Grand stand Grand stand Grand stand

The UW marks a century in college football’s greatest setting.

By Jim Caple | Photo by Katherine Turner | September 2020

Long, long ago, the UW football team played its home games on Denny Field near the northern edge of campus, over by Hutchinson and Hansee halls. It began playing there back in 1895 and continued for a quarter of a century, going undefeated (59-0-4) under coach Gil Dobie from 1907 to 1917. The team also played the first four games of the 1920 season at Denny Field, concluding its run of games there with a 3-0 loss to Stanford. Attendance averaged less than 6,000 fans per game.

Then, on Nov. 27, 1920, UW football experienced its first big change when the Sun Dodgers (as they were known back then) hosted Dartmouth College in a new venue at the southern edge of campus adjacent to Lake Washington. The new home was called Washington Field. It would later be known as Husky Stadium.

Gorgeous artwork adorns the cover of the program for Washington’s homecoming game against Stanford on Nov. 9, 1929 at Husky Stadium, then known as Washington Field. The game was ugly: The Washington Sun Dodgers, as they were known then, lost 6-0.

As Gilbert Foster, ’21, editor of The Daily, wrote the day before that game: “There are many stadiums but we doubt if there is one that will compare with ours. One of the greatest in the world and half-completed in six months—it stands a tribute to engineering skill. When completed, it will be a monument worthy of a great institution – an impressive memorial. Imagine yourself seated in this massive affair, gazing out across Lake Washington and to the hills and blue sky beyond – surely freshness and strength of the view is symbolic of the youthful West!”

Around 24,500 fans attended that first game, which UW lost 28-7 en route to a 1-5 record. But since then, UW football has enjoyed many great seasons in that stadium, such as 1991, when the team captured the national championship. Along the way, the team name was changed in 1923 from Sun Dodgers to Huskies (the name Vikings was also considered but rejected), though the stadium’s name did not change to Husky Stadium until decades later.

Now one of the oldest college stadiums in the country, Husky Stadium has a capacity of 70,183, making it the largest college stadium in the Pacific Northwest. For many years, it also was where Husky student-athletes competed in track and field as well as soccer.

“The way the stadium is configured, with the upper decks in the old days, the fans were on top of you,” says former Husky quarterback Damon Huard, ’95, who set the school’s since-broken passing record with 5,886 yards and has been a broadcaster for Husky games. “It’s certainly an iconic, special place. I have been to many stadiums around the country, and it’s one of a kind. I love the old pictures from the old games in there, the old field. There is so much history and tradition. It’s a special place.”

The Daily dubbed the stadium’s original configuration a “horseshoe.”

It’s also one of the few college stadiums alongside a lake or river. That created the great tradition of thousands of purple-and-gold-decorated Husky fans arriving via boat. But no matter how you arrive, once you make your way inside the stadium, you not only get to watch the game but the views are gorgeous—of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains (including Mount Rainier) to the east, the Space Needle and Olympic Mountains to the west. How many other college stadiums have a mountain range to view from each end zone, plus a large, beautiful lake right off shore? (Although you can’t always see the mountains when the skies are cloudy.)

Originally built by Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Co. in 1920, the stadium capacity was roughly 30,000 and cost about $565,000, which would be worth close to $8 million today. A good chunk of the money came from small bronze plaques sold by students, who wanted the stadium built. It did not have upper decks back then, just seats all around the field except for the open east end. That inspired The Daily to call it a Horseshoe.

In 1936, 10,000 seats were added atop the rim of the stadium. Another 15,000 seats were added on the south side in 1950 when the upper deck was built. The stadium was called “Cassill’s Castle” after Harvey Cassill, then the UW athletic director. That addition cost about $1.7 million and upped the stadium capacity to 55,000. Fans enjoyed sitting in that upper section, which they accessed via a series of outside ramps.

Development of the south grandstand was spearheaded by Athletic Director Harvey Cassill. The new structure, dubbed “Cassill’s Castle,” made Husky football the biggest draw in town.

