1978 UW Rose Bowl Team To Be Honored
Oct. 17, 2008
by Brian Tom
Today, the University of Washington will recognize the 1977 football teamthat capped its season with a 27-20 Rose Bowl win over a heavily favoredMichigan squad. The fact that members of the 1978 Rose Bowl winnersare even standing before the Husky crowd to be honored is a minor upsetitself. The Dawgs had to scratch and claw their way to the top of the Pac-8Conference that season, an accomplishment that would set flight to a run ofunprecedented success for years to come.
The season marked the first of eight-straight years the Huskies wouldfinish first or second in the conference race. Most importantly, the run putinto motion the Don James era, giving the Dawgfather credibility with theHusky fan base and earning respect from all opponents.
Washington started the season woefully, trotting out of the gate with a1-3 record. The Huskies lost their season-opener to 16th-ranked MississippiState and dropped back-to-back road games to Minnesota and Syracuse --both contests determined by last second field goals.
Despite the early setbacks, the Huskies remained focused. The threelosses came at the hands of non-conference foes and did not put an end tothe possibility of a successful season. Nonetheless, the natives were restlessin Seattle.
'If you were to ask [fans] after four games, they would have had me fired,'remembered James, who coached the Huskies from 1975-1992. 'I was in thethird year of a four-year contract. There were probably 10,000 alums that, ifthey could have afforded to buy me out, they would have liked to have.'
Luckily for the Husky nation, patience was shown and James was ableto right the ship. Washington bounced back with a 54-0 romp at Oregon andwould also win its next two conference games against Stanford and OregonState.
'We went down and played Oregon and put up a very lopsided scoreand that kind of got things on track,' said starting center and team captainBlair Bush. 'People gained a little confidence and the conference, to becompletely honest, was a lot softer then, so we went on a pretty good rollthrough the rest of the season.'
Washington would lose just one more time during the season, nestlinga loss at UCLA in between two three-game conference win streaks. With a6-1 record in the Pac-8 (7-4 overall), the Huskies were on to the Rose Bowl toface the Big Ten Champion, Michigan, which sported a 10-1 record and No.4 national ranking.
The Huskies were decided underdogs in the game against the Wolverines.Most pundits picked a lopsided victory for Michigan. Evidently, word of theHuskies' slim chances drifted down to both teams.
'I had the feeling after we traded all the game film that we were lackinga little bit of confidence,' said Coach James. 'We just kind of changed theobjective. I told the team `just forget about the score, get ready to play, playas hard as you can and don't worry about the outcome.''
All-Conference cornerback Nesby Glasgow, a junior on the squad, alsosensed that the Huskies' opponent was buying into the hype.
'Michigan probably took us lightly,' he said. 'I'm sure if you look back onboth rosters, undoubtedly you'd say that Michigan overall had more talent.But, there is no question that we, by far, had more determination.'
The Huskies parlayed their superior determination into a stellar first-half performance. Through the arm and legs of quarterback and Co-Pac-8Player of the Year, Warren Moon, Washington headed into the locker room athalftime with a 17-0 lead. The stunned Wolverines were outgained 246 totalyards to 111 in the first half.
'Once we stepped out on the field, we showed them that you have tocome out and play,' said Glasgow. 'As they say, that is why you play thegame.'
Washington conveyed thoughts of a rout when Moon threw a 28-yardstrike to his favorite target, Spider Gaines, early in the third quarter to extendthe lead to 24-0. But, Michigan showed it was far from ready to roll over.
Michigan quarterback Rick Leach fired a 76-yard touchdown bomb toCurt Stephenson, two plays after the Huskies had built their 24-point lead.After a Husky field goal from Steve Robbins, Michigan mounted a furiousfourth-quarter comeback.
'That was what made that game so darn exciting,' said Bush. 'Theycame back so strong in the fourth quarter. They shut down our running gameand were moving it pretty well on our defense, so it was in doubt the wholedoggone time.'
The Wolverines scored on their first possession of the final quarter andheld the Husky offense to the first of four consecutive three-and-outs. Withmomentum in hand, Michigan scored again to make the game 27-20 with 3:44on the clock.
The Huskies needed back-to-back interceptions - a pick by MichaelJackson on the Husky one-yard line and a last-minute interception fromGlasgow - to put Michigan away and seal James' first of four Rose Bowlvictories.
'As the old adage goes, it's not how you start, it is how you finish,' saidGlasgow, an appropriate cliché for both the season and the Rose Bowl game.'I think the group of guys just came together. We were determined to proveeveryone wrong. We just had a group of guys that came together with thesame mindset.'
Little did they know that mindset would lay the foundation of success forJames over the next 15 years.
'The big thing is [that year] kicked off our new program,' said James. 'Itgave us the credibility that you need to sustain and continue to recruit and getgood players. It really helped us.'
And helped propel Husky fans through one of the most exciting times inUW football history.