TUCSON, Ariz. – Win or lose, Greg Carothers always has handled himself with class and dignity.
The University of Washington outside linebacker habitually makes himself available to the media, no matter how deep the humiliation. He did it after Washington’s lifeless defeat to Purdue in the Sun Bowl. He did it after this year’s puzzling home loss to Nevada.
He did it Saturday night, after the Huskies’ 27-22 defeat to lowly Arizona, a team that had lost its last eight straight regular-season games and its last 13 Pacific-10 Conference home games.
Carothers does it because he’s one of the team’s leaders. As co-captain, he is expected to address the issues, positive or negative. He does so eloquently and intelligently.
The last thing Carothers wanted to do was talk about Saturday’s game. It showed. He knew what was coming. He was hurt and embarrassed, just as every Husky should have been.
Yet, this was a different Carothers. He was angry, angrier than I’d ever seen him. The frustration of a rapidly wasted season wore on him: The loss to Nevada. The loss to Arizona. The realization that, if the Huskies don’t beat either Cal or Washington State in the coming weeks, even a minor bowl game is history.
And he was bitter about it.
Was he in shock, he was asked.
“I’m not in shock,” he said. “We lost the (bleeping) game. I’m (mad). They played well and they beat us.”
Any explanation? Washington humbled Oregon the week before. Certainly, Arizona isn’t more talented.
“They came in playing like they didn’t have anything to lose,” Carothers said. “We were playing like we had everything to lose and we (bleeped) up. They beat us. Hats off to them.”
Long silence. What was the atmosphere in the locker room?
“Nobody’s talking, about like this,” Carothers said. “We lost a (bleeping) game to someone we should never have lost to.”
So disgusted was Carothers that he didn’t care about his language. He didn’t care that TV cameras were on him. Didn’t care that radio stations would have to go over the tape and yank every expletive.
Carothers was as puzzled as everyone else, including, perhaps, Arizona. So moved were the Wildcats that they celebrated as though they’d won the Rose Bowl. Their fans stormed the field after the game and hung around for a good half hour, dancing and waving their index fingers.
Some climbed a goal post and bounced on it. That it didn’t collapse and kill anyone was at least as big an upset as the game.
“It was an exciting win, the biggest win of all time for me, even bigger than the Pop Warner championship game,” said tailback Mike Bell, who exploded for 222 yards and touchdowns of 67, 69 and 37 yards, the last of which put Washington away for good at 27-16 with 4:38 left.
On one side, jubilation and relief. On the other, shock and embarrassment.
Maybe this is what happens when off-season distractions catch up. Certainly, the stunning number of injuries the Huskies have had this season suggests conditioning wasn’t what it should have been over the summer.
Did the fact that Keith Gilbertson wasn’t named head coach until a few weeks before fall camp opened throw the team into uncertainty? Certainly, many players didn’t know who their position coaches would be until then.
Just two of the six assistants who remained from last year’s staff stayed at their same posts. Gilbertson hired four more, including offensive coordinator John Pettas.
Everyone needed to adjust. The question is whether they had time.
Even so, it would seem that this team had no business losing to Nevada and Arizona, not after beating Oregon State in Corvallis, torching Oregon and playing USC tough.
The highs have been rewarding for this team. The lows intolerable.
“It was such a wasted opportunity,” Gilbertson said Saturday night.
Wasted, yes. But considering the proceedings of the past five months, perhaps not as shocking as most think.
John Sleeper is The Herald’s college writer.