Purple Rain: Twists of a 2-hour, 40-minute weather delay

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My flight from Oakland to Seattle last Saturday marked my first venture to the Pacific Northwest in more than a decade. I may be a rookie when it comes to traveling in the state of Washington, but I do know a few facts: Death, taxes and rain in the Seattle area are the three certainties in this world.

So, I wasn’t surprised one bit that a 30 percent chance of showers popped up on my phone when I flipped off airplane mode in the midmorning. Still, I hadn’t imagined that a two-hour and 40-minute extreme weather delay was a possibility during my 19-hour adventure at the University of Washington.

Considering the scheduled 7:30 p.m. kickoff time between the Bears and Huskies, my editor, Spencer Golanka, and I already knew that we would be in for a long night. What else could possibly go wrong?

They say weird things happen during #Pac12AfterDark, but weird doesn’t encompass sprinting down the ramps of Husky Stadium in search of a makeshift postgame press conference room at 2 o’clock in the morning.

10 minutes after Michael Saffell and Marcel Dancy had the last word on the night and nearly 11 hours and four cups of coffee after I arrived at the field, we finally put our Wi-Fi hotspots to bed.

By 7:50 a.m., I was slumped in the passenger seat of an Uber back in Berkeley — every ounce of my energy exhausted — still processing every twist and turn from a truly one-of-a-kind evening. 

Bombarded with the “How can you describe everything that happened?” question from family, friends and various Cal alums, I realized I could write a whole book about my brief, albeit eventful, odyssey to Seattle.

When the season wraps up this winter, maybe I’ll put something together. For now, here’s a sneak peek of the wild night that transpired, a six-hour game and a huge Cal win. 

10:45 a.m.: Touch down at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and a short trek past the gorgeous Seattle skyline to the Washington campus. My childhood friend, also named Josh and also reporting on the game for his school’s paper, shows me around.

4:00 p.m.: After a late lunch and a pair of other Pac-12 games concluding, Josh introduces me to the UW faithful, sprawled across a tailgate parking lot decked out in purple and gold with cornhole and Solo Cups at just about every party.

4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.: The Husky Stadium press box overlooks beautiful Lake Washington. The scene is fit for a postcard as the crowd slowly files in and makes itself known. As the press box windows open up and kickoff nears, the noise rises to deafening. Spencer and I, sitting beside each other at about the south 10-yard line, have to yell just to hear each other as the teams take the field.

7:40 p.m.: Sean McGrew causes everyone’s eardrums to burst, as the crowd reacts to his explosive kickoff return that nearly goes the distance. On the first play from scrimmage, Luc Bequette silences more than 60,000 with a sack of Jacob Eason. The battle has begun.

7:52 p.m.: After each side gets a crack with the ball, an extreme weather advisory flashes on the scoreboard. Both teams depart the field with 9:46 left in the first quarter. There’s no lightning or thunder — not even a drop of rain — but the public address system informs everyone that stormy weather is approaching from the south.

About 8:00 p.m.: At first, the delay is precautionary and the majority of fans remain in their seats, taking turns doing light shows with their phones and continuing traditional UW chants. But when light rain arrives, the fans take cover. It’s at this moment when people realize this isn’t some 20-minute drill.

8:06 p.m.: Sitting about 15 reporters over from me is the Seattle Times writer Larry Stone, a former Daily Cal sports editor, who I had the privilege of meeting the year before. He notes that this is the first time in recent memory that a weather delay held up a UW football game. Maybe it’s because of me or Spencer, he jokes.

8:11 p.m.: I never thought I’d hear AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blasting through a sports venue’s speaker system to an empty stadium. The Washington stadium crew has a little fun, putting on “rain delay” playlists with every hit you can think of. The next couple of hours are filled with the likes of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain,” and our personal favorite, Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

8:19 p.m.: @UWDailySports challenges @dailycalsports to a Twitter Connect Four match.

8:21 p.m.: With seats in the lower bowl vacant and thousands of fans huddled on the concourse, the stadium is a strange sight. Just 30 minutes after press row was shaking due to crowd noise, it’s hit with a different type of clangor — lightning and thunder. Everyone had come to see a show —  just not the one in the sky.

It’s around this time that the stadium lights go out and the scoreboard defaults to pixels. The press box elevator begins to have issues. Pools of water have begun to form on the turf below. 

8:32 p.m.: Word on the street is that there will be no rescheduled game if the unfavorable conditions persist. A couple of UW students sneak their way onto the field and belly-flop onto the wet turf, before evading security through another exit. Those still waiting let out a cheer.

A few minutes later, the public address announcer clarifies that the game cannot restart until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike within an eight mile radius of the stadium.

9:19 p.m.: More information arrives. According to officials, there is no curfew regarding a time limit on when the delay becomes a postponement. Ultimately, the decision is left up to Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton and Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen.

Approximately 9:30 p.m.: The voice of Cal football, the legendary Joe Starkey, has called more than 500 games since the 1970s. When I run into him at the hot dog line, he remarks that he’s seen his fair share of weather delays, but nothing like Saturday night.

9:52 p.m.: The final visible lightning show in the sky takes place. The rain subsides to a drizzle and Fox Sports’ weather map shows a pair of storms drifting northeast from the stadium.

10:07 p.m.: With no more than 20,000 fans left in the stadium, Washington head coach Chris Petersen grabs a mic and informs fans that the game is about to continue. That message is confirmed upstairs and fans file back into their seats as the teams take the field.

10:30 p.m.: Jacob Eason completes as 13-yard pass to Andre Baccellia. Game (back) on.

10:49 p.m.: Thanks to a run-heavy attack from both teams, the first quarter ends relatively quickly — factoring out the delay, it lasts just 31 minutes. In real time, the game’s first period wrapped up three hours and nine minutes after the game began.

11:37 p.m.: Just three minutes shy of the four-hour mark after kickoff, the first half draws to a close. Washington leads Cal, 10-3, as halftime is, thankfully, shortened from 20 minutes to just 15.

Approximately 12:00 a.m.: College football is for Saturdays, the NFL is for Sundays. Not tonight.

1:22 a.m.: Minutes after Greg Thomas puts Cal up by a single point, the Huskies’ last-second desperate attempt to recreate “The Play” falls dead near midfield. An hour and a half later, the only folks left outside Husky Stadium are me and a few rabbits, who have graciously kept me company as I await my Uber back to the airport.

To say we were “Sleepless in Seattle” is an understatement, but there’s no way I’d turn down an opportunity to do it all again. Not sure if Chris Petersen will agree.

Josh Yuen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020.