SEATTLE – Before the Washington Huskies hoisted the Apple Cup, they dumped their burden. It’s hard to determine what they celebrated more: victory or relief. They were giddy about receiving both after bullying their rival once again.
It would’ve been a crazy thought a month ago, but a team that began the season with a 6-2 record desperately needed this season finale for validation. November had been a wreck. The Huskies had lost three straight games and looked progressively awful with each defeat. Now, they had one game to ensure they would finish with a winning record.
They looked within themselves. The players held a team meeting, no coaches allowed. They searched and searched, trying to figure out two things: Why weren’t they executing? And, most vexing of all, why weren’t they having fun anymore?
On Saturday, they found an elixir: an intense competition with Washington State. If the Cougars couldn’t spark them, nothing could. The Huskies responded by playing with familiar flair and energy.
The result was a 38-21 triumph at CenturyLink Field before an announced crowd of 64,559. More than the Apple Cup, more than pride, the Huskies were most appreciative to win back one thing – their joy.
“That’s what this was all about – joy,” said safety Sean Parker, who had a key fourth-quarter interception. “We haven’t felt like this in a long time. It feels so good. We got that monkey off our shoulders. We haven’t celebrated in a long time.”
In a football season, three weeks feels like three years. In losses to Oregon, USC and Oregon State, the Huskies lost themselves, and they nearly lost the progress they had made this season.
“This has been, obviously, a long month for us,” coach Steve Sarkisian said.
“We’re getting better,” the coach added. “I know sometimes there are days and weeks when it doesn’t seem like it. But it’s a process, and that’s where our resiliency has to come in. I can’t wait until I’m old and retired and I get to write a book about this process. It’s a fascinating one.”
“This meant everything,” said running back Chris Polk. “You want to continue to get better each year.”