No better tribute than to name Husky Stadium field in honor of Don James

Staff writerOctober 26, 2013 

Chilly fans at Husky Stadium were asked to remain in their seats Saturday night for a halftime program celebrating the life and times of Donald Earl James.

It was the least they could do.

A clip spanning the highlights – professional and personal – of James’ 38-year association with the University of Washington was shown on the video board. Narrator Bob Rondeau mentioned James’ “enduring impact on Husky Football,” noting that in 1991, he won four separate national Coach of the Year awards.

After the Huskies’ band performed a medley of songs pertinent to James, more than 150 former players walked out of the tunnel, some arm-in-arm, others waving, still others clenching their firsts. They formed two sides of an aisle through which the 2013 Huskies returned for the second half.

It was a tasteful tribute to the late UW coach who won 153 games and took the Huskies to 15 bowl games. But a more lasting tribute to James can be done, and it can be done with the sort of overwhelming public support that turn ideas into reality.

Dedicate the playing surface at Husky Stadium to James. Call it “Don James Field.” This is how the University of Oregon acknowledged the coaching career of Rich Brooks, whose 1994 Ducks were the school’s first Rose Bowl participant in 37 years.

Brooks’ role in Oregon’s transition from Pacific-10 Conference mediocrity to eventual conference powerhouse was undeniable, but on the best day of his coaching life, nobody confused him with Don James.

When Brooks left Oregon for the St. Louis Rams in 1995, his record with the Ducks was 91-109-4 – 18 games under .500.

Fans still commonly refer to Oregon’s home as Autzen Stadium, of course, and not Rich Brooks Field On the other hand, Missouri plays its games at Memorial Stadium, where the playing surface, in 1972, was named after former Tigers coach Don Faurot, inventor of the split-T formation.

Perhaps because of its alliteration, or the fact it refers to a renowned figure in Missouri football history, “Faurot Field” gradually became the preferred alternative to “Memorial Stadium.”

Decals and buttons and tribute patches are an appropriate way to recognize a UW legend like James, but in college athletics, no honor is more substantial than serving as the namesake of a football stadium or basketball arena.

Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant still was coaching the Crimson Tide in 1975, when the university gave him half the marquee billing of what had been called Denny Stadium. George H. Denny was a former school president, and though Bryant remains the most beloved person in the history of the state, it would have been bad form to change Denny Stadium to Bryant Stadium.

Bryant-Denny Stadium? It was the ultimate tribute for Bryant, who died in 1983.

More recently, Kansas State dedicated the name of its football stadium to Bill Snyder. The day after Snyder retired from the first of his two stints with the Wildcats, on Nov. 15, 2005, the Kansas Board of Regents proclaimed Kansas State football games henceforth would be played at Bill Snyder Stadium.

Snyder accepted the tribute, but he had a request. He asked that it be called Bill Snyder Family Stadium, “in acknowledgment of the people I care about the most.”

Would “Don James Field” ever be as familiar a name for a landmark as Husky Stadium? Maybe, maybe not. The football stadium originally known as Washington Field has been called Husky Stadium longer than most of us have been alive.

Still, there’s no better way to pay respect to the memory of Don James than to attach his name to the place where he spent some of his favorite days on Earth.

“Husky Stadium is an incredible place to play a football game,” James wrote a few months ago as part of a foreword for “Go Huskies! Celebrating the Washington Football Tradition.”

“It’s adjacency to the water and the mountains, the upper decks rising to the sky, the walk down the tunnel and onto the field and the passion of the Husky fans combine to make it one of the great venues in college football.”

One of college football’s greatest venues needs a permanent association with one of college football’s greatest coaches.

Don James Field.

Kind of reminds me what Louis Armstrong once said about jazz. If you have to ask what it’s about, you’ll never understand.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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