SEATTLE – Purple Majesty turned into Purple Madness.
A purple field-storm. Purple people everywhere. Purple shirts. Purple hats. Purple signs and purple shoes, too.
The purple sea, swaying and swaying, laughing and crying. And then there was Mr. Purple who had to go from one side of this purple ocean to the other. He had no boat, no plane, no car, just a security man who cut these quarterback-like bodies through a secondary.
“You’re the man, Mike!” A fan yelled at him.
“Mike! Mike! Mike!” another group chanted.
A woman stumbles over to the quarterback, realizes the celebrity before her, and shouts, “Michael Benix!!” she shouted.
Of all Michael Benix Jr.’s feats Saturday at Husky Stadium, his deft maneuver through this purple mosh pit is the most impressive. And he wants to apologize to all the field-stormers who found themselves at the tip of his protector’s forearm.
No apology needed from Washington’s wizard. A purple mage. A football wizard. To Oregon and everyone he leaves as a purple-clad hypocrite.
“You’re looking at a Heisman Trophy winner right there,” Bennix’s favorite target, Washington receiver Rom Oduns, pointed out to his quarterback during the postgame news conference.
This is no joke. No fluke.
What Bennix did here Saturday — leading the Huskies to a 36-33 win over the Oregon Ducks, a jab-trading offensive fistfight, a dramatic made-for-TV showdown between two top-10 rivals in a border battle — can’t be overstated.
The numbers are the same. Benix has had better days than this (302 yards, 59 completion percentage and a four-to-one TD-to-INT ratio). But look further.
Check out the fight late in the game in the fourth quarter. Look at the way he faced tough catches on the last few drives, and how he could change a game — and win a game, for that matter — in just two plays. Watch the way he forces the opposing coach into mysterious decisions (we’ll get to that later).
Check it all out.
“We got a team full of docs,” Benix said.
It lived up to its lofty billing — two of the nation’s best offensive units and quarterbacks bloodied each other’s defenses in a memorable back-and-forth touchdown fest. In front of a purple-clad crowd of more than 71,000, there were six lead changes, six fourth-down attempts, massive swings of pace and, ultimately, a cool and composed quarterback.
With his team down by four points 2 minutes, 11 seconds and 53 yards from the end zone, he needed two plays to win, two shots off his wrist — the first 35 yards to Jalin Polk and the second to Oduns for the 18-yard, go-ahead score.
Like a fighter sent reeling backwards from a fast left hook, Oregon stumbled against the ropes but rallied. The Ducks marched 50 yards and set up kicker Camden Lewis for a potential game-tying field goal only to see it drift wide right.
That’s when Purple Majesty became Purple Madness. Crowds of students and fans rushed the playing surface, splashing over the eight-foot railing and falling to the floor.
Fireworks – Purple! – Illuminated the cloudy sky. Prince’s “Purple Rain” blared over the loudspeaker. And from the clouds above, in a storybook ending, showers baptize their heads.
Mr. Purple swam in the middle of the ocean.
“As much as I wanted to celebrate, it was hectic,” she said, “in a good way!”
But let’s work backwards, shall we? How in the world did we get here?
Trailing 29-18 late in the third quarter, Oregon suddenly found ways to slow down a Bennix-led offense that scored touchdowns on four of its first six drives. Ducks quarterback Bo Nix, in a Billboard-doubting Heisman campaign, came alive, helping his team storm back to take a 33-29 lead.
What followed was a wild sequence.
Oregon’s defense stuffed the Huskies in goal line stands (three snaps at the 3-yard line). The Ducks marched to the Washington 47-yard line while draining the clock to 2 minutes. Then, at the end of what was sure to be months of turmoil, coach Dan Lanning went for it. On fourth-and-3, Bo Nix’s pass fell flat, Benix took over and the Wizards began.
Lanning’s decision, rightly or wrongly, was another aggressive move from the young coach. He made two field goals during the game, as his team drove inside the Washington 10-yard line twice and came away scoreless.
Then, he pointed a finger at himself.
“I think the game is 100% on me,” he told reporters.
Here’s an important note for all of us to remember as Benix and the Huskies continue their march this season: Michael Benix changes the math for coaches.
Washington coach Cullen DeBoer knows his quarterback’s production and efficiency affects results from the other end.
“I think so,” he said. “Our defense has to defend a more aggressive style of offense because other teams know we’re going to put a lot of points on the board.”
This embedded content is not available in your region.
What can’t Michael Benix do? He forces stupid coaching mistakes. He threads the needles. Wins in games. Wars by captures.
Benix described it as a “little cramp”. His coach did not.
“The guy was cramping, cramping the whole fourth quarter,” DeBoer said. “You’ve probably seen it. He’s trying to get a moment. This is Michael. He’s been through it for years. You can’t take him off the field in that moment.
“The heart he’s got. Grinding through it. Grit.”
In one of the game’s final offensive moments, with his side sore and his heart pounding, Bennix went from one play to another when he found Oduns in one-on-one coverage. He threw the ball to the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder, who made a grab against Oregon cornerback Trickways Bridges.
“My boy vs. their boy. I take my boy every time,” Benix said.
Sure, it’s impressive. But how about wandering in the purple of humanity?
Benix eventually succeeded in reaching the other side of the Purple Sea. He went to Washington’s subway, changed the ramp, and then there he waited – a sultan watching over his many subjects.
He posed for photos, signed autographs and hugged family members.
“We beat the f****** ducks!” A woman roared, wrapping her arms around Bennix’s neck.
There, at that moment, Bennix stood tall in the dark tunnel. The only light? Purple of course, the lights reflecting his smiling face.
Purple is, after all, the royal color – the shade of kings. Perhaps, in this event, the color of the new Heisman Trophy was chosen.
“Total coffee junkie. Tv ninja. Unapologetic problem solver. Beer expert.”