SEATTLE – After more than nine decades of hosting Husky football, NFL games, presidential speeches and commencement addresses, Husky Stadium is shutting down – for a while anyway.
The waterfront stadium with a setting nearly impossible to match in all of college football hosted its final game, a showdown between Washington and No. 6 Oregon, on Saturday before it closed for a $250 million renovation.
In less than two years, it will become a football-only gem, the latest entry into the facility arms race that has swept college football.
“The stadium means so much to this football program, but I can’t even imagine in 18 months from now, when the new Husky Stadium is up, how much more it’s really going to mean to this program and university,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I’m excited for the sledge hammer to come, for the process to start. Eighteen months can’t come fast enough.”
The stadium is one of two spots in the country where a flotilla of yachts and pleasure boats can create a “boatgating” experience, but only here does Mount Rainier stand prominent in the distance with bald eagles swooping overhead.
The cantilever roofs that cover the north and south grandstands have become famous for their unique look and the reverberating effect that deflects sound from below back down onto the field. During a 1992 game against Nebraska, decibel meters recorded the noise at 130 decibels – the equivalent of standing 100 feet away from an accelerating jet.
At its high point in the late 1980s and early 1990s – when Washington shared the 1991 national title with Miami – playing at Husky Stadium was as daunting as anywhere in the country.
“I just saw purple,” USC quarterback Todd Marinovich said in 1990 after the Trojans were routed 31-0 by Washington. “No numbers. Just purple.”
But age hasn’t been kind to the stadium. The mortar and rock that created the stately lower bowl on the shore of Lake Washington – the original construction dates to 1920 – is in a state of decay.
Temporary fixes have kept the facility usable for the last decade, but there is only so much a fresh coat of paint and some spackle can hide.
Former coach Don James, who was on the committee that came up with options for fixing the stadium, estimated that more than $100,000 was spent per year on stadium upkeep while trying to keep it operational.
“The stadium needed to be rebuilt,” he said.
Bathrooms are scarce. Concessions are sparse. And luxury boxes are nonexistent.
Washington now lags behind Oregon and other schools on the West Coast when it comes to offering the amenities recruits desire.