Last night, as I watched players dump yellow Gatorade all over Washington State coach Nick Rolovich in a celebration more reminiscent of ending an Apple Cup losing streak than perpetuating a Stanford Cardinal winning streak, I was reminded of classic literature.
Specifically, the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel “The Great Gatsby.”
(Stick with me here, I know it’s pretentious but a) I can’t change who I am and b) I promise I land this plane.)
From the moment I read Gatsby in high school, I’ve always loved it — both the book and the character — but for the longest time I didn’t know why. Then my athletic career ended abruptly, I couldn’t think straight for the better part of year, and I found myself returning to a story about a misbegotten gangster wasting his life staring at a green light. (Spoiler alert, it doesn’t end well).
As an athlete, you expect to have some structure in your life. Your day-to-day existence beats to the metronome of practice, school, sleep, repeat. You don’t really think in terms of months or years, but in seasons. Football to wresting to track, or in-season to out-of-season, fall ball to winter conditioning to spring ball to etc. etc. Anything more than about five inches in front of your face is simply too far away to have energy to care about.
Or, worse: It’s a genuine distraction to what you’re trying to accomplish.
All you really want to know about “whatever is next” is that at the end of all “this” will be a senior night, and you can worry about it then.
Now, that is obviously not true in college football. The senior night part. My recruiting class had around twenty guys come to Pullman on full-ride scholarships. Less than a quarter of that number made it to senior night. This happened to the class before me and I don’t doubt it happened to the class after me.
Nonetheless, it never occurred to me that my career might end prematurely. Not really. I was so used to physical, emotional and mental discomfort that this particular cognitive dissonance didn’t even register. We had football games to win, so I tuned it out like a slightly sprained ankle.
I watched people’s careers end due to turf toe and knee injuries, heard pre game speeches about how “you never know which play is your last, so play with everything,” etc. and so on. Shoot, people leaving was so routine there was even an unspoken code of conduct for when someone was no longer with us. (Note: If you left, your unlocked locker was no longer safe. People needed spare team issue shorts. It’s understandable).
But that was never supposed to be me. The ones who left. That wasn’t me.
Then it was.
I had an injury. Maybe you missed a plane. Forgot a name. Took a job. Didn’t take a job. Let a loved one get away. Didn’t call a friend you should have. Gatsby is about a man trying to find a love he lost decades ago and believing that willpower and force of personality can make any “might have been” into a reality; whether the moment had already passed isn’t even in his calculation.
The story ends the only way it can. But isn’t it such a beautiful idea anyway?
As I watched a Cougar football team come up extremely clutch and a fearsome Cougar defensive line close out yet another fun, bouncy and streak-continuing Coug win, I reflected.
This is going to be another one of those moments, isn’t it?
Whether Rolo gets to continue to coach without the vaccine, gets the vaccine, or ceases to be our head football coach, we’re going to wonder what might have been. What should have been.
Regardless of outcome on Monday, Cougar football will never be quite the same to all of us.
So, I’m going to pour another bourbon, think about that Travell Harris TD catch for a little bit longer, and try and remember how best to let moments linger.