In this sample chapter from the book The Dawgs of War by Derek Johnson, the Washington Huskies upended Miami and dealt the visiting Canes their only loss of the 2000 season. More info on this book can be found at DerekJohnsonBooks.com
Rock You Like a Hurricane
The powerhouse Miami Hurricanes would be emerging from the Husky Stadium tunnel at any moment. It was still about an hour before kickoff, and this was Miami’s first-ever trip to the Pacific Northwest. The Washington Huskies were already out on the turf, taking up half the field with their stretch lines. They were 1-0, coming off a lackluster 44-20 win over Idaho. The early September sky was a dreary gray and a blustery wind whipped off of nearby Lake Washington. Anxiety boiled in the pit of every Husky’s stomach.
“I ain’t gonna lie, I was scared,” recalled Husky cornerback Omare Lowe. “It was my first year as a starter. Watching film of Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne, they were killing cornerbacks the year before—and some of those cornerbacks ended up being first round draft picks. Miami’s wide receivers seemed faster than anybody I’d ever seen. And this was going to be televised to much of the nation.”
“I had watched all twelve of Miami’s games from the year before,” Husky center Kyle Benn said. “I watched their nose tackle Damiane Lewis destroy every center he went against. I knew I had to have the game of my life just to hang with this guy.”
Suddenly appearing at the tunnel’s mouth were the fourth-ranked Hurricanes, fresh off their 61-14 win over McNeese State the previous week. Their uniforms bore a stark tropical contrast to the overcast Northwest setting. Vivid white jerseys with green pants, streaked with orange stripes. The Canes’ roster was a breeding ground for future NFL talent. The receivers were all future first round draft picks in Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson. The running backs were NFL-bound Najeh Davenport and Clinton Portis. Their star offensive lineman was All-American Joaquin Gonzales. The defense boasted three other future NFL first-rounders in safety Ed Reed, linebacker Dan Morgan and cornerback Mike Rumph. The obscene talent level might have been unprecedented at the college level.
And so Miami was accordingly a double-digit favorite, and looking to avenge the 1994 “Whammy in Miami”. That was when the Jim Lambright-led Huskies went to the Orange Bowl and upset the Hurricanes 38-20. The victory snapped the Canes’ NCAA record 58-game home winning streak. Miami’s mission now was to destroy the Huskies.
The normal etiquette in this situation is for a team to go around the opposing team to the other side of the field in order to warm up. But the Hurricanes jogged right through Washington’s stretch lines. While doing so, they gave Washington an earful.
The Huskies, known for decades throughout the Pac-10 for their toughness, were taken aback. They remained largely muted during the sacrilege and continued stretching. The Hurricanes laughed and strutted to their side of the field to set up their own stretch lines.
Silent was Washington’s senior quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. His dark eyes smoldering, he continued to stretch. Meanwhile, Washington coach Rick Neuheisel went from player to player offering words of encouragement.
After the warm-up drills concluded, both teams converged en route back to the tunnel. The Miami players were yelping en masse, taking up the Huskies’ barking tradition and mocking their very identity. Kickoff was a testy twenty minutes away.
“As players, we heard the Miami talk all week,” Tuiasosopo recalled years later. “Everybody was saying: “Miami has the greatest secondary in the nation. Miami has the fastest players in America. Washington has no chance!’ Obviously, that was a big concern. But we felt very good about ourselves. We were focused the whole week. We believed that we were a better team than they were. We wanted to go out and show the world. We told the coaches, Whatever… Quit worrying and just let us prepare. We believe in ourselves, and great teams will always beat great players. We’ve got some great guys in this locker room.’ You know, at some point you get tired of what everyone else says.”
After heading up the tunnel the Huskies veered left through a doorway and streamed into the Assembly Room, or “Team Room” as it was known to the players. The Team Room is located halfway up the tunnel, containing theatre-styled seating, with a gentle downward slope looking upon a podium. The offense went to their seats in the front half of the room, while the defense occupied the back.
