On December 9, 2006, I entered The Duchess with a large contingent of friends. The Duchess Tavern is one of Seattle's oldest bars, and is an institution in the Ravenna neighborhood. It is also a place, as expected by the clientele who often inhabit the bar, bleeds purple and gold.
I don't bleed purple and gold. But on that day, I was storming the bar on the home turf to plant a group of Gonzaga grads in enemy territory, on what would be the last time the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Washington Huskies played each other in nearly a decade. Because when it is a rivalry game, you make sure you are as annoying and loud as possible.
For the past nine years, we have watched conference realignments shatter long-standing rivalries that go back decades. For Gonzaga and Washington, the rivalry is a bit more recent, but that didn't make it any less fierce. Washington was the big old state school who was being overshadowed by their younger brother. Gonzaga was the household name constantly having to listen to misplaced ridicule about how poorly they would preform in the Pac 10. There was ambition building on the program looking to be a household name, and jealousy on the other program having to share that spotlight.
Then it all stopped. There has been a lot of public words written about the bad blood between Mark Few and Lorenzo Romar, and on both sides, each coach probably could have communicated a bit more like an actual adult. Few didn't necessarily need to enlist the help of WSU and Eastern to report Cameron Dollar on Josh Heytfelt recruiting violations or leak them under the table. Romar probably could have used a better logic for canceling the series than, "we need to play schools with a higher profile," and then promptly schedule his consistently underwhelming non-conference slate.
Then we have the recent absurdity that was the "olive branch" to mend the whole thing: three games on the "neutral" court of Key Arena, which led to Few's now famous response: "The chances of that happening are about the same as Bigfoot having my baby."
All of this senseless posturing and macho bravado just made what used to be an excellent basketball rivalry into one of the most useless ones in the nation. What once was a highlight on both teams' schedule was now just quote fodder for TMZ Sports year in and year out.
Current Washington fans and Gonzaga fans have been pre-programed to despise each other, hurl poorly-thought out insults at each others' fan base and what not. But neither team has ever been able to settle anything, or provide actual fire, on the court. Current players know that Washington is a big game on the schedule, but the last time Washington played Gonzaga, Silas Melson was in sixth grade.
And that is truly a shame. Gonzaga needs Washington about as much as Washington needs Gonzaga, which is zero. But this has never been about the two teams "needing" each other, as it has been for the fans of both programs to get the actual bragging rights to King of the Hill. Gonzaga has been the top dawg in the state for the past few years now due to Washington's stumbles, but the Huskies are a young team on the upswing.
All the meanwhile, the fans in the state have needed an outlet for their energy and an avenue for their disdain. We haven't had that outlet.
I'll quote a Huskies guard, who said it best way back when the series dissolved.
"That's the whole reason to play them," Huskies freshman guard Adrian Oliver said. "If you don't like someone, that's why you play them."
Games in the future are going to be emotional and physical throw downs with best team in Washington state on the line. "If you don't like someone you play them." You take those words, actions and everything that has built up, and you prove it on the court. Someone wins. Someone loses.
These are what rivalry games are for, and this is also why it is terrible to watch these things die off because of personal, potentially petty, and stubborn reasons. Few and Romar don't need to be friends, by any stretch of the word, but the state of Washington needs this game to happen.
It just happens to be a bonus that it is starting one year earlier than it is supposed to.