It’s funny how certain players vanish when it comes to availability before showdowns with Oregon or Washington State. Just another game? Please. Coach Pete’s not fooling anyone.
You could hear the sound blaring from the Huskies’ practice field Tuesday — piped-in crowd noise used to simulate what will be an eardrum-abusing atmosphere Saturday in Eugene.
That’s Washington coach Chris Petersen being smart, knowing that an auditory dress rehearsal is compulsory for success against Oregon.
But there is a different kind of noise that Petersen takes steps to silence when a rival is on the horizon — the kind that decibels can’t measure but retweets can. And though he’ll never admit it’s a conscious one, that decision is equally intelligent.
“No offense, but news people, they’re going to dig,” said former Huskies running back Lavon Coleman, now a practice-squad player for the Seahawks. “The last thing you want is for anyone to slip up.”
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Don’t worry, this isn’t a complaint. Media problems are something zero people care about, maybe even less.
But it’s worth noting Petersen is allowing only a handful of Huskies to be exposed to cameras and tape recorders this week. He likely figures a potential Pac-12 North title and a 49-point beat down two years ago is all the hype this game needs.
It is noteworthy, though, considering Petersen never flinches when asked about the magnitude of certain games versus others. Whether it’s North Dakota or Alabama, he’ll tell you that they all carry the same weight on his scale of significance.
It’s just funny how certain players vanish when it comes to availability before showdowns with Oregon or Washington State. Just another game? Please. Coach Pete’s not fooling anyone.
“As players, we looked at is a rivalry game. We wanted to beat Wazzu and beat Oregon and be kings of the North,” said former Huskies tight end Darrell Daniels, who’s now on the Seahawks’ active roster. “We prepared a little harder because it was Oregon.”
The Huskies made available Tuesday were linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven and safety Taylor Rapp, two eloquent but calculated interviewees. The scheduled players for Wednesday are tight end Drew Sample and receiver Aaron Fuller, who are just as unlikely to provide flames to fan.
You’re not going to hear from senior quarterback Jake Browning, whose iconic finger point at a Ducks defender two years ago encapsulated the power shift in this rivalry. Nor will you hear from running back Myles Gaskin, the all-time Washington rushing leader who’s never been shy on sharing his opinion.
Petersen will tell you that this is simply to give these guys a break from the press, or to accommodate class schedules, and there is probably some truth to that. But the reality is that, while words can’t break one’s bones, they do have the potential to break Twitter.
Whether stoking a fire through trash talk would bear any outcome on the game is debatable. Of all the thoughts swirling through a players’ head during a season-defining game in front of 54,000 people, an opponent’s soundbite probably isn’t one of them.
But that doesn’t stop certain fan bases from drumming up hype — even if it’s fake. And regardless of its absurdity, that fake hype tends to find its way into coaches’ and players’ hands.
Two years ago, before the Huskies took on Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal, ESPN’s Holly Rowe posted a picture from a Crimson Tide meeting room. In it was a piece of paper quoting the “national media,” which said “Washington will BEAT ALABAMA because ALABAMA is overconfident.” Problem is, that quote couldn’t be found anywhere online.
Another piece of paper from that photo cited Washington offensive lineman Kaleb McGary, whose original quote of “someone has to knock them off. Why not us?” was changed to “somebody is going to knock off BAMA and that’s going to be us!”
It’s all ridiculous, of course. But players seeking motivational tidbits is like a swimmer shaving his 5 o’clock shadow before a race. It probably won’t make a difference, but they’ll take any advantage they can dream up.
Former Huskies and NFL quarterback Damon Huard said that, back in his playing days, coaches would regularly post smack talk they found while perusing newspaper clips. He added that not even Bill Belichick could resist doing so.
But Huard also thinks that, between ubiquitous social media and the fact that most of the players already know each other, “bulletin board material” is about relevant today as leather helmets.
Maybe. But you have to know this was a strategic move by Petersen. You have to understand that he signaled to his players and fans just how big Saturday’s game was.
We’re not going to hear from many people this week. That’s OK. Such silence says more than any words could have.