As usual, the coaches would leave the players with a few minutes to themselves, before returning to deliver final words before heading into the breach of gridiron war. Tuiasosopo went to the far end of the first row and sat with the backup quarterbacks, flipping through the playbook and reinforcing the game plan. Then he got up, clapped his hands, and began circulating throughout the room dispensing high fives and galvanizing the team to a single mindset. “Coach Neuheisel did a great job of pumping us up the night before,” Tuiasosopo recalled. “He unleashed in us all the reasons he believed in us. We were all so fired up that night that half of us couldn’t sleep. I was pretty pumped.”
Tuiasosopo’s teammates were an eclectic bunch. Win or lose, they knew this day would be one of the biggest in their lives. Something to tell their grandkids, or talk about when reuniting years later, talking about old times, old faces: like burly fullback Pat Conniff, who had been best friends with Tuiasosopo since seventh grade, and now paced back and forth in the front of the team room like a bull; and behemoth Elliot Silvers, who sat in the front row with his helmet already on, staring straight ahead in silence. (Everyone knew to leave him alone, or else he’d explode.) And running backs Braxton Cleman and Willie Hurst taped up each other’s jerseys properly—in order to “show the guns”.
In the back of the room, linebacker Jamaun Willis was in the face of hulking Jeremiah Pharms for a pre-game ritual. With an animated lowered voice, Willis would extol Pharms into a psychotic frenzy—by creating scenarios where the Hurricanes were going to do terrible things to Pharms’ wife and kid. Linebacker Derrell Daniels, meanwhile, sat humming to himself with an expressionless face.
With kickoff ten minutes away, the doors to the Team Room opened and the coaches filed in. Short and stout offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson conferred with Tuiasosopo, while defensive line coach Randy Hart shot to the back of the room to exhort his defenders. “Coach Hart had been at U-Dub when the Dawgs broke the streak down in Miami in 1994,” defensive tackle Larry Tripplett recalled. “He was reminding us about that and yelling about how arrogant the Hurricanes were, and what it meant to be a Dawg. That no one comes into our house and beats the Huskies. Maybe it was because I was young, but I took that speech hook, line and sinker. It was like NO WAY that Miami was coming to Seattle and beating us.”
Steve Emtman, Washington’s former Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner from the 1991 National Championship team, was on-hand as a volunteer strength coach. He took aside several of the guys and encouraged them, including Tripplett. “Steve Emtman being there made things more special,” Tripplett said. “We wanted to play well and make the old Huskies proud of what we were doing. We weren’t just playing for our families or ourselves. We were playing for the University of Washington and playing for everyone that ever put on a Washington uniform. We were playing for U-Dub pride and for history.”
Finally, Rick Neuheisel addressed the team, and then the signal was given and the Huskies exited the Team Room for the tunnel. A packed stadium and millions of television viewers were waiting. In years past, the players would have enacted the notoriously profane “Say Who?” chant. But athletic director Barbara Hedges had instructed Neuheisel to cease all use of it, for the fact its lyrics contained the word “motherfucker.”
As the Huskies poured forth from the tunnel, the eruption of cheers from the fans surprised them. Not that it was loud, because Husky Stadium was known for generating raucous noise. But for Miami, it was cranked several notches higher. “The noise that day was unbelievable,” Tuiasosopo said.
Miami won the coin flip, and elected to defer. This meant they would kick off to start the game. As the teams lined up, the colorful Hurricane pelican mascot cavorted behind the west end zone, firing up the fans who had traveled from South Florida. Miami’s Todd Sievers kicked off and the game was underway. Washington’s Matt Rogers took the first crushing hit of the day.
“I was the lead guy on the wedge on kickoff return,” Rogers said. “We received the ball to begin the game. A Miami player hit me so hard that I played the entire game with a concussion and didn’t even know it until I passed out in the showers after the game. I will never forget how much bigger, stronger and faster Miami was opposed to anyone else I had ever played. I had transferred from Iowa, so I had played all the Big 10 schools. I had played Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Miami was far better than all of them. They were a different animal.”
