This is the next installment in our series of stories previewing the 2021 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.
I’ll start this off by reminding you I am a very old man, because this story takes place in 1993. On the last day of school in 8th grade, all the kids who went the entire year without getting detention were treated to a trip to the water park. I wish this were a story about said water park, but there was not a year in middle school where I was eligible for that trip by the time October rolled around.
No, this story was about being left behind to hang out at school with the rest of the troublemakers and planning our route to get tickets for the biggest event of our young lives: Opening night for Jurassic Park.
Like most 14-year-old boys, I read a lot of Stephen King and Michael Crichton and thought that made me cultured. As such, my weathered Jurassic Park paperback sat on my desk nearly every day at school to remind all the other children of my sophistication. The biggest movie of our lives was premiering that night and I had been preparing for YEARS to tell everyone the book was better.
My friend and I used this time when the school was empty calling the movie line to make sure there was a showing playing that gave us enough time for a Sbarro beforehand, and then planning out the buses required to get from school to the mall so we could buy tickets. It took three transfers, and we definitely could have gotten there faster on our bikes, but we got to the mall and into the ridiculously long line for tickets. (I’m still holding that damn paperback.)
We get to the font of the line, and the 7 o’clock show is sold out. There was a 9 o’clock show, which meant we’d have to find something to do for a couple hours, since the mall was going to be closed. So, we randomly picked another movie that would pass the time until we could go to the late show. This movie was called Orlando. Neither of us had ever heard of Orlando or even seen a poster, because Orlando is not a movie that would be marketed to 8th grade boys under any circumstances in any year. But Shaquille O’Neal was my favorite basketball player and he played for the Orlando Magic, and my “cultured” self figured he had to at least have a cameo.
Orlando is not a movie about the Orlando Magic. Orlando is some Virginia Woolf novel where a bunch of lords and ladies in the 1600s bicker over a land inheritance, and the main character is given essentially eternal life, living so long he eventually wakes up one morning and has become a woman. I’d like to say I learned something about philosophy or gender conformity, but all that happened was realizing we chose sight unseen to watch conversations that went way over our heads about tea while dinosaurs were eating people in the next theater over.
This movie might have been good, it might have been terrible. I have no idea. It didn’t have velociraptors.
We left a half hour before it ended to get in line for Jurassic Park, shellshocked that we didn’t get to see a movie about Shaq. When my friend’s dad picked us up after Jurassic Park, we didn’t even bother telling him about the two hours we had to endure to get to the dinosaurs. And to put the cherry on top of the weirdest night of my young life, I walked up to my porch and realized I left my beloved paperback in the Orlando theater.
Decades later, we still joke about “Going Orlando”: Taking a chance on something sight-unseen and knowing nothing about it just to see what happens. Sometimes you get Gardner Minshew; sometimes you get Tilda Swinton arguing with Ottomans. Either way, it’s going to be a story.
And that’s where we get to the 2021 Cougar Football Season.
I started this series of ramblings a decade or so ago when I snapped after hearing “enjoy the rollercoaster” for the 437th time, implying Cougar football had reached enough highs to compensate for all the lows. Cougar football was more of a Gravitron that just spun you in circles to some Whitesnake song until you couldn’t take it anymore, and you considered it a win if you made it out without being covered in barf.
I’m better writing about losing football. I was born from it, molded in it. Winning football games is foreign. Then the team rattled off a bunch of eight- and nine-win seasons, which was great for the team, but catastrophic for me, creatively. And now, in 2021, when our beloved football team has been picked a decisive last place this season by virtually every outlet, you would think this would rejuvenate whatever synapses that fire in my brain that live for bad football.
But this year is different. I don’t need to remind you of the hellscape we’ve lived through over the last 18 months, both football and (mostly) non-football related. After everything that has happened, what could I possibly have in the tank to get mad about football?
For at least one week, dear readers, I’m turning over a new leaf. I choose to be a naysayer to all the doom and gloom predictions. Am I going to be optimistic and positive? Let’s not go crazy, here. I have a brand. I’m settling right into a groove of “you don’t know what you’re talking about, neither do I, let’s crush eight Fireballs and see what happens.”
I’m Going Orlando.
Despite the very loud noises that threaten to be a dark cloud at every single press conference, this season stands to be fun because nobody knows what is going to happen. If you think you have an idea how good or not good this team is, you’re lying to yourself. You have no idea if the quarterback is any good or if the defensive line won’t get shoved around or if this is the best secondary we’ve had in the last 20 years.
I simultaneously have friendly bets with two of my friends, one of whom thinks the Cougs will win ten games this season and another with a friend who believes they’ll go 0-9 in conference. I bet against both of those scenarios just because of odds, but I have no authority to say neither will happen! We’ve reached the point where if you told me you found a time machine and came back from three months in the future to tell me Rolovich was fired and was temporarily replaced by Ernie Kent who somehow is STILL on the WSU payroll, I’d at least hear you out.
We’re basing a last-place prediction on four Covid games last season? Does anyone remember a thing that happened last year? The most memorable thing I can say about the entire 2020 WSU season was on our Zoom call during that Sunday Night USC game where the Trojans scored four touchdowns before I finished my first beer, I fell all the way asleep on the call. I’m not talking about nodding off in my seat and jerking awake after a couple minutes. I fully laid down on my couch and snored my ass off for the remaining two quarters while remaining on camera the entire time. My friends didn’t even kick me off the call, they just carried on with me just lying there. How rude am I? I don’t need to put anyone through that again. This season needs to happen because I have friendships to mend.
So this year — in the most uncertain of all seasons — I choose to be open-minded. I’ll probably be wrong; throw it on the pile. Because it really can’t be worse than forcing my friends to watch me pass out on a Zoom call during a game that was moved to Sunday to better accommodate a pandemic that said it was safe if we waited a day to play. And it can’t be worse than subjecting yourself to a movie about Elizabethan-era land negotiations. We’re not going back to that and even a 4-8 season sounds amazing.
Just please beat the Huskies some time again before I die. We all need to see the dinosaurs.