SEATTLE – Nebraska returns to Husky Stadium on Saturday afternoon for the first time in 13 years.
In UW football lore, Nebraska is a name that conjures memories of the defining of an era of dominance and the birth of a legend.
The schools have met seven times dating to 1925, a series deadlocked at 3-3-1.
But to most UW fans, the series boils down to games in 1991 and 1992 that were as memorable as any during a time the Huskies were among the elite of college football, plus the 1997 contest in Seattle that marked the coming-out party for Marques Tuiasosopo.
“Whenever I get together with the guys I played with, that’s one of the games we talk about,” said former UW safety Shane Pahukoa, referring to a 1991 victory in Lincoln that was the key to Washington’s undefeated, national title-winning season.
The Huskies beat Nebraska 36-21, a score that doesn’t really reflect how nerve-wracking things were.
The game, played on Sept. 21 and the second of the year for the Huskies, was billed as a contest that could shape the national title race with Nebraska ranked No. 9 and Washington No. 4.
Nebraska led 21-9 midway through the third quarter thanks in part to a gift TD after a fumble on a muffed punt return that Don James still protests.
“I didn’t agree with that one,” James said this week. “But it was on the board. Nothing you can do about it.”
The defining moment of the game – and maybe the season – came as UW faced fourth-and-8 a few minutes later at the Cornhuskers’ 30-yard line.
James recalls it was too long for a field goal, and that a punt didn’t seem like it would do much good.
“I just swore to myself and the guys on the phone and said, ‘We’re going for it,’ ” he said. James said offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson was so sure James was going to punt he had momentarily stepped away from his seat in the coaches box.
A slant to Orlando McKay went for 15 yards, set up a TD, and UW dominated the rest of the game, getting a clinching 81-yard scoring run by Jay Barry midway through the fourth quarter.
From there, UW cruised to the national title it shared with Miami, the only real close call a 24-17 win over California a few weeks later.
The Huskies were ranked No. 2 when Nebraska came to Seattle almost exactly a year later for the first night game in Husky Stadium history.
What is most remember about the game is the noise – the ESPN crew broadcasting the game measured it at 130 decibels.
The Huskies won 29-14, James recalling a 29-yard TD catch by Joe Kralik just before halftime that Nebraska coaches protested wasn’t a reception.
Nebraska returned in 1997 for another matchup of top-ranked teams – UW No.2 in the AP poll, Nebraska No. 7.
The Cornhuskers dominated from the start and led 21-0 midway through the second quarter, and Husky Stadium worried it might get really ugly when starting QB Brock Huard left with a sprained ankle late in the first quarter.
His backup was Tuiasosopo, an 18-year-old freshman who had played sparingly in the first two games.
On his second pass, the kid whose arm everyone questioned completed a 41-yarder to Jerome Pathon, and quickly got UW back in it. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 270 yards and had the Huskies within 21-14 late in the third quarter before the Cornhuskers held on to win 27-14.
The game had been lost, but the foundation for one of the best careers by a UW quarterback had been set.