Tony Parrish: The Last of the James Gang

On August 31, hundreds of former Huskies will enter newly remodeled Husky Stadium, beholding this new era of Washington football. One of them will be former hard-hitting safety Tony Parrish. Lots of memories will run through his mind.

"Things change," he said. "What was once new becomes old, and you need renovations and you need to stay up with the times."

Parrish first arrived in Seattle in 1993 and loved Husky Stadium from the beginning. Little did he know that the Pac-10 would hammer Washington with probation just days before that season began. Parrish was little prepared to witness head coach Don James announce his resignation in protest of the sanctions.  

"My class was the last of the James Gang," Parrish said. "It was me, Terry Holliman, Fred Coleman, Rashaan Shehee, Jason Chorak, Jerry Jensen, Chris Campbell, Cam Cleeland. We were the class that they really tried to see if we were going to stay and help hold the program together.

"It was crazy, it was shocking, very emotional. Of course, no one wanted (Coach James) to do it."

A year later, in Parrish's redshirt freshman season, he started the opener against USC in Los Angeles. He played much throughout 1994.  This included the epic win over Miami in the Orange Bowl in September. The Canes were bold and brash, featuring Warren Sapp, Ray Lewis and a NCAA record 58-game home winning streak.

"We were thinking about how the teams shared the national championship in 1991," Parrish said. "There were still holdovers from that team on our squad. We also heard words from the '91 team that graduated and moved on. It was a classic kind of game. If you look down both rosters, you'll see an incredible amount of guys who went on to play in the NFL.

"It was time to prove that Washington should have been the lone National Champion in 1991, and that we still had that ability in our program."

One defining moment for Parrish came against USC in 1997 at Husky Stadium. Parrish legally knocked R. Jay Soward unconscious as the star USC receiver came across the middle. Washington won that game 27-0, marking the third time in 14 years the Huskies shut out the Trojans.

"Throughout our history, because of USC's talent and tradition, they were the barometer by which we measured ourselves," Parrish said. "We had a time there where we just knew that regardless of what USC looked like on paper, we just knew we were a stronger and more dominant team. And of course, we had enough California guys on the roster where that USC game always meant something to us. It really solidified the reason why we left California to come to Seattle. And I just remember being on the field and knowing that they couldn't play with us."

Unfortunately for Parrish, he never did reach the Rose Bowl. The Huskies tied for the Pac-10 title in 1995, but lost the tiebreaker to USC for the rights to Pasadena. The '96 squad went 9-2 before losing to Colorado in the Holiday Bowl. Then in his senior season of '97, the Huskies were 7-1 and highly ranked, but hit a tough stretch in November. This included the Apple Cup, when WSU's Ryan Leaf swaggered into Seattle and led the Cougs to conquest and onward to Pasadena.    

"There was a lot going on," Parrish recalled. "We were very upset (by the WSU loss). That was a rough season. We were ranked very high and went through a lot of injuries and weren't able to hold it together.

"At the same time, it was extremely emotional, knowing that the guys that I had grown with for the better part of five years, knowing that I would never play in Husky Stadium with them again. It really was a coming-of-age type of tale. I was 17 when I stepped on campus in 1993. I was a little on the young side to begin with. The personal transformation and the friendships that are built in that time of your life are difficult to describe. It elicits different emotions. Tears welled up in my eyes. It was very surreal. Hugging my teammates. Seeing the underclassmen. I just wanted to absorb it. Everything from that point forward was unknown."

With his playing days now behind him, the 37-year old Parrish will fly up from California to attend the Boise State game on August 31st -- and the debut of the new Husky Stadium.

"Do I feel nostalgic for the old Husky Stadium? Absolutely," he said. "Do I love my experience there? Absolutely. At the same time, am I happy for there to be a new stadium and a new jewel right there on Montlake? Yes I am. I expect to be wowed when I see it.

"I just wish there was more of a bringing together of the past and present for the opening of the stadium."

Parrish was referring to the alumni reunion being scheduled for the anticlimactic Idaho State game on September 21, rather than the highly-anticipated Boise State game.  

"There was an effort to bring an alumni reunion together during the season, because we've always done it in the spring," he said. "I think there was an opportunity lost. To do something for Idaho State was a miscalculation on multiple levels. The school should have recognized that you only have one opening of a stadium. There's no such thing as a soft opening; it's not like a restaurant. There should have been larger festivities to make it more of a more momentous occasion for the opening of the new Husky Stadium. Bringing together the past and the present.  That was a lost opportunity on multiple levels."

As for the current day Huskies, Parrish feels hopeful that coach Steve Sarkisian has the team pointed in the right direction.  

"We need to play with more consistency," Parrish said. "We need to be tougher. Not just in the physical sense, but in the aspect of being able to overcome bad plays within a game. When you get a bit of adversity you need to put your head down and believe in what you're doing to weather those storms within a game."