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The Monday After: Luke Falk and my hopeful-worried-excited-guilty relationship with football

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In which I try to work out my feelings about the condition of WSU's quarterback in the wake of a really scary injury.

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It's complicated.

I love that turn of phrase. As an English teacher, I marvel at its ability to communicate so much with such brevity. It's just two words. Two! But I'm not sure I can think of two words that stand so well in lieu of dozens -- or even hundreds.

"It's complicated" can mean a lot of things, ranging from, "I don't feel like getting into it -- too much of a hassle to explain," to, "I'd love to explain, but I'm not even sure where to begin with this mess."

Most universally, though?

I'm working through some stuff! Thanks in advance for not asking me to be able to make total sense of it!

And that's where I find myself today in regards to Luke Falk and the head trauma he suffered on Saturday in the midst of WSU's 27-3 win over Colorado. To be sure, it looked terrible. And of course, almost immediately, I was walking that weird mental tightrope I walk where I'm concerned for the player's health while also wondering what this means for my favorite team.

Maybe I'm an awful person for entertaining such thoughts, particularly when the injury apparently involves the Dreaded C Word. We don't have the luxury anymore of saying, "Whew, just got his bell rung. Good thing it's not serious!" like we did in 2010. (Really -- it was only that long ago.)

I know how serious concussions are. We all do.

So, when I hear Bill Moos say Falk hasn't been ruled out for Friday, I'm alternately hopeful and worried and excited and guilty.

I know all the Twitter doctors out there are howling at the possibility that Falk could play after what happened. Everyone's a doctor! Except none of us actually are. And to be clear, I'm not advocating that he play. I'm also not doing the opposite. I'm going to trust that the medical professionals hired by WSU will do their jobs well, and that they -- in conjunction with Luke and his family -- will make the right decision for Luke.

This is the part where the cynics point out that Falk finished a game against UCLA in which it seemed super obvious that he had sustained some kind of head trauma, so clearly the system is broken. Maybe it is? I just don't know. Falk said he passed the test. WSU's doctor, who is well respected, cleared him.

Do I know better than they do?

As a fan -- at least, if I want to remain a fan -- I don't think I have any option other than to trust them. We can push for better protocols, and we have. After that? It's up to the people involved to make the best decision with regards to a situation that's inherently unsafe. Ideally, they do. Maybe they don't, for whatever reason.

Which means I get to do that hopeful-worried-excited-guilty thing every danged weekend. What these guys are doing to their heads in exchange for my cable fees and/or ticket price? It's always in the back of my mind, exacerbated by the knowledge that college athletes are only receiving a fraction of their fair financial compensation for what they're doing to themselves.

My 8-year-old son has never expressed a desire to play tackle football. I don't know how I will respond if he ever asks, because I love my kid and I want him to have a working brain, and the only way to guarantee he won't suffer permanent brain damage from playing football is to not play football.

And yet, here's a picture of me and BA and Craig before the Stanford game, getting ready to cheer our faces off while someone else's kid gets hit in the head:

It's complicated.

For now, I guess it boils down to this.

I would like to win the Apple Cup on Friday. I would not like Luke Falk to be permanently debilitated in the process.

Which means if there's any shred of doubt about the severity of the head trauma he suffered, I hope to God he does not attempt to play again until he's completely asymptomatic. There's a lot we don't know about brain trauma, but one thing that's pretty clearly established is that the risk of severe injury -- including actual death -- goes up exponentially when someone suffers another concussion before the previous one has healed.

(And if I'm being completely honest, I have an awful little pit in my stomach that won't let go of the idea that that's exactly what happened on Saturday, even though we'll never know.)

Get well, Luke. Take care of yourself. Football will be there in a month ... or six. Whatever it takes.

In the meantime, I'll be at the Joker Pub on Friday, continuing my hopeful-worried-excited-guilty relationship with football.

Maybe someday, the guilt will win out.

Go Cougs.

What We Liked

I'm fairly certain Michael, who was manning our Twitter account, wasn't the only one who felt this way after the game:

A 24-point Pac-12 win is nothing for WSU fans to be unimpressed by, for reasons that are still way too close to home for all of us. And yet, there we were ... sorta unimpressed.

Seriously, how awesome is that?

Maybe someone thinks that's not awesome. Husky fans probably think that's not awesome. YOU GUYS SUCKED SO BAD FOR SO LONG YOU SHOULD BE ECSTATIC ABOUT ANY WIN. But that's what winning does for you: You get a little greedy.

It's OK to be greedy. We like your greed.

Embrace it, Coug fans. Your favorite team has. They want it all.

Let's get greedy one more time on Friday.

Who Impressed?

In a game in which the defense only allowed three points, it's only right to recognize someone from the defense. Only, it's not even possible to recognize only one in that kind of a team effort.

So here's three. A trio of seniors on senior day.

Kache Palacio. The Rush linebacker registered four tackles, two for loss and forced fumble. Palacio has exemplified Grinch's rally-to-the-ball philosophy as much as anyone, and never was that more on display than on the forced fumble: Colorado completed a 15-yard pass, only to have Palacio chase receiver Donovan Lee down from behind and strip the ball. The Buffs recovered, but it was a tremendous play.

Destiny Vaeao. The defensive lineman has wreaked havoc all year, and he was once again destroying people. He compiled three tackles -- all of them for loss -- and a sack:

Darryl Paulo. The defensive end is probably the most unsung player on this defense. He's a redshirt senior who has been around for every single one of those years, grinding through the program into an eventual starter this year. He's quietly amassed some pretty good numbers -- 37 tackles, 12 for loss, 4 sacks -- and he was excellent again on Saturday: 4 tackles -- 3 solo -- and a sack. We're going to miss him next year more than we realize, I think.

Honorable mentions: Gerard Wicks, Gabe Marks, Dom Williams, Peyton Bender

What Needs Work

NCAA Football: Colorado at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

WSU was just 5-of-16 on third and fourth down combined in the game, and that's just not going to cut it against a pretty good Washington defense. With Peyton Bender most likely at the helm, it's going to be a bit more important that WSU stay "on schedule" than it was with Falk, who it's reasonable to assume has a better grasp of the offense than Bender.

When you throw it as much as WSU does, it's inevitable that you'll get yourself behind the chains from time to time. Let's keep that to a minimum and put Bender in situations where he can be successful without feeling the need to rocket a dicey ball into a questionable area.

Because that's the other half: Bender's got to be a little more secure with the ball. While there were flashes of sustained brilliance and the performance overall was probably as good as we could expect, there were a couple of balls where Bender was fortunate they weren't intercepted, and one way to make sure UW's awful offense can actually do some damage is to give the Huskies some short fields to work with where they don't have to work real hard for points.

I anticipate Bender will throw an interception or two. As long as they're not the back-breaking variety -- a pick six, a red zone interception -- I think he can do enough good things to lead WSU to the win.

Up Next!

Apple Cup. Let's do this.