Wazzu gets in your blood. When my wife first came to Pullman, she spent her first Apple Cup in a café downtown studying and was confused by the unusually large number of parked cars compared to the unusually small number of people downtown. (I’m being kind here — she was alone.) Four years later, she only pronounced the word “Huskies” with an f, and to this day, she takes Coug losses harder than I do.
Pullman does that to a person.
I grew up singing the Cougar fight song in a knee-length Ryan Leaf jersey in my sixth-grade classroom, hitching rides to home games from my … let’s go with “enthusiastic” uncle (he had a not-insignificant run as a recurring villain on Softy’s radio show, so I’m not kidding here). I’d talk with my cousin about the two of us playing up front for the Cougs; we were big guys and fantasy can only go so far, so even at 11, it was offensive line or bust for us.
Family does that to a person.
I’ve spent all but six years of my life living in Bellingham. Those six include four in Pullman and one at WSU Spokane, believe it or not. I’m not alone here in B-town, Coug wise, but most of the time I’m close enough. When I see a hat or sweatshirt with the best logo in sports on it, I say “Go Cougs,” and they say “Go Cougs,” and my day is a little better. In college, I had a friend tell me that same thing happened to his dad once riding around in a boat in Fiji, and every fall Saturday, College Gameday serves as an intermediary for Cougs everywhere to remember each other, and as a platform to tell the whole world the same damn thing. Go Cougs.
It’s amazing how a place can become so much more than that.
Sometimes fantasy isn’t so fantastic. On August 30, 2008, I started my first game for the WSU Cougars. I was a redshirt freshman and I played left tackle. In hindsight it was probably the best game I ever played. I didn’t end up being very good. Typically, we would lose by at least five scores, I would get my nose rubbed in my bad play during film on Sunday, demoted on Monday, and then watch the exact same thing happen to my replacement over the next six days. Then the next Monday I would be promoted to starter again. Rinse, repeat, and order another round.
I started around half the games WSU played in ’08 and ’09. It ground me down, beat me down, and, well … this is really more of a three-drink conversation so let’s move on.
Impossible situations do that to people.
If all that sounds like an excuse to you, I won’t blame you. It’s taken a decade of neurosis, therapy, and my own coaching career (at the high school level) to convince myself that it’s more of an explanation than an excuse; so, no worries if you need a bit more time to reach the same conclusion. I’m sure it’s not shocking to anyone that playing losing football isn’t fun and someone who played during the ’08 and ’09 seasons wasn’t very good. I maintain that barring my career ending concussion in the spring of 2010 I would have been alright my junior and senior year, but ifs and buts ya know?
When I finally left Pullman in the spring of 2011, I wanted to put college football behind me, but I never once wanted to put WSU behind me. The idea never even occurred to me. I met my wife at WSU. I made friends at WSU. More importantly I learned how to be a friend at WSU. Hell, I even did grad school at WSU Spokane! When I sang the fight song in sixth grade, I cheered for the Cougs. When I sang the fight song in 2011 I was a Coug, even if sometimes I just mumbled it. That had nothing to do with playing football. I could leave football behind; I would never leave WSU behind. There is no leaving behind something you are.
That is what Washington State University does to a person.
The good times and the tough times, the newbies and the vets, criticism and devotion, the best of myself and the worst.
That is what being a Coug means to me.