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Tuesday, September 5, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


UW Football | Sooners, 21 years later

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Washington Huskies have never played a game in Oklahoma's Memorial Stadium.

But Saturday, when they make their initial visit, they will see at least one familiar sight — the Sooner Schooner.

Sometimes, though, some of the Huskies who were there the night the Schooner zigzagged its way into UW lore wish they'd never really made its acquaintance.

To recap the legend: With just over 14 minutes remaining in the 1985 Orange Bowl — the only other time Washington and Oklahoma have met on a football field — the score was tied, 14-14. Then Oklahoma's Tim Lashar kicked what appeared to be a go-ahead 22-yard field goal.

The kick, however, was negated because of an illegal procedure penalty, something the members of the team operating the Schooner — the covered wagon powered by white ponies that is OU's official mascot and races onto the field to celebrate scores — learned a little too late.

Oblivious to the penalty, Schooner driver Rex Harris charged onto the field, earning Oklahoma another penalty — a 15-yarder for unsportsmanlike conduct.


UW football @ Oklahoma, 12:30 p.m.

The re-kick from 42 yards away was blocked by Huskies safety Tim Peoples.

And as an official history of Huskies sports published a few years ago put it: "Inspired by the momentum swing, Washington went on to score two touchdowns in less than 60 seconds around the five-minute mark and won the game, 28-17."

To which former UW running back Jacque Robinson said: "I don't think so. [The Schooner] made it funny and entertaining, but other than that, we knew going in that we had something for those guys."

In fact, the Huskies controlled most of the game, rushing for 192 yards against a Sooners team that entered as the nation's leader in run defense, and holding Oklahoma's vaunted running attack to 162.

Barry Switzer, the OU coach at the time, admitted in a phone interview last week, "That wasn't the difference in the game. Washington would have won it anyways. They were the better team."

Which is why those who were Huskies then seethe just a little when they see it referred to as simply the "Sooner Schooner game."

"It's one of those happenings that you can't ignore," said safety Jimmy Rodgers, who was one of four co-captains on the 1985 team. "But if anybody has taken offense [at how the game is portrayed], it was me. I was always angry about that. Yeah, we got a break. But don't forget [everything else]."

The win made the Huskies 11-1 — the second-best record in Don James' tenure — and gave them a controversial No. 2 ranking in the final national polls. BYU finished No. 1 after going 12-0, but against a schedule that didn't match that of the Huskies.

"I've always been opposed to a playoff and voted for a mythical national champion, so I really wasn't in a position to complain," James said last week. "But I thought we were better [than BYU]. A lot better."

Washington's undoing was a late-season loss at USC that also cost it a chance to go to the Rose Bowl.

But at 10-1, the Huskies became the first Pac-10 team invited to the Orange Bowl. Some players say it was almost better. Knowing Washington had just been to a few Rose Bowls, Orange Bowl officials told UW players and coaches that they would outdo the self-proclaimed "Granddaddy of Them All" in terms of hospitality.

Washington spent almost two weeks in Miami, highlighted by a cruise one night with Oklahoma players that almost descended into a fight on the dance floor. Rodgers remembers hulking Huskies defensive tackle Ron Holmes playing peacemaker, though not in the expected manner.

"He was a big guy, but when he went to break it up, this high voice came out like Michael Jackson's," Rodgers said. "It was more like everybody stopped due to laughter."

Oklahoma entered 9-1-1 and ranked No. 2; the Huskies were No. 4.

The Sooners' best player was defensive tackle Tony Casillas, who would go on to become the No. 2 pick in the 1986 NFL draft. He was the player James thought was the key to the game.

"Nothing against any of our players, but we didn't have one player who could block him," James said.

So James and offensive-line coach Dan Dorazio devised an elaborate scheme of trap plays designed to neutralize Casillas. Most were audibles called at the line of scrimmage based on where Casillas lined up.

"If you ever tried to do that during the regular season, having just five days to prepare, you couldn't do it," said UW quarterback Hugh Millen. "By having four weeks to prepare, we got it down to where it became second nature."

The strategy worked all night. Robinson ran for 76 yards by halftime and finished with 135 against a Sooners team that had allowed an average of 68 rushing yards all season.

Said Casillas last week: "They trapped me all day long, and I pretty much took the bait."

Washington led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, but the Sooners tied it at 14 on a 61-yard pass to end the first half.

The teams played a scoreless third quarter. On the second play of the fourth quarter, UW stopped quarterback Danny Bradley on third-and-goal, setting up Lashar's kick and the Schooner's infamous run.

Lashar said last week he was already to the sideline when he noticed the flag.

Oklahoma was penalized because offensive lineman Mark Hutson, lined up as a guard on the field-goal team, was wearing No. 98, a tight end's number. Hutson had done the same thing much of the year, but this time, the officials hadn't been notified.

Lashar said the flag "was thrown so deep into the line that nobody saw it."

Including, evidently, Harris, who drove the Schooner onto the field, drawing another flag.

"The officials told us he could come out there after a score, and we said that's all we ever do," Switzer said. "Hell, it's after the fact. We had scored. It was really a terrible, terrible call by the officials."

Peoples then busted around the outside to block Lashar's second attempt. But any shift in momentum was far from immediate.

James inserted Millen for starter Paul Sicuro for the next series. Millen had started the first eight games of the season before being benched — even though UW was ranked No. 1 at the time. James said he intended all along to let Millen play in the game and thought "we could get a lot more out of our passing game with Hugh in."

But the Huskies went three-and-out on Millen's first series, and Oklahoma then drove for another field-goal attempt, Lashar hitting from 35 yards out to put the Sooners ahead 17-14 with 8:45 left.

Then came the game's decisive sequence. Millen, who said he was more nervous than usual on the first series, steadied himself and came back to lead UW 74 yards in seven plays, hitting his former Roosevelt High teammate Mark Pattison for a 12-yard touchdown. Washington had a 21-17 lead with 5:42 left.

Oklahoma's Buster Rhymes fumbled the ensuing kickoff out of bounds at the 2, and on OU's next play, a Bradley pass was tipped by Holmes and intercepted by Joe Kelly. Two plays later, Rick Fenney scored from 6 yards out to clinch the game.

Lashar said he sometimes wonders how the game would have unfolded without the Schooner incident.

"That penalty still sticks in the craw of a lot of us," he said. "But they were a good football team and very deserving."

As for the Schooner, it continues to race on the field to celebrate after scores at home games, bowl games and the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas.

It has never been cited for another penalty.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company



Football schedule

Sept. 2San Jose StateW, 35-29
Sept. 9at OklahomaL, 37-20
Sept. 16Fresno StateW, 21-20
Sept. 23UCLAW, 29-19
Sept. 30at ArizonaW, 21-10
Oct. 7at USCL, 26-20
Oct. 14Oregon StateL, 27-17
Oct. 21at CaliforniaL, 31-24, OT
Oct. 28Arizona StateL, 26-23, OT
Nov. 4at OregonL, 34-14
Nov. 11StanfordL, 20-3
Nov. 18at Washington StateW, 35-32

Related scores & stats links

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Husky Stadium seating chart


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