Husky Stadium Has Long History Beyond Football

Aug 30, 2013

Early September means college football. And down along Montlake Boulevard, the University of Washington Huskies are getting ready to play in their remodeled and expanded stadium. Though most of the structure is new, there’s been a stadium on this same spot since 1920. And in nearly a century, it’s played host to a lot more than football games.

In 1923, President Warren G. Harding gave a speech at the stadium about the future of Alaska. The speech would barely be remembered, if at all, other than the fact it was to be Harding’s last public address. The President was seriously ill, and he died in San Francisco a few days later.

Twenty years after that, FDR was president and the nation was at war. Civilians on the home front all over the US were pressed into service, to be ready for an enemy invasion. In Seattle, local civil defense authorities created a remarkably elaborate simulated attack, using the Husky gridiron as the stage. The public was invited to come and watch.

Bombers flew overheard, mock buildings burst into flame, and make-believe chemical weapons rained down on pretend victims played by students. Medics and firefighters rushed to the aid of people and property, with fire trucks and ambulances, and an army of volunteers, pitching in to help.

It would be decades before anything quite so dramatic would take place at Husky Stadium again.

But one reliable source for edge-of-the-seat suspense has always been the annual match up with cross-state rivals the Washington State Cougars. In 1962, the game was officially renamed “The Apple Cup” and it was played that year in Spokane. A year later, the Apple Cup came to Seattle. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the game was set for Saturday. And then the news came: President Kennedy had been assassinated. In the wake of JFK’s death that Friday in Dallas, the 1963 Apple Cup was postponed. A week later, the Huskies beat the Cougs at Montlake, 16 – 0.

Husky Football has been something of a rollercoaster throughout the history of the stadium—from the highs of Rose Bowl appearances and national championships, to the lows of losing streaks and off-field troubles for coaches and players.

But Husky Stadium also created a little history of its own, though it was in the stands and not on the field. During a game against Stanford on Halloween 1981, many credit former Husky Yell King Robb Weller for invention of the loud and synchronized cheer known as “The Wave.” It wasn’t long before the Montlake-born Wave reached the shores and sports fans of every continent.

And back home, Husky fans have kept cheering, even through the tough times, and kept coming back to Husky Stadium for football, soccer and track and field. In the mid 80s, the University of Washington decided to capitalize on the demand and add more seating capacity with a major addition on the north side of the field.

The bigger capacity was a boon to ticket revenue, and also helped Seattle land the 1990 Goodwill Games. This Cold War-era Olympics-like event brought athletes from around the world and thousands of spectators to the Pacific Northwest. Husky Stadium hosted the opening ceremonies, and Ronald Reagan was the keynote speaker.

And though the former President and actor got a lot of applause that day, the crowd did not break out into a spontaneous “Wave.”