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The Brewery

A gathering place for sports analysis and opinion with Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer.

November 2, 2012 at 9:36 AM

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Rushing the field is a debate for the ages

We'll keep this brief because the Washington-California game should be the focus now. But several people have emailed asking for my take on Husky fans rushing the field, which they have done twice this season, after victories over then-No. 8 Stanford on Sept. 27 and then-No. 7 Oregon State last week.

There are a couple of conversations in college football that are guaranteed to decide whether you are new school or old school: the one about uniforms and the one about rushing the field. Usually, you can flat-out guess someone's age range depending on how they feel about those subjects, but there are always exceptions.

In general, though, you're young -- or young at heart -- if you think that tradition isn't that relevant when considering whether it's appropriate to take chances with uniforms and incorporate alternate colors. And you're young -- or young at heart -- if you believe rushing the field is nothing more than a fun thing to do after an important victory.
You're old and grumpy -- or old and grumpy at heart -- if you are bothered by the uniform thing. And you're old and grumpy -- or old and grumpy at heart -- if you think rushing the field is a statement about historical supremacy or inferiority, and you have a mental checklist about when it's appropriate.

Yes, there's a big difference between changing uniforms and rushing the field, and people aren't necessarily in favor of both or against both. It's a lot more nuanced than that. In fact, I'd say that rushing the field is much more of an age argument, because many realize that there's a recruiting aspect to having cool, new uniforms.

Age is an important factor because it colors perception. It has been 21 years since the Huskies' national championship season. It has been 11 years since their last Rose Bowl season. If you're younger, you haven't experienced rooting for a dominant football program, and that alters the way you react to big wins, even if older people are telling you that you should react in a more measured manner because of the Huskies' tradition. If you're older, you have a library of great memories, and you're able to give historical context to everything, which makes you likely to shun smaller achievements because you have experienced winning at the highest level. That's the barrier that divides these two perspectives on rushing the field.

I've come to accept that, at age 34, I've already crossed over from new school to old school. I'm ambivalent about uniforms, but I'd prefer schools at least stick to their traditional colors. And I'm a smirking, head-shaking watchdog on rushing the field.

If you'll recall the Rotten Apple Cup of four years ago, when winless Washington played one-win Washington State, I wrote a column after the game, which included this line about Cougar fans rushing the field:

It should be a violation of the Field Rushing Commandments -- thou shalt not commit excessive celebrations of beating winless teams -- but they did it anyway.

After that column, I received a lot of feedback from Cougars. They essentially said: "Hey, lighten up. What's wrong with having a little fun? Rushing the field doesn't have to be some grand statement. Why can't people celebrate a reprieve from misery, especially when it means sending your rival to an historic low?"

I must admit that those comments have influenced my thinking. I try not to be the fun police. People already take sports way too seriously. So, I'm more tolerant of acts that violate the Field Rushing Commandments. I still frown on the inside and think some of it is silly, but if fans run onto the field responsibly and don't put players in harm's way, rushing the field (or the court after huge basketball victories) is innocuous.

I have my own rules, as many other traditionalists do. Here's a primary one: If you historically wipe your feet on an opponent, you shouldn't rush the field after you beat that team on the historically rare occasion that said feet-wiping team is highly ranked and you're scuffling. So Husky fans are in violation of this rule this season. Repeat offenders, even.

But I haven't gone out of my way to criticize those fans -- many of whom are students -- for having fun. Those students have been in school for a lean era of Husky football. They hear from others who had it better all the time. They're desperate to get some joy out of the experience. So, like Cougars fans ask me to do four years ago, I'm trying to lighten up.

I don't want sports fans to have to read a handbook before knowing how to react. At the same time, it bothers me that rushing the field has become more of a planned social event than a random burst of joy. Getting lost in the moment is fine. Orchestrating it all in the third quarter is kind of lame. Premeditated celebration? C'mon.

Considering the Huskies' tradition, rushing the field should be limited to moments such as the victory over No. 3 USC during Steve Sarkisian's first season, which signaled the program was on the rise again; and to clinching a conference title at home, such as when fans rushed the court at Hec Ed in 2009.

It should be rare. It shouldn't happen twice a season. But now that it has, it's not like I'm going to go hunting for all the field rushers, lock them in a room and force them to take field rushing training.

Sometimes, you have to acknowledge that times are changing, and the meaning behind traditions can get altered. I can go over in the corner and shake my head with all the grumpy, old folks, but the young 'uns are going to do their thing, too. And we're not fast enough anymore to keep up with them.

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