While talking recently with Todd Elstrom, the former UW receiver was told of a debate that raged weeks ago on the Hardcore Husky message boards. It revolved around coach Rick Neuheisel and the 2000 Huskies that won the Rose Bowl and finished ranked #3 with an 11-1 record. The question: Just how much credit does Neuheisel deserve for that glorious season?
"He was the leader obviously," said Elstrom, who was a senior on that team "I don't think you can give all the credit to [previous] Coach [Jim] Lambright but you have to give that staff credit for due diligence for recruiting the players [that contributed so much]. But I think the one thing Coach Neuheisel installed was excitement again and just something new. He's a very intelligent individual, and he was able to get us excited. He provided a new spark. And that's what engaged a lot of folks real early to get to the level of success we got to so fast."
Fourteen years have flitted away since that time. Elstrom, now 34 years old, has been working in the medical device industry for close to 10 years. He's a sales manager for DJO Global.
"Looking back, I think you have a better perspective of how special that season was for everyone," he said. "And what it took to get there. There were so many factors involved. The more you get separated from it, the appreciation level goes higher. I mean, it's been a long time now since [UW] has gotten back there to the Rose Bowl. We had a really good unique group. We knew it back then. But to see guys succeed in life in general and establish their families and careers at this point in their lives, it's pretty exciting to see that as well. It reaffirms how special that crew was back in the day. A group of guys that would do anything it took to win games."
The key leader on that team, of course, was quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. He was equal parts fearless, tough and courageous. Everyone that saw him play remembers Tui scrambling in the pocket, making pinpoint throws on the wild run, or scrambling down field before making impromptu pitches that resulted in big time plays —and drew oohs and ahhs from the Husky Stadium crowd.
"It was a lot of fun playing with Marques," Elstrom said. "It's probably how the Seahawk receivers feel about playing with Russell Wilson, in terms of buying some time to give you a chance to get open. Not that we were a passing frenzy type of team back then, we were more of a running team. But from a receiver's standpoint, to have a little more time to work and get open, to have the opportunity to have the ball thrown to you. He kept plays alive and kept things exciting. You knew it was never dead."
The comparison of Tui to Wilson was an intriguing one. Was it possible that Tuiasosopo was born a few years too early, in terms of being maximized in the NFL?
"I definitely feel that way," Elstrom said. "Given the evolution of quarterbacks in this day and age, he would fit the mold to a T. But back in the day, the mobile quarterback was pretty much unheard of. It was more of a drop back scenario. It's unfortunate that he wasn't given an opportunity.
"He had a long career in the NFL though, maybe 6 or 7 years. From a health standpoint, as long as he came out of it unscathed, he comes out a winner that way."
Of course, not everyone comes out of football unscathed. Elstrom played alongside the late Curtis Williams, who died from a football-related injury sustained during that Rose Bowl season. With so much push in the media these days against football and toward soccer, what is Elstrom's take on that whole issue?
"Football is getting faster, guys are stronger, it is more dangerous," he said. "However, at the same time you're not going to find a more exciting sport to watch or be part of. If I had kids I would allow them to play the sport even if it is a risky sport. But I think it builds a lot of character. Hey, you got hurt, get back up. You can find that in a lot of sports, but football brings it in a different dimension, in a way you can't get from anywhere else.
"The media push toward soccer is so extreme now," he said. "I mean, through my friendship with Jerramy [Stevens] and Hope [Solo], I've got more appreciation for what [soccer players] do. And I played soccer growing up. It was great aerobic exercise. And I have a real appreciation for the coordination and skill level of those World Cup teams.
"But from a spectator's view, I have a hard time with it. I want to see action, I want to see points scored. It's like watching the slowest baseball game in history."
Derek Johnson's articles appear each Sunday evening on Hardcore Husky. For more information on his Husky Football books, go to DerekJohnsonBooks.com