When the Washington Huskies landed at LAX Wednesday morning to prepare for the Rose Bowl, their coach was not with them.
Nor were six of their players.
No, there is not widespread dissension on the team. Rather, it's a case of team-wide compassion.
Coach Rick Neuheisel and the players took a detour, stopping off at the Santa Clara Medical Center to visit strong safety Curtis Williams, who is paralyzed because of a spinal injury.
Williams, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior, was hurt in the third quarter of a Sept. 28 game against Stanford at Stanford Stadium. Williams had moved into position to do what he had done hundreds of times before: make a tackle. But something went very wrong when Williams hit Stanford running back Kerry Carter in a helmet-to-helmet collision.
Williams was unconscious for 20 minutes while doctors worked to stabilize him.
"It was the most horrifying thing I've ever been through," Neuheisel said. "It was like standing on the field watching a car accident. I never want to watch anything like that again."
Washington came back to win the game, 31-28, the final points coming on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Marques Tuiasosopo to Justin Robbins with 17 seconds to play.
But nobody felt like celebrating.
"We were in shock," Neuheisel said. "I've never seen a day like that. We were at polar ends. We should have been euphoric over the victory, but all we could think about was Curtis."
And Neuheisel is determined that nobody on his team stops thinking about Williams.
The Husky coach makes regular visits to the bedridden player, taking teammates with him on an alternating basis.
Every Thursday after practice, Neuheisel and a few players fly out of Seattle, arrive in Santa Clara in the early evening, visit with Williams, then catch an 11:30 flight home and are back in Seattle at 2 a.m.
"As we move on as we tend to do," Neuheisel said, "we forget. I want to make sure that never happens with Curtis Williams. I want to make sure somebody is there for him all the time."