Taking over near their own thirty yard line, Tuiasosopo was under center for the Huskies. Washington managed one first down before having to punt. Star punt returner Santana Moss ran onto the field and glided gracefully into position to receive. Ryan Fleming’s boot was a mediocre one, up the right sideline. It took one bounce before Moss snared it and turned up field. He was quickly blasted by Washington’s Tyler Krambrink. The ball popped loose, and Krambrink fell on it on the Miami 35-yard line. Husky Stadium erupted into bedlam.
The pumped-up Washington offense trotted back onto the field to start another series. Tuiasosopo’s eyes were on fire. It took the Huskies seven plays to methodically work their way down to the Hurricane 3-yard line. On the drive’s eighth snap, Tuiasosopo ran option left. He drew in the linebacker and pitched to running back Braxton Cleman, who raced to the goal line and stepped just inside the pylon for the game’s first score. Washington 7, Miami 0.
Miami got the ball back. When speaking with reporters the previous day, Hurricane head coach Butch Davis had shrugged off questions from reporters about dealing with noise at Husky Stadium. "We go into places like Doak Campbell Stadium at Florida State; the Carrier Dome in Syracuse; Morgantown, West Virginia; Virginia Tech," Davis said. "All those places are extremely loud, hostile environments. I don't envision this being considerably much worse."
Joaquin Gonzalez, Hurricane offensive tackle, echoed his coach. “In the tough games we've been in, the snap count has never been a factor. If you hear even the first part of the cadence, you're OK. The plays we're running, we've been running them so many times, you just do it by instinct."
But from the moment Miami’s fearsome offense stepped onto the field at Husky Stadium, they were stunned by the 73,333 fans who had been publicly challenged by Neuheisel to make life miserable for the visitors from Florida. The cantilevered roofs flanking the field trapped the crowd noise so it reverberated. “My head hurt when I went to the sideline,” Tuiasosopo recalled. “The earth was shaking like it was an earthquake. It’s hard to explain. You can’t think straight or talk to the guys next to you. It seemed like the stadium was swaying back and forth.”
Conventional wisdom dictated that the Huskies not leave their young cornerbacks alone to cover Miami’s great wide receivers. But Neuheisel and defensive coordinator Tim Hundley hatched a gambling game plan. Washington repeatedly blitzed with their corners Omare Lowe and Anthony Vontoure, which left safeties Hakim Akbar and Curtis Williams to cover the outside receivers. Linebackers Jeremiah Pharms and Anthony Kelley were bringing the pressure from the outside.
Washington’s wild and gambling defense, coupled with the crushing crowd noise, rendered Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey dazed and confused from the very start. Pharms locked eyes with a Miami player and urinated in his own pants—a growing warm stream visibly forming through his gold pants. Meanwhile Vontoure and Williams were giving Miami receivers an earful. Williams got into Santana Moss’s face and told him, “I’m going to murder you on this field, motherfucker!” Moss shook his head and said, “Hey man, it’s just a game.” Word of this exchange quickly spread to the Husky huddle, which set off derisive laughter. The psychological posturing seemed to remain in Moss’s head the rest of the day. He would finish with a mere 1 catch for 6 yards.
“The Hurricanes came up to Seattle thinking they were these thugs from Miami,” Matt Rogers said. “But we had the real thugs on our team; from Sacramento, Compton, Los Angeles, and Samoan Hawaii. We had the bad boys on our defense. Jeremiah Pharms was a bad man, a bad dude. I loved having him as a teammate. But on the field, he was a scary, scary human being. With him, it went beyond football.”
With 5:40 left in the 2nd quarter, Washington led 7-3 and had the ball at the Miami 13-yard line. Tuiasosopo took the snap, faked a handoff to the fullback, and ran option right. Seeing a crease in the defense, he veered inside and began weaving through defenders toward the goal line. Reaching inside the five, multiple Miami defenders converged and began dragging him down. Tuiasosopo churned his legs and fought with every ounce of strength. He slowly moved the scrum across the goal line before collapsing into a heap. The officials signaled touchdown and Husky Stadium exploded into the stratosphere. Tuiasosopo climbed to his feet in exaltation as he was mobbed by teammates. Hurricane players began arguing amongst themselves. Moments later, following John Anderson’s extra point kick, the scoreboard read: HUSKIES 14, HURRICANES 3.
