In the argot of kid-lit, the local gridiron weekend could've been called "Husky-Hawks and the Two Bears." The Saturday, Nov. 17, chapter had a happy ending, as the University of Washington Huskies, about as threatening as Goldilocks the past few seasons, improbably ate the Cal Bears all up, triumphing 37-23 and now hoping to salvage an okay season with an Apple Cup victory against Washington State, Nov. 24 at home.
But Sunday's Seahawks game started as something of a grim fairy tale – a sequel, perhaps, to the Oct. 14 home loss to New Orleans. This time the ursine opponent happened to be the Chicago Bears, the villain of last season's Hawk finale, when Seattle lost a Jan. 12 playoff game to the Super Bowl-bound opponent. On Sunday, the Bears opened 10-0, the Hawks looking as though they'd taken cold porridge for breakfast.
"We were down 10-0 before we could blink," recalled Hawk coach Mike Holmgren in the aftermath. It's kind of hard to blink, one would think, when Holmy's players are, in fairy tale parlance, fast asleep, as the Seahawks seemed to be during the first quarter. The teams were tied at halftime, after which Hawk mentors made adjustments that resulted in pressure on mediocre Bear quarterback Rex Grossman. Hawk defensive end Patrick Kerney menaced Grossman for three sacks and a few hurried decisions. Meanwhile, Hawk field leader Matt Hasselbeck was in season-best form, throwing 30 for 44 for 344 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks. The 30-23 win places the 6-4 Hawks a game ahead of Arizona in the division race.
Both weekend epics turned on events that even a hack yarn-spinner would consider contrived. For the Huskies, it was a genuine rarity: a blown decision before the game even started. A mix-up by a Cal-Berkeley captain (aren't they supposed to be way smart down there?) resulted in the Huskies receiving kickoffs to start both halves. It's not quite going to Heaven without having to die, but it does result in an extra possession.
The Seahawks made their own opportunity. Late during the third quarter, a ref gave the ChiBears a favorable spot and a first down. Holmgren, who had only challenged decisions twice this season, threw the red flag that signals a review of a play. The call went Seattle's way, and the team then stopped Chicago on fourth and short. The Bears continued to threaten nearly to the end but without the challenge they might have tied and almost surely would have gotten at least a field goal and been within four points.
The Huskies led the whole way, which is especially notable not so much because of which players excelled as for who didn't even see action. With redshirt freshman star Jake Locker still nursing a sore neck from a hit last week against Oregon State, it fell upon long-suffering back-up Carl Bonnell to run the team. The former Washington high-school all-stater proved reliable in what could be his last action as a Husky. He was just seven for 19 for 108 yards. But that's really all a QB needs to put up when he has a pair of running backs packing it for 345 yards. Brandon Johnson, a true freshman, had a commendable game, with 121 yards in 23 carries. He promises to gain hundreds, maybe thousands, more during the coming years, maybe even next weekend against 4-7 Washington State before the Huskies close Dec. 1 at Hawaii.
But the best running back in town (college or pro) was Louis Rankin. The Husky senior had 224 yards in 21 carries. Without even reaching for the pocket calculator, one could conclude that it means Rankin had the equivalent of first-down yardage per carry. If he hadn't gotten injured the second half he might've challenged for the single-game school record. Some near me in the stands were harking back to memories of UW immortal Hugh McElhenny as Rankin ran with abandon for broken-field gains.
The Hawk standout, aside from Hasselbeck, was lanky receiver D.J. Hackett. Some grid arbiters insist on citing touchdown catches as the one true measure of a pass-catcher's effectiveness. In truth, any grab is good; Hackett had nine for 136 yards coming off of an eight-catch game six days earlier. The Hawks now boast four healthy, quality receivers as they face sub-par, but for them dangerous, competitors in their six remaining games. Four of those are on the road, which, unfortunately for the Seattle Seahawks, is the equivalent of what the deep-dark forest was for fairytale heroines.