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Husky football in the Heart of Dixie

Jake Locker at the Senior Bowl.
Jake Locker and Mason Foster are in Mobile, Ala., this week for the Senior Bowl, a prestigious college football all-star game held in the Heart of Dixie (that’s Alabama) since 1951.

I used to live in Mobile and covered high school and college sports for the newspaper there, the Press-Register. I took the job straight out of college and spent three years living on the Gulf of Mexico in the Deep South, where football is king by a mile. I covered three Senior Bowls and met lots of future stars, including Seahawks quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, who was just out of Clemson at the time.

With our players in Mobile for the week, it reminded me of my favorite Husky football moment from down South. Here is a column I wrote for the paper in 2006 about the best day I ever wore purple:

In three years as a Baldwin County sports reporter, there’s only one story I regret not putting on paper. 

It’s the story of a Washington Husky all alone in the Heart of Dixie. It’s the tale of two heated rivals sharing Jell-O shots in a foreign land, all the while talking enough trash to fill a Rocky Top-sized garbage can.

Auburn-Washington State. Yes, the Cougars were coming to town.

This wasn’t much of a contest for Tiger fans, as Auburn stomped the Cougs 40-14 on ESPN2. For many in attendance, it was merely the beginning of another successful season on the Plains.

For me, it was one of the best games I’ve ever been to. I’d stack it right up there with Saints-Falcons last year on Monday Night Football and the 2001 Rose Bowl, in which my Washington Huskies engulfed Drew Brees and the Purdue Boilermakers, 34-24.

What made it so great, you ask?

Consider this: You, an Auburn fan from the day you were born, take a job in Des Moines, Iowa, and move far away from home. Because of this, you miss every Auburn game for two years.

Then, one day, vaunted Alabama comes to town to play the Iowa Hawkeyes and you jump at the chance to drive to Iowa City, dust off your blue and orange Auburn gear and root 110 percent against the Tide.

Well, that’s exactly what the Auburn-Washington State game was for me. Washington State is my Alabama. And, to be fair, it’s my Auburn. The Cougars are the in-state rivals of my Washington Huskies, and I don’t like them very much at all. ‘Nuff said.

Here I was, all by myself and with no real chance of cheering on my beloved Dawgs when in struts WSU. Of course I was going to go. And I was going to boo the Cougs all the way.

So I journeyed to Auburn on that sunny September Saturday, dressed entirely in UW purple and determined to give every Cougar a taste of my own Southern hospitality. Needless to say, nobody was happy to see me. Jaws hit the floor. A few middle fingers hit the air. And the smile never left my face.

I was totally in my element. The Cougar fans were not. What a shock it must have been to travel all the way across the country and find a purple-clad Husky fan strolling the grounds and shouting “Go Dawgs!” at the top of his lungs.

I met two other UW fans that day and hundreds of Cougs, young and old. I have to admit they were pretty good sports about the whole thing. None of them wanted me there, but at least they respected the level of dedication I was showing my team. One of them even told me, “Man, that’s something I would do.” Ah, the love. And the hate.

They offered me Jell-O shots. We took some pictures. And then the game started and I cheered for Auburn all the way. Just before kickoff, one WSU student asked if I was going to root for his team. I didn’t answer back.

“Come on, dude. Pac-10 pride,” he crooned, to which I shook my head in disbelief and said, “No way, man. This is all about recruiting.”

Best game ever. And now there’s a story to go with it.

I was proud to represent my team and the UW that day, and I’m sure Jake Locker and Mason Foster are enjoying their time in Alabama. It’s hotter than you-know-what down there, but man do they love football.

Congrats on a great season, fellas. Enjoy the Senior Bowl.

Photo by John David Mercer, Press-Register.

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7 Responses to “Husky football in the Heart of Dixie”

  1. Jodeen wrote:
    January 28, 2011

    “The Cougars are the in-state rivals of my Washington Huskies, and I don’t like them very much at all. ‘Nuff said….And I was going to boo the Cougs all the way.”

    That’s how I felt when Auburn played Oregon this year for the National Championship. A die hard Husky Alum living in Vancouver WA where there are too many yellow and green “O”‘s to count, I have my fill of ducks on a daily basis. It was great to see the ducks eat humble pie.

    I hope Jake plays well tomorrow and wish him the very best in the draft. GO DAWGS!!!

    • Derek Belt wrote:
      February 14, 2011

      Hi Jodeen – Jake’s performance in the Senior Bowl was so-so, but it still sounds like he’s going to go high in the draft. I knew his potential and, more importantly, his intangibles, will make him an attractive draft choice for some team. Thanks for reading, and keep it purple down there in Vancouver!

  2. Mark Storm wrote:
    January 28, 2011

    I was at that same Auburn/WSU game, with a buddy of mine, and were both decked out in Husky purple. I live in Atlanta, so I feel your pain of being not only one of the few Huskies, but few Pac-10 guys down in the south. My wife went to Auburn, so as a season ticket holder, it was a great opportunity to get to wear the W in Jordan Hare! I saw a lot of star-struck Cougs that day, one of them was walking up to the stadium, and just starred up and said “wow, look how big this place is”……I’m still a die-hard Pac-10 guy, but the SEC brings college football to a whole new level. UW is the only Pac-10 school (and maybe Oregon as of late) that brings the same fan intensity and pride to their games.

    • Derek Belt wrote:
      January 28, 2011

      Hi Mark – Who knows, maybe you and I bumped into each other at that game. For that one afternoon, I loved being at the center of attention. I saw so many Cougs pointing and me. I just kept smiling, kept chatting and everyone had a good time with it.

      I bet it was easy cheering for the Tigers in the BCS tilte game. You a Husky and your wife an Auburn grad… no one in that house was rooting for the Ducks, I imagine.

  3. Scott wrote:
    February 1, 2011

    Ugh. What a disgrace. I hope this doesn’t represent most Huskies fans. I know it doesn’t represent me, a Huskies fan. So much energy devoted to a negative result. Cheer for your school, fine, but to root for another’s failure. What a waste.

    • Derek Belt wrote:
      February 2, 2011

      Hi Scott – Thanks for the comment. I had a good time at the game that day, and I met a lot of Cougs who thought it was a fun thing, too. That’s one thing about rivalries… they never die. I lived in the Deep South for three years and didn’t get to cheer for the Huskies at all. We were so bad back then that we were rarely on TV. This was my chance to cheer for the Dawgs, so in some way it was more about rooting for the UW than against WSU. They just so happened to be there. But I understand where you’re coming from.

      Again, thanks for reading. Go Huskies!

  4. James wrote:
    July 22, 2011

    any updates on how hes getting on?

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