Thursday, October 28, 2010

Huskies take on Stanford: 10th anniversity of tragedy with Curtis Williams

By Kshell

This week the Washington Huskies(3-4,2-2) host the #13 Stanford Cardinal(6-1,3-1) at Husky Stadium in a game that will feature two future first round draft picks at Quarterback in Jake Locker and Andrew Luck. This will be a game that I'll be attending and it's very rare to attend a game where both quarterbacks will be taken in the first round the next season.

When these two teams square off against each other unlike other Pac-10 matchups there isn't much history between these two teams. There are a few games worth mentioning like in 1982 when the #1 ranked Washington Huskies were upset to Stanford 43-31 losing to future #1 pick overall John Elway. That Huskies team finished 10-2 and finished the year ranked 7th in the nation in both polls. The Cardinals finished the year 5-6 losing in the famous "Band is on the field game" to the Cal Bears.

Another memorable game was in 1999 when Stanford was undefeated in Pac-10 play traveling to the Washington Huskies who had just one Pac-10 loss. The winner of this game was most likely going to the Rose Bowl. The Huskies were led by first year head coach Rick Neuheisel and quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. Stanford was led by head coach Tyrone Willingham who at Stanford still tried as a coach. The Huskies would win this game 35-30 behind Tuiasosopo record breaking performance. Tuiasosopo became the first player in NCAA history to throw for over 300 yards and rush for over 200 yards. In fact that record still holds to this day. The Huskies would later lose to UCLA blowing their chance at the Rose Bowl so Willingham and the Cardinals would go to the Rose Bowl. That would set up the 2000 miracle comeback that put football in prespective for the rest of our lives.

October 28th, 2000: #9 Washington Huskies(6-1,3-1) at Stanford Cardinal(3-4,2-2)

When the Huskies traveled down to Palo Alto to take on the defending Pac-10 champions this game didn't appear to be very memorable. In fact the game wasn't even televised live on T.V and the crowd maybe had 20,000 fans at the game. It was down pouring rain and the Huskies were expected to win pretty easily.

Little did anyone know that this game would feature all the emotions that you could possibly have in a football game. The Huskies would experience the joy of a great comeback and the horror of watching a teammate laying on the field motionless.

The Huskies in typical 2000 fasion got off to a slow start trailing in the first quarter 6-0. The Huskies then got on the board when Willie Hurst busted a touchdown run from 17 yards out to give the Huskies a 7-6 lead. Then as the half ended after Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham called three timeouts to "ice" Huskies kicker John Anderson the Husky kicker nailed 34 yarder to give the Huskies a 10-6 lead.

The Huskies in the second half added to that lead when Rich Alexis scored a touchdown from 16 yards out on an option pitch from Tuiasosopo to give the Huskies a 17-6 lead. The Huskies had outgained the Cardinal 250-101 in yards at the time(Derek Johnson,The Dawgs of War). After the Huskies were forced to punt Curtis Williams downed the ball inside the five yard line pinning the Cardinals. That would set up a play that would be tragic for Husky fans for years to come.

As I mentioned earlier the game wasn't on T.V. so my dad and I listened to the game on radio. We were waiting in line at Jack in the Box when Stanford had a basic run play to Kerry Carter that turned out to be bigger than anyone could have imagined. After the play I remember Husky broadcaster Bob Rondeau saying "Looks like a Husky player is down" then he noticed it was Curtis Williams. I remember thinking "Oh crap, hope he can get back in there he is a really good player". Little did I know that the injury was bigger than your typical football injury. At the stadium there was mass panic.

Curtis Williams just laid there and couldn't move. As Anthony Kelly described to Derek Johnson in his book The Dawgs of War "His body was locked in a seating position in the air, like he was forzen or stunned. He fell to his back and went into convulsions. He was mouthing the words I can't breathe. Jeremiah Pharms came over to me and said to Curtis, GET UP FOLKS! DON"T LET THEM SEE YOU HURT! What broke my heart was witnessing J.P. realize that this was serious. J.P began break down OH NO, MY MAN IS DOWN! MY MAN IS DOWN! The trainer rushed out. Then Curtis began spitting up and shaking, and his eyse rolled up in the back of his head."

After the silence and prayers by both benches the sad reality is there was still a game to be played. Nobody on either side wanted to play in a game especially the Huskies defense that just saw their close friend and teammate lying on the ground not moving. The Huskies as the game wore on were hearing several rumors. There was reports that Curtis was okay to he had died on the way to the hospital(Derek Johnson, The Dawgs of War). It was impossible for the Huskies to keep that competive fire for the rest of the game. The Huskies would finally regroup as Willie Hurst would add a 22 yard rushing touchdown to give the Huskies a commanding 24-6 lead with less than six minutes to play. Then everything began to fall apart for the Huskies especially the defense who probably had other things on their minds.

