SAN DIEGO – One era will end tonight.
The black-clad University of Washington football team is hoping that another will begin.
Before the Nebraska Cornhuskers can step into their future and begin play in the Big Ten Conference, they’ll face a once-storied UW program that has designs on making tonight’s game the first of many bowl appearances to come. The Huskies, wearing black jerseys for the second time this season, will make their long-overdue return to the postseason at tonight’s Holiday Bowl.
UW (6-6) hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2002, and it’s been almost 11 years since the Huskies last won one.
“For (the Huskies) to go out and win this bowl game would just speak volumes of how far they’ve grown,” said Marques Tuiasosopo, a former UW quarterback who is currently an assistant strength coach on this year’s Huskies.
Tuiasosopo was the star of the last UW win in a bowl game, when the 2000 Huskies capped off their memorable season with a 34-24 win over Purdue in the Rose Bowl. Nearly 11 years and 120 games later, Washington is still looking for its next bowl victory.
And no one is as surprised as Tuiasosopo is.
“I thought we would be fighting for Rose Bowls every year, or at least be in the hunt,” he said this week. “I never anticipated that it would be this long.”
Many of the current Huskies were barely old enough to remember the last bowl victory, although there are some Seattle products who vaguely recall the celebration that came with the run to roses led by a quarterback named Tui.
“It was a big thing,” said junior defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu, a Seattle native who didn’t follow football back then but remembers the excitement surrounding that 2001 Rose Bowl game.
While this year’s Huskies may have taken a step in the right direction, they’re still a long way from competing for Rose Bowls and top-10 national rankings. The Huskies got outscored by an average score of 31-22 during the regular season and lost four times by 30 points or more.
But at least the 2010 Huskies are still playing for one more day.
“People are excited to be back in a bowl game,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said Wednesday. “They’re proud to be Huskies and proud to be back on this stage, playing football in December.”
For Nebraska, the Holiday Bowl invitation came with less celebration. The Cornhuskers (10-3) looked like a national title contender back in September, and they played in the Big 12 Championship game earlier this month, and yet they’ll have to settle for a rematch with a UW team they already hammered 56-21 earlier this season.
“Everybody’s a little disappointed when you lose a championship game,” said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, whose Cornhuskers would probably be playing in the Fiesta Bowl had they won the Big 12 title, “but you move on, and you move forward.”