In 1965, more student seating was added to the north side of the stadium (from roughly the eastside end zone to the 40-yard line). It was great sitting there and the ticket prices for students were low (I sat there many times in the early to mid-1980s). Another 13,000 seats were added to that north side with an upper deck in 1987, though that side collapsed during construction and had to be redone that same year. The field changed as well. Originally it was grass but was switched to AstroTurf in 1968 and to FieldTurf in 2000.

Husky Stadium’s latest renovation was done from 2011 to 2013 and cost $261 million. Thanks to the generosity of donors and sponsors who contributed to the recently completed “Be Boundless—For Washington, For the World” $6 billion fundraising campaign, major improvements were made. Offices and locker rooms for the football staff and student-athletes were added to the west end. Many bathrooms were added as well. Perhaps the most significant change was that the track surrounding the gridiron was removed. That allowed the football field to be lowered by about four feet to accommodate seating closer to the field of play. Due to the addition of box seats, the stadium capacity decreased slightly from 72,500. (While the renovation was underway, the Huskies played the 2011 Apple Cup and their 2012 home games at CenturyLink Field.)

Hamilton Greene, a law student from Seattle, was the UW’s first Black football player. He played in the very first game at Washing-ton Field, which today is known as Husky Stadium. He also was a member of Washington’s 1924 Rose Bowl team.

“The new Husky Stadium is pretty cool,” Huard says. “Before Don James passed away (in 2013), I got to give him a tour of the new stadium. It was a special moment showing him around.”

The Don James Center, which is under the north side’s upper deck, seats more than 600 fans and features an outdoor deck. The Huskies still enter the field from the tunnel on the northwest end of the field, though it is a shorter distance than when the locker rooms were inside Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The opposing team now enters from the east end of the stadium. A large video board stands guard on the east end and 700 flat-screen TVs throughout the stadium entertain and inform fans who visit the expanded range of concession stands.

“I like that we were able to modernize without losing the feel of it, the upper deck and the roofs and the view of Lake Washington,” says Chip Lydum, ’84, the UW’s associate athletic director in charge of Operations and Capital Projects. “Anytime you can see the lake from any of the vantage points, there is a lot of satisfaction. Also, the stands are closer to the field. I like that a lot.”

Another big and appreciated upgrade happened to the press box. Before renovation, the press box was hanging below the roof of the south side upper deck with a not-very-fun catwalk to get there. “There were times when Husky Stadium was really rocking and the press box was shaking,” recalls Sonny Sixkiller, ’74, the former Husky quarterback who later broadcast games on TV from there. The new press box is larger, much enjoyable to work in, and it is not subject to the unsettling feeling of the box swaying in the wind.

The Stadium’s south upper deck, with its signature cantilevered roof canopy, was added in 1950 for about $1.7 million; 15,000 seats were added, increasing Stadium capacity to 55,000.

Of course, Husky Stadium is known for more than the play on the field. The beloved Husky Marching Band has entertained fans for decades with renditions of songs from “Bow Down to Washington” to “Celebration” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And everyone who loves purple and gold knows that Husky Stadium is where “The Wave” was born, thanks to Husky cheerleader Robb Weller, ’71, and former Husky Marching Band director Bill Bissell.

As for the student-athletes who used to compete in track and field, and soccer, inside Husky Stadium? They now have their own facilities north of the stadium.

In addition to the Huskies, NFL teams played a dozen preseason games at Husky Stadium from 1955 to 1975. The Seattle Seahawks played five regular-season games there in 1994, when the Kingdome was being repaired, as well as their 2000 and 2001 regular-season schedules when the Kingdome was torn down to accommodate the construction of CenturyLink Field.

Husky Stadium has hosted many other events besides football, track and soccer. For instance, in 1923, then-U.S. President Warren G. Harding spoke inside the stadium to a crowd of nearly 25,000 people. In 1990, Husky Stadium played host to the Goodwill Games, which featured addresses by former President Ronald Reagan and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger. The stadium also hosted some events of the 2018 Special Olympics, the first time those Games were held in Seattle. And since 1998, Husky Stadium has become the venue for one of the University’s most treasured traditions: Commencement.

