The Rose Bowl defines Washington football, not a national playoff berth, No. 1 ranking or even the rare victory over USC. It’s always been that way. Wind up in Pasadena on New Year’s Day, and the UW season is deemed a huge success. Win the coveted game, and the Huskies automatically become one of the most storied teams in school history.
College football christened Washington as a national power for the first time following a stunning 44-8 rout of sixth-ranked Wisconsin in 1960 and its reputation was further cemented with a 17-7 win over No. 1-ranked Minnesota a year later. A 27-20 upset of fourth-ranked Michigan in 1978 turned Don James into a legendary coach. A 20-19 loss to Alabama in 1926 helped turn George Wilson into a legendary running back. A 34-14 rout of fourth-ranked Michigan in 1992 capped off an unbeaten season for the Huskies, confirming them as co-national champions with Miami and as the school’s greatest team ever.
The ’78 game still remains the most entertaining of the 14 Rose Bowls involving a Washington football team. The Huskies entered with four losses and were huge underdogs. James resorted to trick plays throughout the opening half. The UW raced to a 24-0 lead and then held on for dear life as the Big Ten powerhouse made a furious rush. One of the game’s many stars was wide receiver Spider Gaines, who later went from failed pro football player to working as a pimp in Vancouver, B.C., before he was deported. He spent the previous night before the big game in his hotel room, admittedly snorting cocaine and drinking beers with high school buddies from the Bay Area.
As the clock wound down in the fourth quarter against Michigan, a burly, animated guy ran down the aisle, leaped up on the cement partition at the bottom and repeatedly yelled, “Go you hogs!” This was no displaced Arkansas fan—rather it was Keith Gilbertson, who had served as a UW graduate assistant coach the year before and worked with the offensive line, hence his customized exhortation.
Twenty-five years later, the gregarious Gilbertson somberly became the Huskies head coach. He replaced the fired Rick Neuheisel, accepting a reluctant promotion from offensive coordinator. Not even the fairly fresh memory of Neuheisel coaching the UW to a 34-24 victory over Purdue and Drew Brees in the 2001 Rose Bowl could save the coach from termination for participating in an office betting pool.
The end of the 1978 Rose Bowl also had men in dark suits and sunglasses forcibly shove Seattle reporters out of the way along the sideline without uttering a word. These guys were way-too-serious Secret Service agents hustling President Gerald R. Ford out of the stadium to beat the traffic. They didn’t care who they manhandled as long as they kept the nation’s leader moving and safe. Ford couldn’t have been in a happy mood either—he was a former Michigan footballer.
Next up in Pasadena is an Ohio State-Washington pairing with plenty of storylines. It’s Urban Meyer’s last game as Buckeyes coach. It’s the final appearance for several of coach Chris Petersen’s finest Huskies recruits. It’s the nation’s No. 6-ranked team against No. 9. A UW win would go a long way to removing the sour taste of a three-loss season considered a vast underachievement with so much talent at hand.
“I know how big it is for this program and I can’t wait for this game,” said Byron Murphy, the Huskies sophomore cornerback and a second-team AP All-America selection. “My teammates can’t wait for this game. Our coaches can’t wait for this game. This is a very special game, I can see that.”
Washington hasn’t been to the Granddaddy of Them All, by far the college game’s oldest bowl game, for 18 seasons—since sending Brees off to the NFL with a New Year’s Day loss. A lot has changed since then. The Huskies are on their fourth coach. Marques Tuiasosopo has gone from 2001 Rose Bowl MVP to NFL back-up quarterback to interim UW head coach and now to his fourth Pac-12 school as an assistant coach. Brees is trying to play in his second bowl game since that day—by taking the New Orleans Saints to another Super Bowl.
As the Huskies begin final preparations for this festive showcase event, we rank the UW’s Rose Bowl appearances from 1 to 14 in terms of importance:
1992, UW 34, Michigan 14—The Huskies reached the pinnacle of college football with a solid thrashing of the Big Ten champs. The James-coached team finished off a 12-0 romp through a magical season that counted only two close games (Cal, USC). They shared the national title with Miami, though many were convinced the Huskies were a much better team with more NFL prospects. The UW celebrated along with wide receiver Mario Bailey, who struck a Heisman pose after scoring—in the face of the real winner, the Wolverines’ Desmond Howard, who was a non-factor in the game.
1960, UW 44, Wisconsin 8—Jim Owens’ third team exorcised several demons in a manner that surprised everyone from Seattle to Madison: This was the first Rose Bowl victory for a West Coast team in seven years, and just the second in 15 seasons; a huge embarrassment for the Big Ten, on the short end of the third-most lopsided Pasadena outcome; and the Huskies’ first Rose Bowl win in five tries coming in their first appearance in 16 years. AP first-team All-America quarterback Bob Schloredt won the first of two MVP trophies, sharing honors with running back George Fleming.
1961, UW 17, Minnesota 7—A Rose Bowl return seemed unlikely when Schloredt, a Heisman candidate, broke his collarbone in the season’s fifth game and missed five games. Yet the Huskies somehow pulled it all together for its second consecutive 10-1 season, finishing off the top-ranked Gophers in a physical battle. Schloredt came off the bench to run for a touchdown and pass for another and pick up his second MVP reward. “I was just feeling lucky to get in the game,” he said. While the AP poll was settled before the bowls, Helms, a lesser ranking, slotted UW No. 1 after the postseason results were in.
