There are a lot of things that suck about WSU being 2-6, starting with the very selfish notion that it's just not very fun as a fan to follow a team that's winning 25 percent of its games -- a position we know all too well.
A less recognized aspect of the suck is that really awesome individual performances get obscured by the team's mediocrity.
"If the Cougars were 6-2 instead of 2-6," writes Grantland's Michael Weinreb, "(Connor) Halliday would almost certainly be a contender for the Heisman Trophy, or at the very least might be regarded as one of the two best quarterbacks in his own conference."
But he's not. And therein lies the rub for a player who can lay claim to what is almost certainly one of the strangest career arcs in WSU history -- local kid picks WSU, redshirts, bursts onto the scene as a second-year freshman, suffers debilitating injury, watches his coaches get fired, watches a quarterback's dream get hired (only to find out he's not actually a quarterback's dream to work with), suffers through some really rough performances before transforming into a passing maestro, annihilating records along the way ... on a bad football team that's being undermined by a terrible defensive secondary and special teams.
It's an oddity that Weinreb skillfully captures over 3,000 words in his story on the complicated relationship between Halliday, Mike Leach and the Air Raid, a nice bit of national exposure for a guy who deserves as much of it as he can get.
You should make some time to read the whole thing, but here are a few of my favorite parts.
On the weirdness of Halliday's career:
For most of its existence, Washington State has been a moribund program in search of a lifeline,6 and in 2012, after spending two seasons in exile in Key West following his controversial departure from Texas Tech, Leach was hired to become that lifeline, inheriting Halliday from the Paul Wulff regime. Halliday has become a transitional player, the quarterback who will beget other quarterbacks and who will someday be remembered - presuming Leach succeeds at Washington State the way he did at Texas Tech - as the guy behind all the other guys.
All of which, I suppose, is a fancy way of saying that Halliday has spent his college career learning how to endure suffering.
"To be honest," he says, "the timing of my college career just kind of sucks."
On that awful, horrendous 2012 season:
(Halliday) and his teammates spent the season feeling helpless and confused, in part, he thinks, because Leach had been at Texas Tech for so long that he just expected his players to pick up on the culture he demanded and spread it among themselves.
"When Leach got here, there wasn't much telling us what to do and how we were gonna go about it," Halliday says. "It was just like, ‘Here are the plays, go do it.' I was talking to [former Texas Tech quarterback] Graham Harrell about this, and he said Leach got to be in one place for so long that the older guys would just teach the younger guys the way it was supposed to be, and if they didn't fall in line, they'd tell Leach to kick them off the team. So this stage of his career, that's where Leach's mind was."
On that awful, horrendous 2013 game against Oregon State, a 52-24 beatdown at home in which Halliday threw three interceptions -- and he and Leach clashed:
It was the emotional anguish that nearly broke Halliday last season, during a game against Oregon State. On the sideline, Leach started yelling at him for something neither of them can remember. Halliday snapped. He said, Shut up already, I get it, and from there Leach's fury worsened, and Halliday got angrier, too, and his emotions led him to force several passes, so that he threw a fourth-quarter interception, and then another, and then - "I just said, ‘Fuck it'" - a third pick. Leach pulled him from the game, and later that night, Halliday cried in front of his father for the first time since he was a kid. ("If it weren't for my dad," he tells me, "I'd probably be in an insane asylum.") It was, he says now, the worst experience he's ever had playing organized football.
I mean, I think we all kinda knew that was Halliday's thought process in that game, just from watching it unfold ... but still. Also remember that the next game was against Oregon, in which Halliday threw 89 passes -- with a sprained throwing shoulder.
Anyway, it's a great story that you totally should read, if for no other reason than to pull back the curtain a little bit on what it's taken for Halliday to get to where he is -- a place a lot of us wondered if it was possible for him to get to. I love that the story focuses more on Halliday and his propensity for blunt honesty than on Leach's eccentricities.
And I especially love that the word gunslinger never appears in the text. Like, not even once!