Before Washington played at UCLA this season, center Nick Harris heard a story.
He can’t remember who told him, but it goes like this: One year, after a regular season game, a group of Husky offensive linemen left an object in the Rose Bowl Stadium locker room. They were confident they’d be back for the Rose Bowl, and planned to retrieve it then.
UW did go to the Rose Bowl that season and whatever they left behind was collected. The Huskies offensive linemen considered copying the strategy after this season’s win over UCLA, Harris said, but didn’t end up leaving anything behind.
But not because they didn’t believe they’d be back.
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“That was always on my mind,” Harris said. “We’re going to get back here. There’s no doubt about it. Whatever happens, we’re going to win that Pac-12 championship.”
Harris was right, of course. The Huskies defeated Washington State in the Apple Cup to reach the Pac-12 championship and then topped Utah to win the title and earn a berth in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State on New Year’s Day.
UW had some time away from football after the conference championship. They practiced once last Saturday, had a week off to finish finals and then resumed practice this weekend. Linebacker Benning Potoa’e said the break allowed UW to recover both physically and mentally. Now, the Huskies are ready to get back into a routine.
Preparing for this game feels surreal, Potoa’e said. He’s constantly reminding himself that the Huskies won the conference championship, that they’re going to the Rose Bowl.
“Sometimes I forget what game we’re playing in,” he said, “how big of a game this is.”
For some Huskies, the Rose Bowl also means a trip home. Harris is from Inglewood, Calif., while defensive back Myles Bryant is from Pasadena. Bryant spent part of Saturday giving the members of the media restaurant recommendations.
When UW played the Bruins earlier this season, his family and friends were confident the Huskies would return in January.
“They were like, ‘We could see you playing here in a couple months,’ ” Bryant said. “So did our team. A lot of guys were saying that there were only 45,000 or whatever at our UCLA game. But when we come back here, it’s going to be sold to the max, 90,000. A lot of us had an idea.”
Playing in Southern California is always a big deal to Harris. He has family in Pasadena, including some who live right behind the stadium, and he’s been to the game before.
“I’ve been wanting to do this since I was young,” Harris said, “so this is crazy.”
Having so many teammates from California gives the Rose Bowl added significance, said defensive back Byron Murphy. He grew up watching Rose Bowl clips on YouTube. In the weeks since the Pac-12 championship game, he’s found himself watching them again.
“It’s even more special because you have a lot of teammates that are from California and get to go play in front of their family,” he said. “That’s a special moment for me because all my brothers are from California. We’re going back to their hometown.”