A crisp, cool and unseasonably sunny day in the Pacific Northwest was the perfect backdrop to what defensive tackle Vita Vea calls the "greatest setting in college football."
I think it's a thing. Debate that how you will. But the atmosphere he speaks of is that of Husky Stadium, where the University of Washington football team plays. Vea is obviously biased, playing his collegiate career within its confines. And to his credit – like its NFL counterpart across town – the stadium does get deafeningly loud. So loud that the press box teetering high enough to see the 'sailgaters' in the water on the other side of its walls, actually shakes.
But that doesn't impress kicker Matt Gay, whose ninth-ranked Utah Utes came storming into Seattle with a mission to keep their top-ten ranking. Gay did acknowledge that Washington was a tough place to play, though.
"It was like kicking into the wind both ways," he recalled from experience.
Gay lamented that Washington's kicker would have to deal with that every home game. I wondered to him if any Husky kickers make it to the league, as a result. It seems to set them up for failure, if you ask me. He said he always thought their kickers were really good. Turns out, Washington isn't known for their special teams prowess, with the last kicker to play a significant amount of time in the league being Jeff Jaeger, drafted by the Browns in 1987.
I digress. Following meetings that Saturday, Vea walked out of the hotel in downtown Seattle sporting his purple-and-black Jordans, looking every bit as confident in his team as he felt, despite the fact Washington was unranked. Gay wasn't far behind him in his Utah gear with fellow special teamers Zach Triner and Bradley Pinion in tow.
Just like that, two teammates were rivals, if only for an afternoon. They'd go to war together the next day when the Bucs went into CenturyLink Stadium to take on the Seahawks and perhaps more menacingly, the 12s, Seattle's rabid fan base. But for right now, they'd engage in some rivalry banter and even a friendly wager as they both made their way to the same place separately.
Both Vea and Gay were on the sidelines pregame for their respective teams. Gay may have stared Vea down. Or it may have just been that the nearly 350-pound Vea is just hard to miss, even on the other side of a football field. The northern location made the 1 p.m. kickoff seem much later, with the sun resembling a late afternoon glow rather than a game start right in the middle of the day. The glow that Vea himself had as he left the hotel dwindled by actual late afternoon, as the Utes staved off his Huskies, despite holding the lead for much of the game.
The final score? Utah 33, Washington 28, moving Utah up to No. 8 in the rankings by Monday.
Which is when I find Gay back in Tampa, looking around the locker room for the teammate of his that was so easy to spot two days ago. He has a debt to collect.