What Browning’s legacy will be is up for debate. But what should it be?
LOS ANGELES — The Browning Fatigue Factor has been a reality for Washington’s senior quarterback for some time now. Jake Browning has even coined a new name for it: Jake-lash.
“People are ready for the next thing,” he said Thursday. “Sucks for them, because I’m still here.”
For one more game, he’s here. No quarterback in Washington history has played in more games than Browning, who will make his 53rd start on Tuesday in the Rose Bowl against No. 5 Ohio State.
Browning’s 39 victories are a Pac-12 Conference record. He’s led the Huskies to two Pac-12 championships in three seasons. His 110 total touchdowns and 11,983 passing yards are UW records.
And yet his legacy is a complicated one.
He is, perhaps, a victim of the success he helped create in 2016, when the Huskies won their first conference title in 16 years and earned their first College Football Playoff berth. He hasn’t produced at the same level he did during that sophomore season (when he tied the Pac-12 record with 43 touchdown passes), or even come close to it (with 35 TD passes combined the last two seasons).
And then, there are the big-armed, blue-chip quarterbacks waiting behind him, most notably Georgia transfer Jacob Eason.
Browning is well aware of all that — of the strong opinions some fans have of him — and he has always had a healthy perspective on his role and his place in the program (even if he can be a little sarcastic about it at times).
He says he has no regrets. And why should he?
“Definitely some games we wish we could have maybe had a play or two different,” he said at a Rose Bowl news conference Thursday morning in downtown Los Angeles. “But I think there’s some peace of mind (that) I’ve been able to work really hard and put as much effort and energy into this as I can. And so you kind of do that. You kind of look at, we’ll see where the chips fall, and that’s kind of where we’re at.”
Others in and around the program have their own strong opinions about the quarterback, and about the fans’ backlash — Jake-lash — surrounding him.
In the moments after UW’s loss at Stanford in November 2017, UW athletic director Jen Cohen admitted she “went crazy” on a Husky fan who was screaming expletives at Browning as the Huskies walked off the field.
A little over a year later, Cohen was able to share a happier moment with Browning on the field after the Huskies’ 10-3 victory over Utah to claim the Rose Bowl berth. As long-stemmed roses were handed out, Cohen sought out the QB for a hug and a message:
“Good for you,” she told him. “There’s nobody I would rather see have a rose in his hand than you, because the Rose Bowl is exactly where the Huskies belong, and you through all these ups and downs — look where you took us.”
In this social-media era — when everyone has a forum to share their every thought on any given subject at any moment — Cohen said Browning’s handling of criticism is all the more admirable.
“First of all, he’s succeeded a lot more than he’s failed. And his failures, as public as they’ve been, he’s picked himself up and re-motivated himself,” she said.
“That’s why I love and admire Jake so much. He embodies everything that we stand for as an athletic department. Not just football, but what we’re trying to be as people. … I think there’s something so human and so relatable about Jake, because he plays a position that gets to be evaluated — in every single way on every single play — differently than any of us. Imagine being in a job where every single move we made was evaluated as a positive or a negative. And here’s a kid who has the courage to want to be great.”
Browning, for his part, avoids Twitter as much as possible.
“You can say it doesn’t affect you, and you’d be lying, because I’m a pretty reasonable person and people say some unreasonable stuff, and then you want to rip into this guy that’s some random person you don’t even know,” he said. “Takes energy away from getting ready for the next game. So it’s something you’ve got to stay disciplined on. I think you have to limit the avenues people can reach you.”
How Browning will be remembered is up for debate.
How should Browning be remembered?
“As a great teammate, great quarterback at the University of Washington,” senior running back Myles Gaskin said. “A dude that was always ready to work. A dude that took his ups and downs and learned from each one of his downs and came back and got better from them. And a dude that was just always hungry, that always will be hungry. I can’t say enough about him. I’ve never met a dude like Jake. Just a unique guy.”
Browning, out of necessity, has already started the process of moving on to the next phase of his life. He recently subleased his Seattle apartment and moved out all his belongings. Next month, he plans to start training in California ahead of the NFL combine.
“I think, for me, I obviously loved my time here,” he said. “I have no complaints about it. But, you know, you kind of get to a certain point and you feel like your time has come, and I’ve played more football than really anybody.
“I kind of feel like my time has come,” he added, “but I definitely want to go out with a win.”