Stanford started to amount a huge comeback like they had done earlier against Texas and USC. Quarterback Randy Fasani who had been pretty awful all game started the comeback by hitting DeRonnie Pitts for a four yard touchdown pass then converted the two point conversation when Fasani again hit Pitts cutting the lead to 24-14. Stanford would then onside kick the ball and recover and march down the field ending with Fasani running for a four yard touchdown cutting the lead to 24-21. Stanford would again onside kick the ball and Fasini would again score another touchdown giving the Cardinal a 28-24 lead. The Huskies had the ball with just under 50 seconds remaining needing to go 80 yards for a touchdown. Just like he had done all season long and continued to do Tuiasosopo displayed great leadership.

As Kyle Benn told Derek Johnson in the book The Dawgs of War, "Tui normally didn't swear much. We always look to him for leadership. But a couple of guys were talking in the huddle. Tui said, SHUT THE F*** UP! WE'RE NOT LOSING THIS GAME. LET'S GET THIS OVER WITH AND WIN SO WE CAN GET TO THE HOSPITAL AND BE WITH OUR BUDDY."

Sometimes you hear about a player having "it" well Tui defianetly had "it" which the current Huskies should take notes on. On the first play Tuiasosopo hit Todd Elstrom to the 45 yard line. Tuiasosopo then hit Wilbur Hooks for a gain 33 yards giving the Huskies the ball on the 22 yard line with just 33 seconds left. The team then went no huddle and Tui rolled out to his right and then saw true freshman Justin Robbins wide open in the endzone threw across body and found Robbins who hung on to give the Huskies a 31-28 lead with just 17 seconds left. I remember sitting in my garage screaming as I couldn't believe Tui just lead the team 80 yards passing three of three in just 40 seconds. Before that drive Tuiasosopo was just 12 of 23 for 136 yards and two interceptions. He finished 15 of 26 for 216 yards. Willie Hurst also ran for two touchdowns and 96 yards on the day.

The game wasn't over yet as freshman corner back Derick Johnson made a tackle on kick off at midfield. Had he not been able to make the tackle the game would have came down to field goal kicker John Anderson making a miracle tackle. Fortunately for Husky fans it didn't come down to that. The Huskies had won the game to continue their dreams of going to the Rose Bowl. There was no celebrations just questions of is Curtis okay?

Secondary coach Bobby Hauck was the first Husky to arrive at the hopsital then Rick Neuheisel followed as well. Even Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham was the next one to arrive to see if Curtis was okay. The team bus would shortly show up. There was no talk about football or the game all about Curtis health(Derek Johnson, Dawgs of War). Say what you want about Willingham and most of it is deserved you have to appreciate him going to the hospital after a tough loss to see if the opposing player is okay. He may be a bad coach but he isn't a bad person.

The Huskies would go on to beat the Purdue Boilermakers in the Rose Bowl to finish the season 11-1 and earn a #3 ranking to finish the year. The Rose Bowl game itself was emotional because for the first time since that injury the whole team saw Curtis Williams. In a risky move by Rick Neuheisel he surprised the team with Curtis Williams before the game. Several players like Pharms, Anthony Vontoure, Jerramy Stevens, Hakim Akbar, etc were crying after seeing Williams. The Huskies came out fired up and got off to a 14-0 lead. The Huskies won 34-24 and Rick in his speech said this is for you Curtis. Just thinking about that still gets me choked up.

Then on May 6th, 2002 Curtis Williams died at just 24 years old. Curtis would have his number 25 on the sidelines. Little did anyone know shortly after his death Husky Football went downhill as Neuheisel would be fired. The Huskies haven't played in a bowl game since 2002. I remember at the UCLA game I went to for senior night when they announced Curtis Williams name the ovation we all gave to him was a touching moment. I remember donating money to his cause as well.

I think the Seattle Times story was terribly done about Curtis Williams. Yes those are unfortanate things that happened but to go after someone who had been dead for five years was low class on their part. I'll stick with what happened on that game and what ultimately changed how we view football today. Whenever a Husky or a Seahawk is lying on the ground I always think of Curtis Williams.

That day showed everyone what true leadership is all about. The team could have easily folded and I'm sure a ton of players had folded. Tuiasosopo is such a legend because of games like that Stanford game. His stats weren't great in fact statistically a guy like Jake Locker is better than him but Tui had that "it" factor. The ability to rally the team even when a player basically died on the field and still get the win. It was important for the fan base and for those players to get that Rose Bowl championship to deliver it to Curtis Williams.

When the Huskies take on Stanford this Saturday be thankful that we have the chance to see two future first round picks at quarterback in Andrew Luck and Jake Locker. It should be fun to watch such greatness like I get to do in person. I also won't forget and I urge many fans to not forget about #25 Curtis Williams. Curtis Williams ten years ago today his life was changed forever. Husky Nation despite all the crap that was said about you still loves you and misses you. C-DUB 25!

Special thanks to Derek Johnson for letting me use his quotes. He has written such great books as "Dawgs of War" and "Husky Football in the Don James era". I recommend both books especially if you are a Huskies fan. They truly are great reads. I bought both books from his site that I linked. Best money I ever used.

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