Crossing West over the Evergreen Floating Bridge on Route 520, the silhouette of Husky Stadium emerges in the distance cloaked in a light morning fog. Rising out of Lake Washington like two coiled cobras, the hulking steel grandstands gleam with flecks of early morning sunlight. I’m on my way to Husky Stadium, home of the Washington Huskies, a venue reputed to be one of the loudest in the country. Given the massive flanking metal roofs, the reflective acoustics would support this claim. In a 1992 night game against Nebraska, the crowd noise reached 130 decibels, officially the loudest college football game on record – a level above the threshold for pain.
It’s a pristine morning in Seattle, the sun breaks through quickly and a light breeze rolls in off the bay. Despite the ample side streets surrounding the Washington campus, I’m forced to pay for parking. The neighborhoods are canvassed with parking ordinances for game days, a clever money making scheme for the University. After reluctantly forking over my $15 parking donation, I wander through a few of the larger stadium lots, the smell of tailgate wafting through the morning air. It’s a robust atmosphere in the lots, the usual flood of purple tents, smoking grills and spreads, but that’s not what I’m looking for.
The real tailgating scene Washington is famous for occurs on the water behind the stadium in Lake Washington. The Huskies are host to a unique college football experience known as “Sailgating”. Scores of boats motor in before games, lashing themselves together to form a giant tailgating flotilla of fiberglass and chrome. Grill smoke wafts between the rows of boats, and satellite TV’s pump out a few east coast games. Cops donned in orange life jackets patrol the docks, making sure nobody gets out of control, but it’s a pretty relaxed scene. A few of them munch on some burgers, sounds like a pretty choice detail to me.
I chatted up the owner of the “Big Dawg”, an impressive 60 footer, and one of the largest yachts in the fleet. Owned by a local excavating company mogul, we exchanged a few stories as they grilled up some fresh pacific oysters. Not your average meager bites, these oysters were huge meaty offerings, served with traditional cocktail sauce. I shamelessly downed a handful of them.
After my fill on the docks, I circled around the stadium and snapped up a quick ticket on the 50 yard line for forty bucks or so. I opted for the upper deck this time, strategically positioned in the middle of the acoustic throng that Husky Stadium is known for. With a pristine sunny afternoon, and gentle breeze coming in off the water there was an overt calm in the stands.
The game turned out a bit quieter than I had hoped for. Though Cal is a premier PAC 12 opponent, the place never quite filled up, and endzone seats were nearly barren except for the band. It’s been that way for the last ten years or so from what I gather, as the Huskies struggle to recapture their former grandeur. The noise pumped up a few times on key plays, booming off the corrugated metal roof, but it still wasn’t the ear splitting hubbub that I came to hear. The game was actually a rather exciting one, coming down to the last drive where the Huskies held on for a hard fought 31-23 win amidst a rather aloof crowd.
True to form, however, Husky Stadium is a magnificent backdrop for college football. Sailgating on the water, an imposing facility and tradition rich program are all the right ingredients for a true Saturday classic. I’d love to return one day for a few more oysters on the half-shell, and a night game against a premier opponent when the grandstands really start shaking…
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