So many great Husky student-athletes have played in the stadium: Hugh McElhenny, Bob Schloredt, Don Heinrich, Sonny Sixkiller, Warren Moon, Joe Steele, Chuck Nelson, Mario Bailey, Damon Huard, Brock Huard, Marques Tuiasosopo and Myles Gaskin. And don’t forget 2016 Olympic decathlete Jeremy Taiwo, among many, many others.

Many notable football games have taken place inside Husky Stadium, too, including victories over USC, Oregon and Michigan. Naturally, Husky fans can recall just about every Apple Cup against WSU, especially in 1975, when Moon and Spider Gaines teamed up to help the Huskies overcome a 27-14 deficit with three minutes left to pull out a thrilling 28-27 victory. And how about the 1991 Apple Cup, when the Huskies trounced the Cougars, 56-21, to win the Pac-10 title on the way to a national championship.

Legions of Husky football players have entered the Stadium via the tunnel, a tradition still going strong 100 years later in today’s Husky Stadium.

The 1995 Apple Cup—a 33-30 victory that gave the Huskies a share of the Pac-10 title—“was an awesome memory, leaving Husky Stadium for the last time,” Huard says of his final home game. “Winning that Apple Cup was pretty special.”

My most memorable game at Husky Stadium was against USC on Nov. 14, 1981. Harsh rain and wind forced the closure of the 520 bridge across Lake Washington. Nonetheless, the Huskies knocked off USC (featuring Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen), capping the 13-3 victory with Fred Small’s recovery of a fumbled kickoff for a touchdown. That sparked the sellout crowd to send their plastic bags-turned-impromptu-raincoats sailing into the wind in celebration.

Then-UW president Bill Gerberding even wrote me a letter a few years later, saying that game was one of his most memorable moments as well. “It was a great game and Fred Small’s quick reflexes added a triumphant coda that I enjoyed more than is good for my soul,” he wrote.

As memorable as that game was, many others stand out, including UW’s stunning 16-13 victory over No. 3 USC in 2009. Husky Stadium remains one of my absolute favorite places; I even have a tea/coffee cup that features a photo of the stadium.

“From a recruit to a player to an analyst, I’ve seen this whole stadium through and through and I’ve been blessed,” Huard says. “Seeing it change over the years, but also the beauty of the new Husky Stadium and how much it resembles the old. The roofs are still there, the tunnel. It looks and feels like the Husky Stadium of old, just updated and better for fans.”

As The Daily editor Gilbert Foster wrote in that 1920 column the day before the first game played there: “Give your best and your all tomorrow and baptize the Stadium in the fire of Washington spirit!”

Scholarships fuel scholastic achievements

Husky fans feel goose bumps come alive on their arms when the siren sounds and the Dawgs stream out of the tunnel and onto Alaska Airlines Field in Husky Stadium every Saturday in fall. But the fans deserve a hand, too, because their generous support during the recent Be Boundless—For Washington, For the World capital campaign helped inspire excellence in the classroom.

In May, the Husky football team received a four-year NCAA Academic Progress Rate score of 999, one point shy of a perfect mark. That was the highest NCAA score ever for a football team—and it was the third year in a row the Huskies topped the Pac-12, which is home to some of the nation’s best public and private institutions.

“I could not be more proud of our football program,” says Athletic Director Jen Cohen. “To post the highest-ever recorded four-year mark among FBS programs speaks volumes about our students’, football coaches’ and staff’s commitment to continued excellence in the classroom.”

“Three years ago,” adds Kim Durand, UW’s senior associate athletic director for student development, “we beat Stanford and led the conference—no one had ever done that. The following year, we repeated as No. 1 in the conference and were in the top 5 in the nation. Then we were No. 1 in the conference, in the nation, and set the all-time record.” In the 2018-2019 academic year, UW programs in football, men’s basketball, women’s sand volleyball and women’s tennis received public recognition awards.

But keeping such high standards requires a lot of support. The UW Department of Intercollegiate Athletics supports more than 650 student-athletes, and scholarship assistance is key to their overall success. The athletic department currently funds the maximum scholarships allowed by the NCAA and Tyee contributions have long provided scholarship funds for all 23 UW sports programs. But with the cost of tuition rising, it means increasing scholarship support is critical so the Huskies can remain competitive on a national level.