The woman behind me screamed in row 12, section D as the scoreboard read the final score. Later my sister-in-law would text, "Words cannot express". I can't top those, so I'm not going to try to do that. What I will try to do is express my experience leading up to that point, and the feelings I have because of the experience. I need to say something. Words, please don't fail me now.
I try to project how many games the Cougs will win before every season. I went to high school with D.R. We went to WSU at the same time. He and I work in the same industry for different companies. He was the best man at my wedding. We have both lived in the same city for almost 20 years, so we talk on the phone about once a month and get together for the WSU games in the region. I always seem to pick one more win than he does in the pre-season. This year we both went with the Cougars ending the season at 5-7. Hmm, I thought! Am I more pessimistic or do we see the same things? D.R. had WSU splitting the first two games W-L, where I thought both were unwinnable on the road. I thought we would take the Beavers in Martin Stadium, and he didn't. Otherwise, we picked all the games outcome in the same way.
As the season ended, we both agreed that if the Cougs went to a bowl game, we would go together as long as it was in Albuquerque. We could drive there in about seven hours. As luck would have it, that is how it turned out. We furiously contacted the Coug network of close friends and worked out a travel arrangement to reserve tickets, reserve hotels, and to ferry some more Cougars on the drive.
The daylight drive went by quickly. We talked about all of our favorite memories while attending WSU, and our favorite players throughout the years. One was the Gary Larsen sack dance around Sonny Sixkiller in Albi Stadium to end three years of domination by the Huskies. This team included Bill Moos on the offensive line. Another memory was the 1988 goal line stand in Pasadena Stadium to hold on for a win against previously undefeated and #1 ranked UCLA. Troy Aikman threw four incomplete passes into the end zone as time expired. That was the same year the WSU defeated Illinois, Minnesota and Tennessee on the road. Another memory was that of Will Derting intercepting a ball between the numbers and the sideline and running the ball back for a TD. The amazing thing, I said, was that the Okanogan Ox played middle linebacker. Derting played on the team that defeated the U of Texas Longhorns in the 2003 Holiday Bowl. The next year this UT team would defeat USC for the national championship, and WSU would go into a long bowl drought.
Once the driving travelers had reunited with the flying travelers in Albuquerque, we all attended the team rally in Old Town. After a meal, we attended the CAF sponsored rally too. We heard speeches from Bob Robertson and Bill Moos. I shook Bill's hand. I said, "I think you are a genius. I joined the CAF based solely on your words about satisfaction". He responded with, "Thanks for the compliment. Thanks for being here. Thanks for being a loyal Coug and doing your part". I held the cameras for others to take a photo opportunity to do the same. We recognized many familiar faces in the crowd from games at Martin Stadium throughout the years. I was a thrill to feel that I'm a part of a growth movement.
On game day, we gravitated to the WSU tent. We heard the band play a few numbers. The Cheer Squad spreading the enthusiasm and Butch making his rounds. One face in this crowd looked especially familiar to me, and nodded. I returned a wave. D.R. was standing alongside me, and recognized the same feeling. He has a pure soul, so he approached the nodder, and introduced himself saying, "I'm sorry I've forgotten your name". The answer was, "I'm D.B., my son and nephew both play on the team". As soon as I heard the voice, I knew it from a familiarity that cannot be explained, but only experienced. We attended high school together too. The feelings of connecting again with common interests after so many years were a big thrill. The surprise was on me. I'm in the generation that has produced today's students and players.
I went to the first really big bowl game, and none until Albuquerque. I wear a crimson shirt to work once a week. I've watched College Football Game Day every Saturday morning for years just to see the anonymous crew lifting my alma mater out of obscurity even while the team's record has struggled to achieve the notoriety. Years ago my wife (my date for Casino Royale 1978) had a piece of locally quarried red rock engraved with the WSU logo, a Cougar paw and the words, "This is Cougar Country". We have the rock displayed beside the front door, so as to leave no doubt to visitors where the loyalties lie. I'm not a part-time fan, but I'm not a die hard either. Still, I think I do my part while keeping family and career in balance with passion.
I contrast these positive experiences with the negative ones I've seen and felt post-game. Loyal fans had come to expect a win. Some felt cheated that they were long-time contributors, and they were not repaid with the fulfillment of their expectations. A humiliating phrase uttered so many times in the past has become popular again for how the game was wrested from success and grandly placed into the arms of defeat. Many local fans and media are insisting that someone be held accountable for this embarrassment on a public stage. Someone has to submit, and admit that they made a mistake. A meeting with the Athletic Director must be scheduled, and these conversations must take place. I'm just speechless at these expectations. The feeling I have about the game's outcome is certainly disappointment. I am encouraged though. On game day, I looked down along the sideline and saw the future. I saw young size and speed that haven't had a chance yet to show their talents. But D.R. has come to test my tortured soul. In the moment of my own seething upset of the games result, he utters "it takes a lot of loyalty to support the Cougs". That's what just happened.