1978, UW 27, Michigan 20—The Huskies lost three of their first four games against mediocre opponents before righting themselves and landing in their first Rose Bowl in 14 seasons. They were a different team in Pasadena. Quarterback Warren Moon earned MVP honors after he ran for two touchdowns and threw for another to the notorious Gaines, who had a rushing TD called back by penalty. The game was highlighted by a UW fake punt and multiple reverses, and secured by late interceptions deep in Huskies territory by linebacker Michael Jackson and cornerback Nesby Glasgow.
1982, UW 28, Iowa 0—Jacque Robinson, father of NBA player Nate Robinson, was like a New Year’s Day baby, showing up just in time to enjoy all of the festivities. He was a freshman who came off the bench to rush 20 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns and claim MVP honors. He was such a surprise in Pasadena that a reporter later asked James, “Who is Jacque Robinson?” Without missing a beat, the coach quipped, “I don’t know. I just introduced myself to him. I do know he’s a freshman. I checked the program.”
1991, UW 46, Iowa 34—The Huskies made the first of three consecutive Pasadena trips a successful venture by rushing out to a 33-7 halftime lead and ending up on the plus-side of the then-highest-scoring Rose Bowl in history. Sophomore quarterback Mark Brunell ran for two touchdowns and threw for two, earning MVP honors. Schloredt, on hand to present him with the trophy, quipped, “You being a sophomore, maybe you can get three. But I’ll tell you this, it’s tougher the second time.”
2001, UW 34, Purdue 24—Tuiasosopo led the Huskies to a 14-0 lead and helped them regroup and pull away once the Boilermakers tied the game at 17. Tuiasosopo, who ran for a score and passed for one, was named game MVP. He outdueled Brees, who completed 23 of 39 passes for 275 yards and two TDs. Washington finished 11-1 and third-ranked in the country, one spot ahead of 11-1 Oregon State and four above 10-2 Oregon in the AP poll in what was a very good year for Northwest teams.
1926, Alabama 20, UW 19—This was the George Wilson show, only there wasn’t enough of him to go around. The first-team AP All-America running back led the Huskies to a 12-0 halftime lead, but then missed the third quarter because of an injury and an embarrassing illness (season-long nausea from syphilis), enabling the Crimson Tide to score three times in his absence. Wilson, who finished with 134 yards rushing and threw for two TDs, returned but there wasn’t enough time to reverse the outcome. He nearly skipped the Rose Bowl because he was ready to turn pro and start earning money, but school officials talked him out of it, supposedly making a counter offer that wasn’t paid off.
1924, UW 14, Navy 14—In their first Rose Bowl appearance, one year after the new stadium was opened in Pasadena, the 10-1 Huskies trailed most of the game but battled back to finish in a hard-fought tie. They had a chance to win on their final possession, but Leonard Ziel’s 33-yard field goal sailed wide right. Wilson, a budding star, finished with 68 yards rushing, which included a 23-yard touchdown run.
1993, Michigan 38, UW 31—Wolverines sophomore Tyrone Wheatley ran for 235 yards and three touchdowns, preventing the Huskies from becoming the first school to win three consecutive Rose Bowls. The UW led 31-24 midway through the third quarter but gave up two late scores to Michigan, including the game-winner on Tony McGee’s 15-yard TD catch from Elvis Grbac with 5:29 left in the game. The Huskies played under the weight of coming NCAA penalties and James, unknowingly coaching his final UW game, resigned eight months later.
1964, Illinois 17, UW 7—Huskies quarterback Bill Douglas was sensational for the first 11 plays of the game, but he got hit from behind while scrambling 12 yards to the Illini 14, suffered a disastrous left knee injury and was carried from the field on a stretcher. Without him, the UW fumbled five times and lost three, and threw three interceptions, and a 7-3 halftime lead quickly evaporated against fearsome linebacker Dick Butkus and Co. Finishing 6-5, Jim Owens’ team had the second-most losses of any Rose Bowl entry, surpassed only by an 8-6 Wisconsin team that played in 2013.
1981, Michigan 23, UW 6—The Huskies couldn’t generate any offense, getting stopped at the Michigan 1 early in the game and limited to a pair of Chuck Nelson field goals the rest of the way. The outcome was particularly disappointing for James’ team because it had upset USC 20-10 late in the season to advance to Pasadena. On the other hand, Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler was ecstatic: This marked his first bowl win in eight tries.
1937, Pittsburgh 21, UW 0—The fifth-ranked Huskies never had their heads in this game. Some of them were standing outside the stadium before kickoff, desperately trying to sell game tickets they had purchased in a large quantity until school officials intervened. The third-ranked Panthers, making their fourth Rose Bowl appearance in nine years, pulled away on Frank Patrick’s two short TD runs and Bill Daddio’s 71-yard interception return of a lateral late in the game.
1944, USC 29, UW 0—During World War II, the Huskies entered the game 4-0 and were pegged as two-touchdown favorites, but they lost a dozen players to active military duty, including their two best ones, running backs Jay Stoves and Pete Susick. They brought just 28 players in uniform, many of them campus newcomers, and were no match for the Trojans. This marked the only Rose Bowl played by teams from the same conference because of wartime travel restrictions.