Miami got the ball back and quickly picked up a couple first downs, moving the ball to midfield. It was from there—beneath murderous waves of noise emanating from the crowd-- that Dorsey dropped back to pass. Coming off the edge with another corner blitz was Anthony Vontoure. Dorsey reacted as though he was moving underwater. Vontoure stripped the ball free and fell upon it. Huskies’ ball.
Moments later, Tuiasosopo had the Huskies break huddle and line up with an empty backfield and five wide receivers. “We were in a formation that opened the linebackers up,” recalled running back Braxton Cleman. “It was the genius of our offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson. He kept saying to watch the middle because it will be open. I broke past the linebackers and nobody was there. Marques threw it to me and I caught it and fell down right away at the 25-yard line. I played it safe. Maybe I should have kept running. Gilby later said that Jerramy Stevens didn’t run the route he should have, which would have made the safety cover down. Had he done it, the middle would have been completely open, and I would have hit my head on the goalpost, as Gilby always said.”
But that was okay, for Gilby had other tricks up his sleeve. Two plays later, the Huskies had the ball at the 23-yard line. Tackle Elliot Silvers was announced as “tackle eligible.” This drew the immediate attention of Miami safety Ed Reed. Reed focused so intently on Silvers that he didn’t notice Washington tight end Jerramy Stevens go in motion from left to right. When the ball was snapped, Reed zeroed in on Silvers (but Silvers stayed in to block). Meanwhile, Stevens ran all alone toward the end zone. Tuiasosopo recognized this and lofted the ball toward his 6’7” target. Stevens caught the ball and fell to the ground, before jumping up in triumph. The extra point would give the Huskies a 21-3 lead heading into halftime. A stunned television audience looked on, as news of Washington’s exploits spread in media updates across America.
Heading back up the tunnel, each team’s tone had changed. Miami was largely muted, while the Huskies gave an earful. Mindful of the moratorium against the SAY WHO chant, Matt Rogers got creative. He started a new chant, which his teammates joined in and quickly the entire Husky team was chanting “SANTANA WHO? SANTANA WHO? NO ONE WILL KNOW SANTANA, WHEN THE DAWGS GET DONE WITH YOU!”
When the two teams returned to the field for the second half, there was a discernible urgency in Miami’s style of play. On one play, Najeh Davenport took a hand off and smashed into Hakim Akbar, before screaming “I’m a man! You can’t hit me! I’m a man!” Akbar popped up and grabbed teammate Anthony Kelley.
Said Kelley: “Hakim was begging me to tell him, `Did it look bad? Did it look bad?’ I told him yes. He was so pissed! He spent the rest of the game headhunting after Davenport. He didn’t like the idea of looking bad, especially with millions of people watching.” A few minutes later, Dorsey connected with Reggie Wayne in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Wayne promptly high-fived Miami’s pelican mascot, who had run over to celebrate. A two-point conversion attempt failed, but the gap had been closed to 21-9.
The Husky Stadium crowd jostled nervously in their seats as Washington got the ball back. On 2nd down from the 23-yard line, Tuiasosopo dropped back and connected with tight end Jerramy Stevens, who turned up field and dragged tacklers for a 26-yard gain to the 49 yard line. It was now first down and 10. On the sideline, Neuheisel sent freshman running back Rich Alexis into the game. Alexis was a raw talent from South Florida; short on football experience but an amazing physical specimen. Neuheisel, aware that Alexis was experience severe homesickness, felt this was a great way to get the youngster into the game.
The Huskies had a pass play called in the huddle. But as the offense lined up, Tuiasosopo scanned the field and shouted an audible, “Red 47!” Problem was, Alexis didn’t know what that meant.
“I’m sitting there thinking, oh man, what’s Red 47”, Alexis said. “I knew it was a running play, but that’s all I knew. I paused to see which way the play went, and prepared to take the pitch if it came.”
