The day started earlier than usual.
The alarm was set for 3:15 a.m., and I finally rolled out of bed about 3:25.
I picked my buddy up at 4, and we were off.
Destination: Rose Bowl.
We were there in October for the Pac-12 game against UCLA, but this trip was different. This was “The Granddaddy of Them All.” It said so on the glossy jumbo-sized $160 tickets that were packed safely in a bag in the back of the car.
After years of being in the media, where I really didn’t care who won or lost, this was my first Rose Bowl as a fan and the fifth for my buddy, Danny, a Washington grad and longtime season-ticket holder.
Danny had told me about his previous trips to Pasadena, and when Washington beat Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, my phone beeped shortly after. The text read: “Want to go to the Rose Bowl?”
A week later, we had tickets and reservations at a hotel in Downey, California, about 20 miles from Pasadena. We decided to drive instead of fly.
Dec. 29, 4 p.m.
Twelve hours after leaving rainy and dark Bremerton early Saturday morning, we checked into a motel in sunny Stockton, California.
We passed a slew of RVs plastered with Husky logos on the way down I-5.
There were UW fans at every rest stop.
We were part of a pilgrimage of purple and gold.
We watched Alabama rout Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff game at a nearby Mexican restaurant, and we were in bed by 9:30 p.m.
Dec. 30, 1:30 p.m.
We arrived in Downey on a Sunday afternoon after fighting southern California traffic, which lived up to its reputation. They must have been giving away tickets at Six Flags Magic Mountain, the amusement park that sits off of I-5 in Valencia. Either that, or everybody was leaving Los Angeles.
Downey is 13 miles southeast of downtown L.A., and the Embassy Suites would be our home for the next three nights. Free made-to-order breakfasts every morning and complimentary drinks and snacks every night. We took advantage and hit the rack early. I was still thinking about the sign at a storefront in Downey: “Donuts, Liquor and Sushi.” Talk about one-stop shopping.
Dec. 31, 10:30 a.m.
First stop: In-N-Out Burger after sleeping through the free breakfast. Waited 15 minutes in the drive-through line, and it was worth it.
Second stop: JW Marriott in downtown L.A. This was headquarters for the Husky football team, and we hooked up with Bremerton’s Noah Garguile, who came straight from the airport.
The hotel’s located in the L.A. Live district, and it features a bunch of mid- to high-level restaurants and sits adjacent to Staples Center, home of the Lakers, Clippers and Kings. It’s a sports and entertainment complex, hosting movie premiers and award shows, and on this day, 99 percent of the people walking around were wearing either purple and gold or scarlet and gray.
The main floor of the Marriott was filled with Husky fans, players, ex-players, ex-coaches and family members. We talked with former Husky quarterback and Cal assistant Marques Tuiasosopo, who led the Huskies past Drew Brees and Purdue 34-24 in the 2001 Rose Bowl, and his wife, Lisa (Fryer), who played volleyball at Sequim and North Carolina.
Days after Washington won that game and finished No. 3 in the polls, Boise State hired a guy named Chris Petersen. First-year coach Mike Leach led Texas Tech to a 7-6 record and Alabama was 3-8 that same season.
Mark Stewart, a first-team All-American linebacker who once had 17 tackles (five of them sacks) in a 1982 game for Washington, stopped by our table and chatted. He’s now coaching football at Mariner High School in Everett.
Former UW assistant and Mason County resident Dick Baird, part of KJR’s broadcast team, showed up with his wife, Kim. We talked briefly about recruiting with a guy who’s become an ambassador for the Husky football program. When Baird was the recruiting coordinator at Washington, its rating system was based on numbers one through five. But unlike today, when a 5-star prospect is considered one of the top 25 to 30 players in the nation, a player with a ‘5’ rating was someone who wouldn’t play until their fifth year.
Dean Kirkland, a three-year starting guard from 1988-90, stood nearby and held court with a number of folks. He eventually slid our way and we introduced ourselves.
Kirkland’s son, Jaxson, a redshirt freshman, starts at right guard for Washington. He wears No. 51, same age as his old man. After talking to Dean, you wished he still had some eligibility. He was a captain and first-team All-American in 1990, the year the Huskies beat Iowa in the Rose Bowl. And he sounded like he was ready to play.
“You can be an OKG (“Our Kind of Guy”), but you’ve got to be a bad-ass (bleepity-bleep),” he said with a steely no-nonsense look.
After the Husky function, we dropped Noah off at Marina del Ray, a seaside community where he was staying with friends, and headed back to Downey.
