Some football coaches don't distinguish among losses. They're all bad, they rationalize. Even so, there are defeats that are more painful than others because they were improbable and morale shattering.
Washington will play USC Saturday at the Coliseum, reviving a painful memory for Coach Ted Tollner and his team.
The Trojans had apparently beaten the Huskies last November in Seattle. USC led, 17-13, and had a first down at the Washington one-yard line with 4 minutes 15 seconds left.
The anticipated touchdown would just make the final score more decisive.
Even when tailback Ryan Knight fumbled to Washington, there was no apparent reason for the Trojans to be alarmed. The Huskies still had to drive 98 yards with time running out, and their offense hadn't been prolific.
Washington Coach Don James wasn't optimistic. He believed at the time that Knight's fumble just kept the score from being larger.
No one figured that sophomore quarterback Chris Chandler, playing as a starter for the first time, would take his team to a touchdown in the waning minutes. But he did. The 20-17 loss was so devastating, USC safety Tim McDonald said, that he didn't sleep for the next week. Tollner said it was the toughest loss he had experienced since becoming USC's coach.
"We were coming off a loss to Cal, and we felt we played well enough to win against Washington," Tollner said. "It was one of those things--what else can go wrong? Circumstances and the way the game ended . . . well, when we looked at that film last night it still hurt."
Tollner said he has some idea how Baylor feels after losing to the USC last Saturday, 17-14, despite thoroughly outplaying the Trojans for 3 1/2 quarters.
So it's another season, and the Huskies will be here with obviously a far better team than the one that had a 7-5 record in 1985.
"Washington is playing as well as anyone in the country right now," Tollner said.
That's not necessarily hyperbole considering that sixth-ranked Washington has routed Ohio State, 40-7, and BYU, 52-21, while outscoring those opponents, 51-0, in the second quarter. Moreover, they're saying in Seattle that Chandler, a 6-foot 4-inch, 205-pound junior, is most likely the best quarterback Washington has had during James' tenure.
And James has had some pretty fair quarterbacks. Warren Moon, Tom Flick, Steve Pelluer and Hugh Millen are all with National Football League teams now.
Chandler, a big, mobile quarterback, has All-American statistics so far. He has completed 62.7% of his passes for 406 yards and 6 touchdowns. His four scoring passes in the second quarter against BYU tied an National Collegiate Athletic Assn. single-quarter record set by John Elway at Stanford.
Chandler gives full credit to his young but huge offensive line, split end Lonzell (Mo) Hill and 241-pound fullback Rick Fenney.
Hill, in particular, has been spectacular in the first two games. He has caught 7 passes for a 20.9-yard average and 4 touchdowns. It was Hill who caught the game-winning pass against USC last year with only 56 seconds left.
Chandler recalls in detail every memorable moment of the 98-yard drive that devastated USC and firmly established him as Washington's No. 1 quarterback.
Let's go down the field with him:
Fourth and two at the Washington 10-yard line. Chandler throws to Hill for 15 yards. "We couldn't punt and have a chance of winning, so we had to go for it. Mo found an opening in the middle of the USC zone defense, and I just threw it to him. It was just a simple curl route."
Fourth and eight at the Washington 27. Chandler to Hill for 17 yards. "Mo ran a corner route, and knowing that their safeties were going to react real quick, I had to throw it early. I just threw it as hard as I could and it got between a couple of guys. Another inch and it would have been batted away."
First and 10 at the Washington 44. Chandler to Dave Trimble for 21 yards. "It was a sprint-out and I rolled to my left. Trimble ran a good route and shook off the cornerback."
First down at the USC 35. Chandler to Hill for 11 yards. "It was the same route, a curl, as the first first-down play. I remember that they blitzed McDonald from the outside and, although we didn't totally block him, we slowed him down enough so I could get the ball off."
First down at the USC 24. Chandler's pass intended apparently for Trimble is incomplete. "I just wanted to throw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock."
Second down at the USC 24. Chandler to Rod Jones for nine yards. "I looked off to my right and came back and he found a seam between their linebackers."