A few thousand Cougs are milling about Gesa Field as ‘Jump Around’ by House of Pain blares over the speakers. The Wisconsin football anthem remains in the Palouse stadium. The Wisconsin football team does not.
Fa’alili Fa’amoe, the redshirt sophomore offensive lineman, literally carries Cam Ward across ABC’s imaginary first down line. A yellow flag is thrown. Disney’s Louis Riddick, the former Monday Night Football announcer (unless it was Mark Jones) explains that “the penalty was HBO, Helping a Brother Out”.
Jaden Hicks breaks on a crossing route like a semitruck accelerating down the hill into Lewiston, Idaho. The Wisconsin receiver and the football both fall impotently. Louis Riddick rises, explaining that Hicks reads the route perfectly within his cover 4 responsibilities and makes a play worth celebrating. Hicks follows it up with a perfectly timed break and pass deflection to end the drive and all but seal the game for the Cougs.
It’s the second quarter, and while the Cougs have Wisconsin pinned against their own goal line the broadcast is interviewing WSU AD Pat Chun about the very existence of the WSU athletic program. Chun is essentially inaudible against the wave of noise produced in Martin Stadium. While Chun discusses the pending lawsuit in Whitman County Superior Court, Ron Stone long arms the left tackle into a trash compactor, deprives the quarterback of the ball, and Brennan Jackson scores a 0 yard fumble return for a TD. After the break Chun finishes his sentence, explaining that the pending litigation will have a dramatic effect on the future of WSU athletics and the athletes that give them, and us, life.
“We belong in the Power Five” is the headline, stage whispered by a very hoarse, very gratified, and very frustrated coach Jake Dickert. The Wisconsin native elaborates in his post-game presser, reminding the nation that this team does more with less than maybe anyone in the country. He doesn’t want it to be a thing, but also, he can’t help but point out that merit ought to factor into this thing one way or another.
The Cougs, the football team this time, jump around in the locker room. House of Pain is playing here too. Coaches jump around the edges, wearing the pirate logo of a not so long-ago leader. WSU has beaten Wisconsin. Again.
For a sport that so oftern feels surreal, its applicability to life is disquieting. At various times on Saturday, WSU easily felt like the best team- and obviously going to lose. A team quivering in the light of Big 10 might, and a team full of conviction and playmakers.
A football minute feels like an hour, an quarter a day, and a full game at least a week. In the ‘real word’ we all wax and wane in our confidence. In our execution. Our focus. But it can take months and years for the full spectrum of emotion to express itself in our day jobs. In football, the peaks and valleys of a lifetime are on display for millions across 60 minutes of game time. We saw that on Saturday.
Beyond that it’s a sport that demands an entire community to be competitive, and games like Saturday’s easily become more than merely a friendly competition. They become a referendum on an entire society.
Does Pullman belong on the national stage, or are we merely too small of a community to hang?
It’s a question that is too large to fairly place on the shoulders of a single team, but one that Coach Dickert and the Cougs obviously felt acutely last Saturday. Do we belong? The Cougs played to prove that yes, we do.
It won’t be enough. Not by itself anyway. The forces that dictate our future as a community are not swayed by merit, nor are they won over by a victory. Defeating the Big-10 for a night is gratifying, but in the grand scheme of things it is naught but a Lincoln Victor TD reception in the longer game.
Which is the point, I suppose. As fans, pundits and general outsiders, we get to sit back and analyze the real world that football teams occupy. Football teams themselves have to dictate that reality. WSU was 5.5 point underdogs on Saturday. Merely one of five College Gameday pickers chose WSU. That was ‘reality’. WSU said no. In the third quarter* it felt like the reality again. Each time the players themselves rejected that reality, and substituted their own.**
*which has occasionally, in the CougCenter slack, been referred to as the Turd Quarter.
That is what players have to do. Dictate reality vs live in it. Sometimes it makes them look silly. Other times it makes them prophetic. Either way, their belief that they can dictate reality is what allows them to occasionally succeed when all reasonable analysis says they shouldn’t.
In the midst of conference realignment, we are all players. The shifting sands of TV contracts, Grants of Rights, and two-faced partners is a field we play on as a community-not merely a university. All of us are a part of this thing, and if we’re going to make good on the promise of Saturday’s victory we have to all embrace the winning mentality that the Cougars on the field have so perfectly encapsulated.
We must dictate, rather than accept, reality. Trust that we’re enough and give everything we can to be what the community needs us to be. We are Pullman. We are Cougs. We are Cam Ward, Lincoln Victor, Jaden Hicks, Fa’alili Fa’amoe, Ben Arbuckle, Jake Dickert and the rest. We belong in the Power 5, and if we are the best of ourselves over the next few years we’ll find our way back where we belong.
We always do, don’t we?
No player knew that Nakia Watson would score the decisive touchdown when they lined up after halftime, but the team had faith that someone would, especially when it felt like it might not happen.
Let’s follow their lead. Go to a game. Donate. Watch. Whatever you can. Whoever you are. It won’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. You are enough. We are enough. We belong. Let’s be sure to act like it. This football team deserves it. So do the rest of us. We can’t know what the future will bring, but we can trust that if we are our best selves, we’ll get the chance to take what we deserve. That is what the football playing Cougs did in the 4th quarter against Wisconsin. That is what we must do for the foreseeable future.
Cougs vs Everybody.