A year ago, Husky Stadium had no fans in the stands for four University of Washington football games because of the global health crisis. It was a stark, lonely place, haunting even.
Beginning tonight for a Pac-12-opening game against the California Bears, the school will permit only spectators who can show proof of vaccine verification or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event.
You might not agree, but that's pandemic progress.
That's no fans vs. however many choose to undergo the hassle of standing in a long line to get in.
Husky Stadium was just half-full for last Saturday's game against Arkansas State with the health restrictions, a poor 0-2 start, an unattractive opponent and and the threat of bad weather all influencing the turnout.
The announced fan turnout of 58,772 was more like 35,000, of actual bodies in the seats against tickets sold. That might have been the smallest Husky Stadium crowd in four decades, since 45,124 was announced for the 1981 home opener against lower-level Pacific, a 34-14 victory.
As the Huskies prepare to meet Cal, several current and former UW players have contracted the virus over the past year. In fact, a fast-moving outbreak last December within the team sidelined all offensive linemen, canceled games against Oregon in Eugene and USC in the Pac-12 championship game, and abruptly ended the football season.
Defensive lineman Tyrone Rodgers from the 1991 national championship team and running back Sterling Hinds from the 1982 Rose Bowl-winning team, became seriously ill but survived. Lamar Mitchell, a wide receiver in 1988-90, is the only known former UW player to die from the disease, passing away in early August in Stockton, California. He was 51.
A week ago, Husky fan complaints were nonstop over the stadium entry delays and later the inability to quickly access concession lines.
On Friday, a UW official said that several steps have been taken to correct those problems, which were partly caused by 100 people unannounced failing to show up for work at the stadium — because of pandemic concerns.
Satellite kiosks will be in set up around the stadium to take care of the state- and county-mandated health requirements, which will involve any fan 12 years or older.
Wristbands will be worn for entry. For those unhappy about this, the bands can be removed once inside the stadium. There will be no re-entry for spectators who leave the stadium during the game.
No matter what it does on Saturday, the UW knows it still can't make everyone happy in this situation. A large segment of the population refuses to get vaccinated for whatever reason and those people won't be allowed in or have indignantly said they aren't coming.
A similar group of Husky football fans, especially those who are older and more at-risk to serious illness, still don't think it's safe enough to attend an event catering to a large gathering of people and will stay away, as well.
If there are positives to this late-September match-up, the UW-California game will present a much more competitive college football match-up and the weather, sunny and reaching temperatures of 75 degrees during the day, will be as good as it gets for a fall night game in Seattle.
Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m.
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