The Washington State Cougars haven't given their fans a ton to be thankful for in the last decade or so, but that changed in 2015. Now, Coug fans sit one day from the Apple Cup, cheering on a ranked, 8-3 squad that still has a shot (albeit remote) at the Rose Bowl. That's something great to think about on Thanksgiving.
But with a successful football season, after so many that were unsuccessful, there's far more than the record to be thankful for. We can start with some of the star individuals on a potent offense -- Luke Falk, Gabe Marks and Dom Williams.
I'm thankful for Falk's skill in running the Air Raid for sure, but most of all I'm thankful for his toughness. Certainly he has picked himself up off the turf after some big hits this season, but his poise in late-game situations might be the most impressive thing about him. I'm so, so thankful that Falk has been nails in the final two minutes, leading critical touchdown drives against Rutgers, Oregon and UCLA. Without those, this year would look a lot different.
I'm thankful for Marks, both for his ability to not be covered and for his ultra-competitive attitude. The man has made incredible catch after incredible catch, and made most of them look easy. And he's still hungry. @Throwitupto9 is not just a good Twitter handle, it'd be one of the top offenses in college football.
I'm thankful for Williams. He has owned the redzone this season, only slightly more than he's owned the rest of the field. But most of all, I cannot be more impressed that he made that game-tying catch against Oregon just days after losing one of the most important people in his life. Thank you, Dom, for being a much stronger man than I.
I could list a lot more players and continue raving -- Shalom Luani, Destiny Vaeao, Kache Palacio, Jeremiah Allison, River Cracraft, Joe Dahl, etc, etc. But now it's time to get a touch sappier, and talk about how thankful I am for this season personally.
I've been writing for CougCenter since 2009. For most of those years, I lived out East. The only WSU football game I attended from the end of 2008 until the start of the 2015 season was the 10-7 win over USC (certainly thankful for a work conference in Anaheim for that).
Last December, I moved back to my home state of Washington. When I did, I told everyone within earshot that I was going to get WSU football season tickets for the first time. I didn't care how good or bad the season was going to be. I missed Pullman, I missed Martin Stadium and I missed being around Cougs.
I'm thankful for the tailgating, which was certainly made more fun by a winning Cougar team. I met so many great people, many of which I already "knew" through CougCenter and Twitter. Each football weekend was around 12 hours of driving for me, but I never cared. Once I got to Pullman, I knew I would have an impossibly good time that would range from mid-morning (or earlier) to (sometimes) closing down The Coug.
I'm thankful for the friends that let me crash with them so I didn't have to get a hotel every single time. From the loft to Mike and Zach's kitchen floor on Taylor Street, I never had to worry about finding a place to lay my drunken head.
I'm so, so thankful for those new friends and old friends. I got to tailgate with Nuss, who I've talked to almost every day since I started writing at CougCenter but rarely see. There was copious amounts of fun with B.A. on most weekends, and Britton on that one. The B-Lot crew, who let me hang around and made me feel impossibly welcome. Then there is my best friend Kailan, who made sure I got into the club seats whenever he was around, and who I always, always have the greatest time with. I haven't seen him enough in the last 6 years, but for two Saturdays this Fall it was just like old times.
And finally, I'm incredibly thankful for Cougar football as an excuse to see my family. My Dad lives in Yakima, and my sister lives in Spokane, which are not drives I would regularly take from Olympia. But I saw them on three different weekends each in the last few months, because we went to Pullman.
I was most certainly a "momma's boy" growing up, but my Dad and I always had sports, and more recently we've had WSU. So, I wanted to bring him on my first trip to Pullman this year. The game sucked out loud, but we had a good time regardless and he talked about how "it's just better being there" (this was after we sat in the rain for four hours). He went to two more games -- Stanford and Colorado -- and both times were on short notice. I would let him know a few days in advance that I had an extra ticket, and he would gladly take it.
I'd drive through Yakima, we'd hit up Bale Breaker for a growler of Bottomcutter and then to the beer store, and head out in the morning. It was easily one of my favorite parts of the Cougar football experience.
And I have to admit, throughout the entire fourth quarter of the Stanford game, I clung to him like some sort of 230-pound man-baby.
(And an extra thankful for Nick Jutila at the CAF, who on more than one occasion answered my e-mails after-hours to book my sister on alumni buses from Spokane after her rides fell through. Thanks Nick, I like hanging out with my sister.)
So, Cougar football. I am very thankful for you this year. You more than made up for that season opener by making my first time as a season ticket holder better than I could have imagined. Now, feel free to exceed that and beat the Huskies tomorrow. I'm already pre-thankful for that.