SEATTLE — Purple Majesty turned into Purple Madness.
A purple field-storming. Purple people everywhere. Purple shirts. Purple hats. Purple signs and purple shoes, even.
A purple sea, moving and swaying, laughing and crying. And then there was Mr. Purple, needing to get from one side of this purple ocean to the other. He had no boat, no plane, no car, just one security man cutting through the bodies like this quarterback through a secondary.
“You’re the man, Mike!” one fan yelled toward him.
“Mike! Mike! Mike!” another group chanted.
A woman stumbled upon the quarterback, realized the celebrity before her and yelped, “MICHAEL PENIX!!”
Of all the feats that Michael Penix Jr. accomplished on Saturday at Husky Stadium, his deft maneuvering through this purple mosh pit stands among the most impressive. And he’d like to apologize to all of those field-stormers who found themselves on the end of his security guard’s forearm.
No apology is necessary from Washington’s wizard. A purple magician. A football sorcerer. To Oregon and all of those he leaves in his wake, a purple-clad necromancer.
“You’re looking at the Heisman Trophy winner right there,” said Penix’s favorite target, Washington receiver Rome Odunze, pointing to his quarterback during the postgame news conference.
This is no joke. No fluke.
What Penix did here Saturday — leading the Huskies to a 36-33 win over the Oregon Ducks, a jab-trading offensive fistfight, a made-for-TV dramatic showdown between two top-10 rivals in a border war — cannot be overstated.
The numbers are one thing. Penix has had better days than this one (302 yards, 59 completion percentage and four-to-one TD-to-INT ratio). But look further.
Look at the late-game fight, the fourth-quarter heroics. Look at the way he battled severe cramps over the final few drives, how in just two plays he can change a game — win a game, for that matter. Look at the way he forces an opposing coach into mystifying decisions (we’ll get to that later).
Look at it all.
“We got a team full of Dawgs,” Penix said.
This one lived up to its lofty billing — two of the country’s best offensive units and quarterbacks bloodying the other’s defense in a memorable back-and-forth touchdown fest. In front of a rocking purple-clad crowd of more than 71,000, there were six lead changes, six fourth-down attempts, massive swings of momentum and, in the end, a cool and composed quarterback.
His team down four points with 2 minutes, 11 seconds left and 53 yards away from the end zone, it took him two plays to win it, two rifling daggers from that wrist of his — the first for 35 yards to Ja’Lynn Polk and the second to Odunze for an 18-yard, go-ahead score.
— Washington Football (@UW_Football) October 14, 2023
Like a fighter sent staggering backward from a swift left hook, Oregon stumbled into 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 the Purple Majesty became Purple Madness. Droves of students and fans rushed onto the playing surface, splashing over the eight-foot railing and dropping onto the turf.
Fireworks — purple! — illuminated the overcast skies. Prince’s “Purple Rain” boomed across the speakers. And from the clouds above, in a storybook ending, a drizzle of precipitation baptized their heads.
Mr. Purple swam among the sea.
“As much as I did want to celebrate, it was hectic out there,” he said, “In a good way!”
But let’s work backwards, shall we? How in the world did we get here?
Oregon, down 29-18 late in the third quarter, suddenly found ways to slow down a Penix-led offense that scored touchdowns on four of its first six drives. Ducks quarterback Bo Nix, of the billboard-touting Heisman campaign, burst to life, helping his team storm back and take a 33-29 lead.
What happened next is a wild sequence.
Oregon’s defense stuffed the Huskies in a goal line stand (three snaps inside the 3-yard line). The Ducks then marched to the Washington 47-yard line while draining the clock to near 2 minutes. And then, in a decision certain to fester for months, coach Dan Lanning went for it. On fourth-and-3, Bo Nix’s pass failed, Penix took over and the wizardry commenced.
Lanning’s decision, whether right or wrong, served as another aggressive move from the young coach. He passed on two field goals over the course of the game, his team twice inside the Washington 10-yard line and leaving with no points.
Afterward, he pointed the finger at himself.
“I think the game is 100% on me,” he told reporters.
There is something bigger here, more important, a significant note that we all should remember as Penix and the Huskies continue their march this season: Michael Penix changes the math for coaches.
Washington coach Kalen DeBoer knows that his quarterback’s production and efficiency impacts decisions from the other side.
“I think it does,” he said. “Our defense has to defend a more aggressive style of offense because the other teams know we are going to put a lot of points on the board.”
What can Michael Penix not do? He forces silly coaching mistakes. He threads needles. Wins games. Battles through cramps.
Penix described it as a “little cramping.” His coach did not.
“The guy is cramping up, cramping-cramping the entire fourth quarter,” DeBoer said. “You could probably see it. He’s hunched over trying to just get a snap. This is Michael. He’s been through it for so many years. No way you are pulling him off the field in that moment.
“The heart he’s got. Grinding through it. Grit.”
On his final offensive snap of the game, one of the most pressure-packed situations, his side aching and heart pounding, Penix checked out of a play and into another when he spotted Odunze in one-on-one coverage. He tossed the ball toward the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder, who made the grab against Oregon cornerback Trikweze Bridges.
“My guy versus their guy. I’m going to take my guy every time,” Penix said.
Sure, that’s impressive. But how about wading through a purple mass of humanity?
Penix eventually succeeded in arriving at the other side of the purple sea. He made it to Washington’s tunnel, shuffled up the ramp and then, right there, he waited — a sultan gazing over his many subjects.
He posed for photos, signed autographs and embraced family members.
“We beat the f****** Ducks!” a woman roared as she wrapped her arms around Penix’s neck.
There, in that moment, Penix stood tall in the darkened tunnel. The only light? Purple of course, the lights reflecting off his smiling face.
Purple, after all, is the royal color — the shade of kings. And maybe, in this instance, the color of the new Heisman Trophy favorite.