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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

September 8, 2012 at 10:50 AM

A big weekend for Cougs, both past and present . . .

Sitting here in the third level of the new south-side, press box/suites/loges addition to Martin Stadium at Washington State, and it’s quite the shocking change from the cozy, cramped, one-level edifice that it replaces. The view to the north looking over the Palouse hills is terrific, one reason that athletic director Bill Moos decided to switch from what was originally planned as a north-side project.

It’s supposed to be a hot one for today’s WSU-Eastern Washington game — 91 degrees worth, right on schedule. Why? A year ago this weekend, for UNLV’s visit here, it was 93 degrees in Pullman.

This is a signal weekend for Moos, part of a 40-year reunion of the 1972 team that shrugged off years of losing under coach Jim Sweeney and went 7-4. That was the first real breakthrough for a team under Sweeney, who took over in 1968 and saw some truly bleak times, including a 1-10 season in 1970 in which the Cougars lost 70-33 to USC and 63-16 to Stanford.

But by 1972, WSU had returned to Martin Stadium for its home games after playing all of them in Spokane because of a fire that had badly damaged the facility (then known as Rogers Field) in 1970. And it made a big difference, according to Gary Larsen, a linebacker from Ingraham High in Seattle.

“When you play at home, it’s special,” said Larsen. “The Huskies are playing downtown (at CenturyLink Field, while Husky Stadium is being renovated), and it’s different.”

WSU launched that season with an 18-17 win over Kansas after trailing 17-0 entering the fourth quarter, and it augured good things. After bursting to a 5-2 record, then losing to powerful UCLA and USC, the Cougars knocked off two-time defending Pac-8 champion Stanford and an 8-2 Washington team in the Apple Cup.

It was WSU’s first winning season since the 1965 “Cardiac Kids” went 7-3.

“There was something in the air that (1972) season,” said Larsen. “Everybody believed in each other.”

“The defense stepped up and made us the caliber team we were,” said the quarterback on that team, Ty Paine, now sporting a long, long gray beard. “Even when I was younger, we had an adequate offense, but it was always our defense (struggling). That was what it was all about.”

Some 55 former players and coaches attended the reunion, including Joe Tiller, former coach at Purdue, as well as Sweeney, now wheelchair-bound.

Larsen remembers Sweeney, as “loud, outgoing and to the point. But he brought a family atmosphere to it. He was leading cheers with the crowd at the end of the game. Now everybody does it.”

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