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The Gravitron Diaries, Chapter 3

Where we debunk the myth of participation trophies and examine the "Toughness" factor in all 31 of Mike Leach's losses.

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Let's talk for a minute about participation trophies.

Mike Leach joined the long line of old men bemoaning younger generations' lack of toughness and blaming it on an "everyone gets a trophy" culture littered with yellow ribbons given to people for just showing up.   While this is an old tired trope, it seems to be popular with anyone who doesn't want the youths stepping on their lawns; but the idea that it would just kick in this year seems implausible; those things have been around for forty years.

Going way back to 1987, a precocious nine year-old named Kyle Sherwood won his class spelling bee and moved on to compete with the other 3rd grade finalists.   I remember they put us all up on a stage in the library with a little chalkboard to write down the toughest words only true spellers would be able to nail, like "Wednesday" and "cardboard."  Several rounds in, the proctor asked us to spell "handkerchief" and like any rational kid, I spelled it the way it sounded and dropped the d.  My teacher with a very solemn look on her face told me I got it wrong and had to go sit in the crowd with the rest of the kids while they finished up.

Now about three words later, they did some audit and found out that all the other kids spelled it "hankerchief" too.  Only the teachers that corrected those kids' little chalkboards couldn't spell any better than their students so they all got by on the technicality.  Did they let me back in to take the title? No, they decided since they already gave the other kids two more words, it wouldn't be fair to let me back in at this point.

In exchange for my compliance, they gave me a little trophy that said "participant" on it.  Didn't even have my name.

I kept that trophy until high school, I believe.  Just sat on my dresser because I felt guilty throwing it out and didn't have the tools to melt it into a sweet chain to wear with my Hypercolor shirt.  Just sat there on my dresser reminding me every day of the time I was wronged (I grew up in a pretty lilywhite existence; bear with me).

So you see Coach Leach, Participation trophies aren't there to coddle.  They exist to provide kids with a reason for vengeance against their enemies!  Find a new reason your team is losing.  (Hint: It's probably coaching.)

Now if we're going to get into the idea of toughness, it's probably not the toughest move for a coach who has now lost 31 games at the beginning of his fifth year to continually blame losses on his players.   Side note: So much moaning was made at losing to Eastern, we weren't able to properly recognize Coach Leach for losing his 30th game!  He's truly one of us now.

So let's use Idaho week to count ‘em down: the 31 losses of the Mike Leach era ranked by order of toughness.

1.)    #8 Stanford 30, WSU 28 (2015): Really the gold standard for moral victories.  A missed field goal and a missed call on a fumble would have sealed the Pac-12 North for the Cougs if either had gone the other way.  I have zero complaints about how this game was played.  Toughness Level: Rambo

2.)    Auburn 31, WSU 24 (2013): Frankly I don't even really remember losing this game.  I'll only remember Deone Bucannon levelling that dude and it's the only gif that exists from that day.  Toughness Level: Robocop

3.)    #2 Oregon 38, WSU 31 (2014): If you've forgotten the 2014 season already, this was the first time we got our hopes up thinking the team would take a step forward and dropped another 3-9 burger on us.  This seven-point loss to a playoff team where the outcome may have been altered by a blatant missed pass-interference call at the end was the highlight of the season.  And you wonder why Cougs drink.  Toughness level: Mad Max (the new  one.  I don't know why)

4.)    #17 Stanford 24, WSU 17 (2012): In Leach's first year, the team caught Stanford sleep-walking through a game and almost tied it at the end, but Jeff Tuel's pass fell short.  Never felt like they deserved to be in it, but points always go to not getting blown out by a good team (because there are a lot of those on this list, too!)  Toughness Level: One of the Die Hard movies that wasn't Die Hard.

5.)    #18 UCLA 44, WSU 36 (2012): What will forever be known as the game where Marquess Wilson quit the team and dropped a fax (A FAX!!!) to alert the media the team was being abused.  The team responded in a matter where ONLY TOUGH TEAMS RESPOND: Giving up 44 and losing by 8.  Toughness level: Snake from Escape from New York

6.)    #14 Oregon St 19, WSU 6 (2012): It takes a decent amount of effort to throw for fewer than 200 yards in an air raid offense.  The game where Jeff Tuel was passed by Connor Halliday on the depth chart led to neither of them going over 120 yards and getting every route jumped from telegraphed passes.  This game was close only because Sean Mannion nearly had just as bad of a game himself.  Credit where it's due, they hung somewhat closely with a ranked team on the road.  Toughness Level: The Bride from Kill Bill.

7.)    Cal 31, WSU 17 (2012): A game that was 31-10 late in front of a Homecoming crowd, and Jeff Tuel scored a garbage time touchdown to make it look respectable.  Cougs drop their fourth in a row.   The Cougs lost to something called a Zach Maynard, which sounds like every getaway driver in a bank heist movie who can't get caught because he already has two strikes.  Toughness Level: Ripley

8.)    #2 Oregon 62, WSU 38 (2013)

9.)    #2 Oregon 51, WSU 26 (2012): A pair of games best known for back when the best part of our season was hanging with Oregon for 2 quarters before they wrecked shop in the 3rd.  Toughness Level: AC Slater

10.) #25 Stanford 34, WSU 17 (2014)

11.) #5 Stanford 55, WSU 17 (2013): Same thing as above.  Toughness Level: AC Slater (The College Years)

12.)  Cal 60, WSU 59 (2014): A billion passing yards in a loss; A billion missed tackles on special teams; A billion gallons of Fireball disappearing when a 19 yard field goal is shanked as the clock expires.  Toughness Level: Ray Finkel

13.) Oregon St 52, WSU 24 (2013): Stop me if you've heard this one before:  WSU gets blown out at home on Homecoming weekend.  Hey, the Beavs lost to Eastern that year, though!   Toughness Level: Whatever Shia LeBeouf's character was in Indiana Jones.