It was New Year’s Eve, but we were in bed by 9:30 p.m. again.
Jan. 1, 8 a.m.
Embassy Suites hospitality area
We ate breakfast next to the Miller family, proud parents of Husky senior cornerback Jordan Miller. Mama Miller, Grandpa Miller, Uncle Miller, the younger brother and a couple more drove up the coast from Oceanside, California. They were all decked out in Husky gear.
It was pretty cool to see then light up when they talked about Jordan, who will have his degree when the NFL Draft rolls around in April.
Jan. 1, 10:30 a.m.
Don’t know how he did it, but our Uber driver did a pretty good imitating Dale Earnhardt while weaving in and out of traffic and back roads. He dropped us off fairly close to the iconic stadium.
Parking was $60 on the day of the game, but we didn’t want to fight the traffic. An estimated 700,000 people, according to the Pasadena Star-News, showed up for the Rose Parade, and streets were blocked off everywhere.
There was a $140 Husky tailgate party, but we met Noah and his Air Force Academy buddy, Adam Simmons, and Kitsapers Evan Atwater and Adam Shildmyer, at the nearby Brookside Golf Club restaurant around noon. Bremerton’s Garguile played football at Air Force; Atwater played basketball at South Kitsap and George Fox, and Shildmyer played at King’s West, Olympic College and Northwest Nazarene. The common thread between these friends: they’re big-time Husky football fans.
Brookside, a 36-hole layout, sits in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains and doubles as a parking lot for games played at the Rose Bowl. Wouldn’t want to be the greens superintendent.
The most hilarious moment of the trip happened when Noah emerged from the restaurant with a tray of brownies and started handing them out to fans walking to the stadium.
“Get your Jake Browning brownies!”
Jan. 1, 1:45 p.m.
We’re barely seated when we get a text message from a friend in Bremerton: All-American safety Taylor Rapp isn’t playing because of a hip injury.
That’s not good news for the Huskies.
By game time, the stadium is full. Attendance is later announced at 91,853. There seemed to be more scarlet than purple in the stands. Washington and Ohio State marching bands did their thing, and it was time for the game. It was 60 degrees and sunny at kickoff.
Jan. 1, Game Time
Section 25, Row 43, Seat 102, Rose Bowl
The game didn’t start well for Washington. The Buckeyes put 272 yards and 21 points on a Top 10 defense while cruising to a commanding 21-3 lead at halftime.
Washington’s offensive play-calling seems off. They go away from the running game too soon and Jake Browning doesn’t get in a rhythm. And, yeah, they definitely miss Rapp.
The Dawg fans, at least those around us, aren’t happy.
The lines to the restroom are ridiculous, but I get back in time for the second-half kickoff. The sun starts to fade and it’s getting chilly. Why didn’t I bring that down jacket that’s sitting in my hotel room?
Ohio State leads 28-3 halfway through the third quarter, but only gets one more first down the rest of the way. Washington, which couldn’t finish drives in the first three quarters, scores 20 points and gains 170 yards in the fourth. Where was this earlier?
Browning’s on fire, Hunter Bryant makes an impact at tight end and Myles Gaskin is chewing up yards on the ground.
No. 5 Ohio State (13-1) needed to recover a final onside kick in the final seconds to hold off the No. 9 Huskies (10-4) 28-23.
Jan. 1, 6 p.m.
Parking lot, Rose Bowl
It took an hour — it only seemed like three hours — to wind our way through a long line to board a free shuttle bus to Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Security took a lot of heat for the disorganized way of herding people out of the stadium.
But 15 minutes after getting off the bus, we were climbing into an Uber for the ride back to Downey.
We ended the night with dinner and watched the final two quarters of the Sugar Bowl. Texas did to Georgia what Washington couldn’t do against Ohio State. The Longhorns are ascending into a potential national title contender, and Washington, partly because of the perception of the Pac-12, isn’t getting a lot of respect from the national media these days.
Downey, California; Grants Pass, Oregon; and Bremerton
Ate one last omelet at the Embassy Suites, and started our ride home around 7 a.m. on Wednesday. Stopped in Grants Pass that night, and we were back on the road at 6 a.m., home by 1 p.m. on Thursday.
It was raining like crazy, just like it was the morning we left.
The only thing that could have made the trip better would have been a Washington victory. But the Huskies gave Washington fans a chance to celebrate the New Year in Pasadena for the first time in 18 years, and you get the feeling they won’t have to wait that long again.
Chuck Stark is the former sports editor of The Sun. Reach him at [email protected]