November 17, 2007
A day I’ll never forget.
Oregon State rain ponchos made out nearly half of the crowd. It rained hard – harder than I had ever seen – and little relief was accessible beneath the glorified treehouse disguised as a Pac-10 press box.
“We’re Cougs. We don’t leave games early,” my father said above a nearby radio tuned in to Bob Robertson.
The Beavers didn’t just beat the struggling Cougs, they executed them intercepting Alex Brink six times contributing to a total of 8 turnovers. The second half was nothing more than a funeral – drab and desolate – with the body still breathing. Outside of the OSU placekicker’s unusually feminine name, Alexis Serna, the 52-17 final score rounds out my memory bank.
When it rains, it pours
A proper introduction for what was to come, I witnessed Washington State win two whole conference games in Martin Stadium over the following four years. It took the worst team in Pac-10 history (Washington 2008) and then-redshirt freshman Connor Halliday to catch lightening in a bottle (Arizona State 2011) for either contest to lean our way.
The pledge of allegiance was the only time you’d find the hometown crowd at their feet. The nostalgia of a Palouse homecoming was no longer enough to convince the alumni for a weekend visit. Fans demanded a product on the field that their alma mater just couldn’t muster. It took years, perhaps we didn’t even know it was happening, but fans everywhere slowly fell out of love with Cougar football.
From rumors of kicking the lowly Cougs out of the then Pac-10 to jokes about why it’s unfair for the west coast to have two bye weeks, a visiting victory at the Kibbie Dome very well could have highlighted many seasons.
Maybe it was the leadership of Luke Falk and River Cracraft, the moxie of Connor Halliday and Deone Bucannon, the optimism of Jeremiah Allison and Damante Horton, or even the work ethic of Gabe Marks and Ioane Gauta. No matter, something intangible changed here in Pullman.
The rise of Cougar football paralleled that of a Quentin Tarantino film with all major plot points out of sync; though, it all made sense in the end. It wasn’t sponsored by a Nike slogan or branded with a tagline. It wasn’t flashy, hip, or new and it didn’t happen over night.
Clean house, recruit the right guys, play the next play, and ignore the outside noise. No gimmicks and no games. It took seven years of catch up for the program’s vision to align with that of their coach, but alas, here we are.
It isn’t “Shoeless” Joe Jackson walking on the holy cornfield, but the 2018 Cougar football campaign makes a hard sell at a sequel. For a town whose pulse revolves around 12 or so weekends a year, this season is one Cougs could never forget. With nine wins knocking on 10, WSU has already locked in an all-time top 5 season in Cougar history and shows no signs of content.
Impact of the Leach Era
When students in Pullman enroll for their fourth semester having never known what it’s like to witness a loss in Martin Stadium, seniors down in Eugene will hang up their Oregon Duck threads for the final time having never beaten the crimson and gray.
Want some context? Ask any student who enrolled at WSU in 2008.
Leach and company didn’t just build a good team, they built a good program. A good program right on the verge of great.
Indeed, we are amid the greatest four-year stretch in Washington State football history. No coach – Mike Price, Bill Doba, or even the great Babe Hollingbery – could manufacture the sustained level of success that is a minimum 8 wins per year.
From 2012 to now, Cougs everywhere owe all involved – from the equipment managers to the coaches – a gracious thanks. Because of them, we have all fallen back in love with Cougar football. An infatuation we hope to never lose again.