Steve Pelluer, Washington's senior quarterback, was preparing to give it a final college try in the fourth quarter against Michigan last Saturday, when an odd thought popped into his head. "Either way this turns out," he remembers thinking, "it has been a great game." It was a strange notion, because when Washington lost—which, behind 24-10, it was clearly going to do—Pelluer would get the goat horns.
Sure, Pelluer might have rationalized that the competition, not the result, was the thing, but, as he knew well, the 60,638 fans in Husky Stadium were feeling differently. They were feeling enormously ticked off that Pelluer had thrown away the Huskies' chances of up-setting Michigan, then ranked No. 1 by SI, with a careless interception that led to a Wolverine touchdown and a fumble that Michigan recovered in the Washington end zone. But alas, those who left early will forever swear they stayed until the end. For all Pelluer did in the final 14:51 was lead the Huskies 75 yards down the field for one touchdown, then direct them on an 80-yard drive for another and, with 34 seconds left, pass for the two-point conversion that gave Washington a 25-24 victory. To accomplish all this, Pelluer had to complete 14 passes in a row—yes, in a row—and keep his head while others didn't. "That dang interception and that dang fumble did put a damper on things for a while, didn't they?" said Pelluer afterward.
Washington won not because it was the better team—which it wasn't—but because it wanted to win more than Michigan. The Wolverines lost partly because they violated a principle that Defensive Coordinator Gary Moeller tries to instill in his troops: "You can't panic." The Huskies, on the other hand, played according to the philosophy of Coach Don James, who says the same thing a bit more professorially: "Don't disintegrate under pressure."
While Pelluer was having his once-in-a-lifetime day, completing 27 of 33 passes for 269 yards, Michigan's junior quarterback, Steve Smith, was giving his best performance ever—18 for 26 passing for 225 yards while still recovering from a shoulder bruise suffered during last January's Rose Bowl loss to UCLA. After having barely beaten lowly Washington State without Smith, Wolverine Coach Bo Schembechler said that, for the Washington game, "if we have Smith, we'll be O.K." Wrong.
What turned heads about the Huskies' win was that they lost 34 lettermen from their talented 1982 outfit, which went 10-2. But Michigan should have heeded the handwritten sign in its dressing room back in Ann Arbor: DON JAMES DOES NOT REBUILD AT WASHINGTON, HE RELOADS. On Saturday the bang-bang was heard all over college football. Of huge concern for Washington this season was the replacement of three departed wide receivers: Paul Skansi, No. 1 Husky in career receptions; Anthony Allen, No. 3; and Aaron Williams. No. 5. It seems James has reloaded with equally explosive guys named Danny Greene, Larry Michael. Dave Stransky and Mark Pattison, who together came up with 22 receptions Saturday. "We knew we could play," says Stransky, a senior, "but we had to wait our turns."
Stransky's turn came with 10:51 remaining in the second quarter, when he drifted behind the Michigan secondary and caught a 19-yarder to put Washington ahead 10-3. Then, when the first of Washington's two long drives unfolded in the fourth quarter, Greene's turn came. Of the first six of Pelluer's consecutive completions, three went to Greene, a junior, on tosses of 14, 15 and nine yards. Another went to Pattison, a junior, who made a diving catch on the Michigan 13 to extricate his team from a potentially fatal third-and-four. Fullback Walt Hunt ran it over from the three. Trailing by seven with 9:06 left, Husky hopes were raised, if only for the moment.
Smith expertly led the Wolverines 65 yards to the Husky 15. There, however, Michigan Kicker Todd Schlopy somehow missed a 32-yard field goal. That gave Pelluer his last chance with 3:40 left. He drilled seven more completions in a row, with Michael and Stransky at first taking turns on the receiving end. Then Pattison got another chance. He was to run a five-yard out pattern, but because he was covered so closely by Michigan's John Lott, he turned it into a seven-yard bump and go. Pelluer, master of the soft touch, lofted a lazy ball into the corner of the end zone, and Pattison snared it to put Washington within one point of the Wolverines.
In view of Michigan's insistence on the blitz—"I don't know why they did it. but I liked it," said Pelluer—the call on the two-point conversion attempt was simple: a short crossing pattern involving Michael and Greene, plus the hope, as Michael explained later, "that something might get all jumbled up in the middle." Something did, and Pelluer was on target for the 14th straight time, to Michael. "I think." said the receiver, "that this will give us confidence to knock heads with high-caliber teams."
Long after the hysterical mob had fled the stadium in search of more good times, Pelluer was walking slowly away. "Do you feel like a star?" he was asked.
"No," he said. "I feel like a victor. Great game, huh?"