Sports fans are good at a few things: Pontificating about their team and its opponents; eating chicken wings; drinking beer. When it comes to perspective, however, they are often too emotionally invested to have it. Objectivity, they lack. Did I mention emotional overinvestment?
For example, there are probably some Washington Huskies fans who could rattle off accomplishments as if they were listing companies with local headquarters.
Two Pac-12 Conference championships in three years. Too many consecutive victories over the team from Pullman to count. A quarterback in Jake Browning and a running back in Myles Gaskin who have each broken enough team and conference records to last a lifetime. An all-expenses paid trip to Pasadena for the first time in 18 years.
And have you seen the coach, Chris Petersen? Is he not a cyborg designed to lead this very team? It’s not just his coaching acumen. His svelte figure slices through the cool Puget Sound air as if he were walking sideways. Some coaches you could picture selling used cars or behind the bar of a neighborhood watering hole. Petersen looks like he could steer a tech company with the best of them. His recruiting chops, impeccable, at least by local standards.
But there are more unsettling truths gnawing at the psyches of dawg faithful. For starters, the entire Pac-12 Conference feels like a self-contained, spontaneous combustion of sorts. What kind of container? You know those big metal ones on wheels you see when you peer down an alley behind a row of businesses? Picture flames leaping out of it. Aside from the Huskies—and the Cougars!—play has been abysmal at best.
Take the conference championship game, for example. Washington and Utah fought ugly for four quarters, at which time the clock thankfully ran out. The final score? 10-3, Washington, its sole touchdown coming courtesy of the defense. Utah’s record on the season was a putrid 9-5. The fact that the Utes were good enough to go to the championship game tells you all you need to know about the conference this past season, which makes Washington winning it all the more suspect.
Then there is what happens anytime Petersen’s teams step out of conference against a worthy opponent. In 2016 the Huskies played Alabama and got absolutely handled. It looked like one team was playing middle school flag football; the other was the NFL’s de facto 33rd team. At the beginning of this season, Washington traveled to play Auburn. It lost, 21-16, but anyone who watched the game knows that the seemingly close score was not indicative of the Huskies’ inability to move the ball, their defense’s fecklessness when it came to stopping the other team from doing same.
In Pasadena, there was a large parade. There was also a football game, kind of. The Buckeyes led 28-3 at halftime. By the fourth quarter, most of them were already showered, changed, and seen taking selfies in the stands with NFL scouts. Coach Urban Meyer was conferring with his agent about which school he would coach at after this most recent retirement. Or at least that’s the way it felt.
If Washington wants to achieve greater recognition beyond the West Coast and its own conference, it’s these kind of games against bigger opponents that the Huskies will need to start winning.