I had a choice to make at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time yesterday as our plane sat on the tarmac at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
I could spend $30 on wireless internet for the duration of our six hour trek back to Seattle in the hopes that maybe, by some incredible stroke of luck, it could support my streaming of the Apple Cup. At the very least, I could keep an eye on social media and the gamecast, but that would mean spending a decent chunk of change just to be on Twitter, a dorkish self-own I would never live down in the eyes of my wife if we lost.
Or, I could spend a quarter of my day in a hollow metal tube hurtling towards Seattle 35,000 feet in the air, sprint through the airport with an extremely tired 16-month old, and then watch my recording of the game.
My wallet is $30 lighter.
It’s frustrating enough to lose to your rival. It’s even more frustrating to do it seven straight times. It’s even more frustrating to do it when there are stakes, big stakes at that, on multiple occasions. The Washington State Cougars missed an opportunity to hop into the Pac-12 Championship game by virtue of winning on multiple occasions. The Washington Huskies not only won the division in one of those, they denied the Cougs a chance at a New Years Six bowl all in one night. There’s frankly not been a rivalry game in the conference in recent history with as much on the line, let alone more than once.
The sheer agony of it all for fans of the land grant institution was just becoming too much to bear.
At a certain point, it felt like it would just never happen. No matter how good Washington State was, no matter how much the game would mean to them to win, no matter what the Cougs had going for them. Is it fatalistic? You bet. But when your previous two wins had featured the most improbable comeback in series history and a game with two of the worst teams in the last century of college football, things tend to get bleak.
Bleak to the point where when it did, finally, mercifully happen, relief would be the first feeling to come to me, not unbridled joy.
Just before the plane took off, our 16-month old fell asleep in her car seat we’d crammed into the window seat of an Alaska Airlines 737.
Somewhere over central Kentucky, she woke up. And somewhere over eastern Missouri, the meltdown to end all meltdowns got underway.
She’d taken a truly awful nap earlier in the day and, at this point, was as overtired as she's ever been in her life. Screaming bloody murder, throwing herself around in her mother and I’s arms, slapping bottles, pacifiers, food, literally anything meant to help bring her down away. We were solidly those people on this airplane, the parents with a child that simply cannot and will not be subdued.
We eventually came to the conclusion we’d feared: we’re going to have to put her in her car seat, buckle her in, and let her cry it out. For 20 absolutely agonizing minutes, she made sure all 135 souls aboard this aircraft knew how unhappy she was. Then, mercifully, the pacifier finally worked, her eyes closed, and she drifted off to sleep for the remainder of the trip.
While we used every trick in the parenting bag to calm her, I hadn’t checked the score.
13-7 at the half. Oh boy.
For 30 minutes after the second half kick, it was clear only one team really wanted to be on that football field.
The Cougs marched the ball up and down the field with impunity, a 27 point onslaught with the scoreboard lit up in virtually every way possible. A catharsis eight years in the making with Max Borghi bouncing off defenders, Jayden de Laura spinning beautiful laser beams cutting through the damp Seattle night, every member of the defense giving Sam Huard absolutely nowhere to throw except into the chest plates of Justus Rogers, Armani Marsh, and Derrick Langford, Jr.
Washington State did not simply beat Washington. They whipped them in every facet of the game and they made damn well good and sure that point got driven home for 1,800 seconds. The embarrassments their academically prowess rival had endured since September would’ve been enough; the Cougars wanted to make sure the Huskies knew it was them that hurled what was left of this team into Union Bay and smiled while they did it.
A cacophony of noise, not from Washington fans, but their rivals as the fourth quarter spiraled further out of control for what Jimmy Lake’s pompous, undeservedly egotistical, overrated head coaching career left behind on his way to collecting tens of millions of dollars in checks Jen Cohen’s successor gets to keep cutting him.
The planting of a flag at mid-field by a young quarterback so full of juice for his team, his fans, his coaches and himself punctuated what the Cougars had done. They had not simply beaten Washington; they finished a months long humiliation with an exclamation point the Tyee Club simply cannot abide.
Eight years of agony, of despair, of anger, ended by a young man who asked for more crowd noise when he was running the offense.
She slept the rest of the way home. We managed to get her to baggage claim without much fanfare and, blessed be to those baggage handlers, we were out the door quickly and in the car on the way home.
If you’ve ever unloaded an extremely sleepy baby from a car seat, you’ll know it’s a feeling unlike any other. The slump onto your shoulder, the tight grip around your arms, the sheer gravity of their weight on you is a comfort you can’t duplicate.
We laid her down into bed at 10:15 p.m., dad unloaded the car, and then he went to watch his recording of the greatest football game he’d ever watched solely while refreshing Google Chrome on his phone.
I finished watching at about 12:45 a.m.. She was up at 3:30 a.m..
Totally worth it.
It finally happened. And I wasn’t relieved. It was pure, unbridled joy.