Never be too proud to borrow: That was one lesson to be gleaned from Washington's season-opening 31-14 thrashing of Stanford. The Huskies prefaced last Saturday's win with a poignant, if unoriginal, tribute to a loved one who had passed on...to retirement. Joining hands, they walked wordlessly through the tunnel and onto the field at Husky Stadium, where they knelt, removed their helmets and pointed them toward the heavens.
Four years ago, before a game against Washington. Colorado's players had staged a similar tribute in memory of their late quarterback, Sal Aunese. "Then they kicked our butts," recalled Husky defensive end Jamal Fountaine, "so we thought it would be a good way to honor Coach James."
It made little difference to Husky fans and players that Don James was alive and well and watching from the press box. His abrupt retirement 13 days earlier, in the wake of unexpectedly harsh sanctions imposed on Washington by the Pacific-10 conference, had been described by Jim Lambright, James's successor, as "a death in the family."
James was tight-lipped and buttoned down; Lambright is less inhibited. In the heat of pregame passion, he has been known to bark at his players, who call him Lambo. After practice on Aug. 25, when athletic director Barbara Hedges told the team that Lambright would be its new head coach, the Huskies responded with a standing ovation and a Wave.
The second-guessing of Lambright, who is only the third head coach at Washington since 1957, began on the Huskies' first possession against Stanford. Washington faced fourth-and-one on the Cardinal 24. What to do? Go for it? Or play it safe and kick the field goal? Lambright went for it, and fullback Matt Jones was stuffed by Stanford linebacker Coy Gibbs for no gain. "I'd make the same call again," Lambo said later. "I thought it was important to let the kids know I'm gonna make that sort of call for them."
Against an offensive line that had been billed as one of Stanford's strengths, Washington's Purple Reign defense amassed five tackles for losses and seven sacks. Poor Steve Stenstrom, the Stanford quarterback, will now be grasping for Advil at the mere sight of purple. Last year he was sacked six times and given a concussion in a 41-7 loss to Washington.
That the Huskies' halftime lead Saturday was only 10-7 was due to the inexperience of sophomore quarterback Damon Huard, who was making his first start, and to a young Stanford defense that was playing over its head. It didn't for long. On successive third-quarter possessions Husky tight ends Mark Bruener and Ernie Conwell got behind Stanford's freshman safeties for touchdown catches that put the game out of reach. Husky junior tailback Napoleon Kaufman, meanwhile, rushed for a total of 195 yards. "We couldn't get near him," said Stanford head coach Bill Walsh. "We do not have enough speed on the field to compete with them."
Nothing like a rout to boost the spirits of boosters. Down at the edge of Lake Washington, where Husky fans from upper tax brackets are ferried in after anchoring their yachts, the mood before kickoff had been funereal. "Normally you have a buncha ladies my age dancing on this dock," noted Bob West, Washington '52.
There were plenty of reasons not to dance. That recently concluded Pac-10 investigation had uncovered a total of 15 violations by-Washington. The conference had socked the Husky football program with a two-year bowl ban, deprived the team of 20 scholarships over the next two years and garnished Washington's TV revenues from this season, some $1.4 million.
The Pac-10 seemed not to have considered that the Huskies were first-time offenders, that no coach had committed violations and that James had a reputation for integrity. Outraged by what he called the "unfairness" of the sanctions, James resigned, touching off a chorus of keening among his players. "A bunch of guys trained to play one of the toughest games in the world, and there we are, crying our eyes out, said center Jim Nevelle.