Tuiasosopo took the snap and ran dive option left. He faked the hand off to Conniff and took it outside, pitching the ball to Alexis before being blasted to the turf. With help from a huge block by wide receiver Wilbur Hooks, Alexis had a hole big enough for an Abrams tank to roll through. Alexis shot down the left sideline with blazing speed and sprinted into the end zone. This jolted Husky Stadium into bedlam.
“When I got to the end zone, the whole stadium was rocking,” Alexis said. "I saw the goal posts shaking. I kept the football in my hands because I didn’t know what to do with it.”
“If I knew Rich didn’t know the play, I probably wouldn’t have pitched him the ball,” Tuiasosopo recalled. “Sometimes it just works out that way. That play was a new wrinkle we put into the game plan for that week. We weren’t going to block the end. We took Elliot Silvers and put him on the guy that I would normally pitch on. Miami wasn’t ready for it. I pitched it quick and got hit. All I hear is Husky Stadium going crazy. I was still on the ground and I look downfield and I see Rich still running. Shoot, it was a great thing because he was from Miami playing Miami.”
The Alexis score put the lead at 27-9 (Anderson missed the PAT). Miami spent the rest of the third and all of the fourth quarter fighting to catch up. The Hurricanes would score three more touchdowns. But in the final seconds, with the Huskies leading 34-29, Miami’s Ken Dorsey threw a last-second Hail Mary—which was knocked away by Derrell Daniels. Victory was Washington’s.
Neuheisel expressed great relief and joy as he took to the field with the rest of the celebrating Huskies. He shook Butch Davis’s hand and offered gracious words, then turned with a giant smile and pumped his fist into the air. The Huskies happily swarmed about hugging each other and shouting. As the two teams walked off the field, only the Huskies were vocal now.
“We were heading back up the tunnel, and we started the chant again,” Matt Rogers said. “SANTANA WHO? SANTANA WHO? NO ONE KNOWS SANTANA NOW THAT THE DAWGS ARE DONE WITH YOU! And that big pelican, it was standing in front of our door when we went back. I smacked it in the beak and the head spun around.”
As the Washington players poured into the Team Room, dignitaries from the University of Washington – including athletic director Barbara Hedges and President Richard McCormack, were standing in the back of the room with several prominent high school recruits. Among these recruits were the nation’s top two wide receivers, Reggie Williams and Charles Frederick.
Amid the room, the Huskies cavorted, screamed and cried. Offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson walked about with his arms raised above his head in triumph, and with tears streaming down his face. He kept repeating, “I thought I screwed it up… I thought I screwed it up…” No one knew what he meant, and no one cared. Amid the bedlam, the player most mobbed and congratulated was Marques Tuiasosopo. He shared the moment with his brother Zach, a freshman on the squad.
Also ecstatic was Rick Neuheisel. Some players pleaded with him to do the SAY WHO? chant. After pausing a moment, Neuheisel asked his players to settle down, and he turned to face Hedges at the back of the room. “Sorry boss,” he shouted. “But this is our chant… Fellas! I’ve only got one question for you…”
SAY WHO? SAY WHAT?
SAY WHO SAY, DAWGS AIN’T BAD MOTHERFUCKERS!
SAY WHO? SAY WHAT?
SAY WHO SAY, DAWGS AIN’T BAD MOTHERFUCKERS!
The players repeated this over and over in a frenzy. Kyle Benn turned toward Matt Rogers, and motioned toward the back of the room. “We just got every recruit in here,” he shouted.
“Hell yea we did!” Rogers said.
Meanwhile, the college football world was startled by the final score coming from Seattle: Washington 34, Miami 29. The Huskies were now 2-0. As columnist Blaine Newnham would write in the next day’s Seattle Times, “Historically, it was the most important win at Husky Stadium since 1992, Don James’ last season, when Washington beat Nebraska at night… The Huskies play hard, play smart and seem to believe in themselves when others don’t. Especially when others don’t.”
More info on The Dawgs of War can be found at DerekJohnsonBooks.com