14.)  Arizona St 55, WSU 21 (2013): The third consecutive week in a row the Cougs lose by 30 and give up 50+ points.  How the hell did we go to a bowl that year?  Toughness Level: Whatever Shia LeBeouf's character was in Transformers.

15.) Washington 27, WSU 17 (2013): I really had no qualms about this one.  WSU showed up ready to play and just got worn down in the second half.  Lost to a team that was much better than them, but it was Apple Cup so you lose a lot of points.  Toughness Level: Maggie Fitzgerald

16.) USC 44, WSU 17 (2014): You know, that one where Connor Halliday's flipping leg fell off.  USC scored the first 24 and never looked back.  Toughness Level: Lance Harbor

17.) Arizona St 52, WSU 31 (2014): Luke Falk's 2nd start started off so promising, jumping out to an early 21-7 lead.  Four interceptions and a fumble later and the Cougs lose by 30 in Tempe....again.  Toughness level: Tug Speedman

18.) Boise St 31, WSU 28 (2016): Todd Belcastro is spinning in his damn grave.  WSU wins every facet of the box score except the scoreboard.  Bronco fans believe it was a blowout.  Winners write the story.  Toughness Level: Commodus from Gladiator.

19.) #15 Arizona 59, WSU 37 (2014): The third straight home game where WSU gave up 59 points.  This one was over within minutes as Arizona put up 24 points in the first quarter and never looked back.  Toughness Level: the guys in the 3rd Hangover movie.

20.) BYU 30, WSU 6 (2012): Just a banner start to the Mike Leach era.  Toughness Level: The kids from The Sandlot.  They knew what they were doing getting onto that Gravitron.

21.) Arizona St 41, WSU 7 (2012): I flew to Tempe and bought club seats for this game.  The meal they served in the club that afternoon was chili dogs.  They ran out of chili by the 2nd quarter.  The concession stand was more interesting than this game.  Toughness Level: That cooking mouse in the Pixar movie.

22.) Eastern Washington 45, WSU 42 (2016): The only reason this is so high up is because WSU can't possibly be embarrassed any further.  Cooper Kupp just scored again.  Toughness Level: Whoever Jason Patric played in Speed 2: Cruise Control

23.) #24 Cal 34, WSU 28 (2015): That game when Mike Leach tried a fake punt and it ended up getting returned the other way for a touchdown.  Toughness Level: Benny Hill

24.) Washington 31, WSU 13 (2014)

25.) Washington 45, WSU 10 (2015): When the one you really care about ends up being the worst thing you ever watched.  Twice.  Toughness Level: Jar Jar Binks

26.) Colorado St 48, WSU 45 (2013): So many things had to go wrong to lose that game and WSU somehow walked into all of them.  Toughness Level: The Wet Bandits from Home Alone.

27.) Rutgers 41, WSU 38 (2014): One one hand, this was one of WSU's biggest late meltdowns of all time.  On the other hand, it killed the Seattle Game.  Toughness Level: Richard Pryor in Superman III.

28.) Nevada 24, WSU 13 (2014): 2014 made a strong showing in the not-tough half of the bracket, but this is the one that took the cake.   This was right around the time I stopped worrying about losing Mike Leach.  Anyone willing to hire him had to see this tape.  Toughness Level: Pvt. Gomer Pyle

29.) Utah 49, WSU 6 (2012): How are there three games worse than that damn Nevada game in the last four years?!?!?!?!   Well, this one had players fighting coaches, coaches dragging linemen out to apologize to the media, me in the bar buying shots for not getting shut out.   Just an extension of Wulff ball, but with a lot more players quitting.  Toughness Level: The O'Doyle Family

30.) Colorado 35, WSU 34 (2012): WSU was Colorado's only win in 2012.  The Cougs led by 17 in the fourth quarter and still let one of the worst college football teams of all time storm back and take one in Leach's Pac-12 Home Opener.  Mere months after WSU threw him the biggest party since cancelling Senior Golf, there were a lot of people walking out of the stadium that day saying "I'm not saying we should fire Leach, but..."  That is how you burn 9 months of Goodwill.  Toughness Level: Chip Diller ("Thank you sir, may I have another" and "ALL IS WELL" seem fitting here)

31.) Portland St 24, WSU 17 (2015): What makes this game shoot straight to the end of the line is Coug fans trying to pretend either a) it didn't happen or b) it doesn't bother them.  Sweet, WSU won 9 games and went to the 5th place bowl game.  Guess what the rest of the country remembers about WSU's season?  Toughness Level: Fredo.  This game will always be Fredo.  It broke my heart.

So there's your countdown for the week.  Hopefully by 2018 or so, we'll be able to count down 31 wins.  If not, I'm sure we can order a participation trophy.

Go Cougs.