It’s loud inside Husky Stadium these days. But the noise is not coming from the familiar eardrum-rattling scream of 72,000 foot-stomping, crazed Dawg fans. It’s the clank of construction equipment, the groan of steam shovels, and the grumbling of dump trucks—all hard at work on the makeover of the beloved cathedral to Husky football.
Ever since it opened in 1920, Husky Stadium has been our second home, a place we can’t wait to spend our Saturdays with family, friends and food. Who around here can’t conjure up the images and the feelings that go with them: watching the Huskies run out of the tunnel and onto the field; the drop-dead gorgeous view of Lake Washington; the white flotilla of boats bringing fans from the Eastside; the aroma of sausages sizzling on the grill at tailgate parties surrounding the stadium; slapping high-fives with strangers over that amazing Mario Bailey catch while waiting in line for a hot dog and a Coke at halftime.
But at the old age of 92, our beloved stadium was showing signs of age. Crumbling concrete, shin-squeezing narrow rows of seats, exposed wiring and not enough bathrooms put Husky Stadium—where we were dazzled and delighted by Hugh McElhenny, George Fleming, Napoleon Kaufman, Warren Moon, Steve Emtman, Lawyer Milloy and so many others—in need of a total rejuvenation.
“It needed to be done,” says Husky supporter and philanthropist Ron Crockett, ’61, who has been going to Husky games since 1958.
While the renovation forces the Huskies to relocate to the home of the Seattle Seahawks, CenturyLink Field, for the 2012 season, the result of the one-year detour will pay off for decades to come.
The remodeled stadium will provide the Husky football program with totally modern facilities, and give fans better sightlines, improved concessions and other amenities. It will also give the football program a big boost for recruiting players. Bringing in better players means more wins, and victories provide for the best fan experience.
“To be competitive nationally, you need to have the best facilities,” says Jim Lambright, ’65, a former Husky player and coach for more than three decades. Lambright, who now works for Turner Construction, one of the firms involved in the renovation, says the recruiting advantage the new stadium will bring can’t be overstated. “Look at what is happening at Michigan, Florida State, and Oregon,” he says. “This renovation will give the football program a great stadium to sell to recruits, which will really help.”
But all the excitement over the new stadium can’t mask the powerful emotions that overflowed when the south stands of the stadium were brought down in November when the renovation began days after the final game Nov. 5.
“It was really bittersweet,” says Chip Lydum, ’84, who is the athletic department’s liaison to the construction team working on Husky Stadium. “This is not just another construction job. I grew up watching Husky football. My brother and I used to hang on top of the tunnel and ask players for wristbands. Now, it’s my kids who are doing that. It was very emotional seeing the stands being torn down.”
Damon Huard, ’95, a former Husky quarterback and current color analyst for Husky radio broadcasts, welcomes the renovation project.
Attending games as a child, playing on the field and coming back to work for the athletic program, Huard doesn’t believe the feeling of being a Husky will go away due to the stadium renovation.
“Most people need to realize that it is being rebuilt but it is going to look and feel like the Husky Stadium we know and love,” he says. “You look at it and see the new stadium will have the same sort of feel and effect. Not some tricked-out NFL stadium.”
Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Rondeau says the renovations were long overdue. The upgrade, which will be on par with or exceed other facilities like Oregon and Oregon State, will increase the excitement in the Huskies—and make them more competitive.
“Rightly or wrongly, kids today are swayed by that kind of thing,” he says. “Oregon, with its fashion model, if you will, has shown that you can actually attract talent with something seemingly mundane as what your uniforms look like.”
If that is the case, “how much more important would it be for your facilities to look that way?” he asks.
The renovation of the stadium is essential for another, larger reason. Football brings in the revenue that supports the other 21 sports played at the UW. If football can’t bring in that revenue, that spells trouble. “The stadium provides most of the operating funds for the $64 million athletic program,” Crockett explains. “It is very important to be [financially] self-sustaining, especially these days due to the shortfall in state government support.”
Don Barnard, ’63, who serves on the executive committee of the Tyee board, thought the fundraising for the program for the $250 million project, especially in such hard economic times, was “incredible.”
“[It] was made successful by continuing support of the strongest Huskies that have been giving money there, over the years,” Barnard says. “They are so dedicated…it was just so incredible going out and raising funds from the [stadium].”
Barnard also believes that Husky Stadium builds upon the academic heart of the UW. More donations are made, he says, to other departments on campus when the football program is doing well. Crockett agrees. Business alums meet with past engineering students, and people from all over the area mingle to build upon one common factor: Husky football, and Husky Stadium, are a part of us. And always will be.
“If you think about the UW in general,” he says, “what other department or program can get 70,000 people together to attend an event? It’s a focal point for people coming back to the University.”
—Jon Marmor is Managing Editor of Columns, Mary Jean Spadafora is a Columns intern. Julie Garner also contributed to this story.