March 4, 2004 was a good day, at least personally. That night, after waiting a few weeks to find out where I'd be going to college, I logged onto the WSU admissions site and was greeted by a congratulations. Washington State was the only school I'd applied to, and though admission was basically a formality, the feeling of being accepted to the school of my dreams -- the school I'd loved since I was young -- was an amazing one.
Not even an hour later, as I watched what was now my school play basketball on television, this happened:
Welcome to Washington State. I've told this story before, but in many ways it's shaped my personal fandom. Even when things are going right, and everything feels like it'll turn out perfectly, we wait for the bottom falls out. Many fans across the country do the same, but it just feels like the Cougars are always doomed, no matter how good things are going.
What happened on Saturday in the New Mexico hurts. It shouldn't, I guess -- just getting to a bowl was a huge accomplishment considering where this program has been. But it does, and it will for quite a while. It just stings.
We can second-guess all the decisions and criticize all the mistakes but right now, with everything fresh, I just feel bad.
I feel bad for the seniors, most of all -- for the guys who put their everything into a program that was at its lowest point. I feel bad for Deone Bucannon, for Andrew Furney, for Damante Horton, and for the many others who have worked their asses off, kept their heads down, and improved every day in an effort to dig Washington State out of the hole it's been in. They deserved a win, and a winning season, more than anyone. This was their time.
Just about everything was going right for the Cougars, from the fast start to making the right plays at the right time for much of the game. There were hiccups -- including the end of the first half -- but it still felt like this team was in control.
And that's what's been weird to see this season. This team had been able to close out games; it had taken on the one play at a time mantra and simply finished ballgames. USC was a close game it won, setting the tone for the season. Arizona came down to the final play. Utah hung around all game, yet the Cougs closed it out to get to a bowl. Even though the Apple Cup ended poorly, it just felt like they knew how to close. As things got tight on Saturday, it felt like they'd finish one last game off again.
I don't know why knees weren't taken. I don't know what caused a rash of fumbles all at once. I'm not sure I'll ever understand, and we have plenty of time to stew on it before the next season begins. It just … it hurts.
Nothing I can say will make anyone feel better. It's been one hell of a season, and such a fun ride, but this is the end … where everyone gets off the ride and throws up over a railing. Football is over, and we have another nine months before we get back on the ride again. Kyle was right: We're all on the same Gravitron.
Damn if it doesn't hurt to be a fan of the Cougars sometimes, though. Here's to hoping the team comes back hungrier, spend its offseason stewing, and takes another leap next year. We may all be violently ill when it's all over, but dammit we'll keep getting back on the horse -- even if we know it's going to throw us off into a pile of manure again.
Thanks for the season, Cougs. We didn't expect all this, and the ending may have been less than ideal, but it was a hell of a ride.
p.s. Popcorn Guy knew