UW fans rock new Husky stadium as Dawgs roll

SEATTLE — If there was any doubt that the shiny new Husky Stadium would still have the magic of its predecessor, it was answered a solid 10 minutes before the game even kicked off.

After the playing of the national anthem, that old familiar “Go Huskies” chant echoed back and forth, from the north side of the stadium to the south, then back again, building in volume as 71,963 worked themselves into a frenzy — OK, many had started working towards that frenzy hours earlier with an assist from every college student’s good friend, cheap beer. Long before Washington on its way to an impressive 38-6 victory over 19th-ranked Boise State, the new Husky Stadium was rocking, just like the old one.

Yep, facelift and all, the new old gal’s still got it.

You could tour an empty Husky Stadium and know within minutes that the renovation of the stadium had produced a state-of-the-art facility. What we couldn’t know until Saturday night, however, was if all the bells and whistles that come with state-of-the-art would sterilize what had long been one of college football’s best game-day atmospheres.

Pacific-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott, who toured the under-construction stadium in February, then returned for Saturday’s game, said of the venue, “I knew it’d be very impressive, but it has exceeded expectations.

Scott was most impressed not so much with the new, but rather with “What they didn’t change. The iconic setting, paying homage to the water. I just love they kept some of the traditions, the look and feel of the old Husky Stadium, but it’s got all the modern amenities and conveniences.”

It’s one thing to impress a conference commissioner, whose goal is to raise the profile and profit margins of the conference with better facilities and money-generating suites. It’s something else to build a venue that will give the home team a legitimate advantage on game day, something the old Husky Stadium certainly did, and based of Saturday’s result, which marked the Broncos’ biggest loss in the Chris Petersen era, this version of Husky Stadium will be equally hostile.

With all due respect to CenturyLink Field, one of the loudest venues in the NFL, and home to a world-class soccer atmosphere, it wasn’t home. Not for the Huskies. This, the boats rolling in off of Lake Washington, the tailgate parties lined up as far as the eye can see in the north lot, the shaking upper deck, this is home.

After the fans warmed up with that initial Go Huskies chant, they came to life again as the team ran onto the field through a human tunnel formed by construction workers who helped build the stadium. The fans had the place rocking when Sean Parker’s first-quarter interception erased the pick thrown by Keith Price moments earlier, and again when Bishop Sankey plunged into the end zone for the first score of the game.

Then in one of the best moments of the night, Husky fans responded to Deontae Cooper’s one-yard run with a huge ovation, acknowledging the comeback of the junior running back who is coming back from his third ACL tear. They had the press box shaking on every third down — though mercifully less violently than when it was suspended precariously from the overhang.

And of course for this opening game to really be special, the team had to match the atmosphere, something Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and his players were very well aware of heading into the week.

“(The players) understand that the stadium is awesome, the stadium’s great,” Sarkisian said earlier in the week. “… But what’s really going to make the place special is how we play, the product we put on the field, and our guys understand that.”

Bo,y did they understand it. After Price opened his season with an interception, he responded by completing 23 of his remaining 30 attempts for 324 yards and two touchdowns. Sankey picked up where he left off last year, rushing for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. And the defense, much improved from last year, looked like a unit that’s ready to be even better in 2013, holding the Broncos to just a pair of field goals.

On a postcard-perfect evening, the Huskies came home, their fans had the new joint rocking just like the old one, and the team responded with an emphatic victory. In short, it was a homecoming party for the ages; one that showed that an extensive remodel can remove nearly century-old bleachers without taking away the stadium’s old magic.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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