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Washington’s season reaches the point of hugging strangers

It was the kind of moment that is the reason I love sports.

A moment when you hug strangers.

A moment when the rest of the patrons in the bar just outside the security screening gate at Louis Armstrong International Airport started wondering why in the world a couple dozen out-of-breath travelers were shouting wildly as some team in gold helmets and purple pants celebrated a special-teams touchdown.

I didn’t see most of what may turn out to be the most important victory in Washington’s season, but I did see the most important play as Dante Pettis returned a punt for the deciding touchdown in the Huskies’ 31-24 win at Utah.

I was on-board Alaska Airlines Flight 788 on Saturday, the only non-stop flight from Sea-Tac airport to New Orleans. It was a traveling party of more than 200 people passing along scoring updates, and when we landed, the score tied 24-24. We were at the gate and deplaning when Washington was punting for the last time.

“The Huskies went for it on fourth-and-8?” asked the guy behind me.

“No, Jake Browning punted it,” answered someone two rows ahead.

It was fourth down and Utah was preparing to punt by the time I reached the bar that was showing the game. One of the guys from our flight already had a beer by the time I arrived. I was impressed, and made sure not to bump him as a growing group of Washington fans celebrated Pettis’ touchdown.

These are the kind of moments that make a season and make for the best memories. At least they do for me. Those moments where all the anticipation and expectation and hope come to fruition in the most exhilarating and unexpected ways.

Sometimes those moments occur when you’re alongside some of your very best friends in life. That was how I watched Washington’s demolition of Stanford earlier this season, with two of my college roommates – one of whom had a baby caiman crocodile when we lived together. And sometimes those moments happen when you’re in an airport bar alongside strangers, and suddenly picking up the rental car is an afterthought.

A lot of this week will be spent scrutinizing the rankings for the College Football Playoffs, which were released for the first time on Tuesday. The Huskies are No. 5, which is below the one-loss Texas A&M Aggies and on the outside looking in at the four-team playoff.

I’m not going to obsess over that, though. I’m not going to whine about the politics of the process or the fact that Tyrone Willingham is part of the playoff committee. If Washington keeps winning, the worst that could happen is a trip to the Rose Bowl, and more likely, the Huskies will end up working their way into the top four given the caliber of their remaining opponents.

Besides, I’m having too much fun on Saturdays this season.

The last time Washington football moved me to hug strangers was 2009. It was Steve Sarkisian’s first season there and Mason Foster intercepted a pass that may or may not have hit the ground first and then returned it for a touchdown to beat Arizona at Husky Stadium.

The fact that it has been a while since we’ve had a season like this at Washington is only making this journey that much sweeter.