled to Miami are symbolic of what Husky football is all about. They are the most loyal, dedicated football fans in the country. They are part of the reason Rick Neuheisel is staying at Washington. And, perhaps, as overachievers this season, his team--the Comeback Kids--are why we fans are so devoted to the school.

 

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