BY RYAN BLETHEN
Losing shouldn’t be so much fun. But when your quarterback throws for an FBS-record 734 yards, six touchdowns and no picks, as Washington State’s Connor Halliday did Saturday, there is fun to be had.
The only time I saw anything close to Halliday’s performance against California was when my younger brother would beat me up playing Tecmo Bowl.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather the Cougs win every game. I know we aren’t going to win every game, of course. I’m a realist and a Coug. Being a Coug is about more than winning, though. Not everybody can be a Coug. Nor would us Cougs want everybody to be a Coug. We don’t blow in and support our team when fashionable like Yankee or Husky fans. Our allegiance is as rich as the Palouse soil on which WSU is built.
As wonderful as it is to be a Coug, it isn’t always easy. Our moments of football greatness happen on a generational calendar. I was lucky to be at Wazzu in the early 1990s. I watched Drew Bledsoe pick apart the Huskies in the 1992 Apple Cup and the Palouse Posse terrorize Pac-10 quarterbacks. The Cougs went to two bowl games while I was in Pullman. My brother and I sat in the Don James Center for the 1997 Apple Cup and watched with tear-streaked faces as the Cougs clinched our first Rose Bowl appearance since 1931.
The good times were short lived. The Cougs managed to parlay three consecutive 10-win seasons, which saw us in the Rose Bowl again and a Holiday Bowl thumping of Texas, into possibly the worst decade of football outside of SMU’s death-penalty years.
I was excited when they hired Paul Wulff only to be rewarded with what would pass for mediocre high-school football. The only upside was the 2008 season, when we beat the Huskies to ensure a winless campaign for the puppies. Outside of the 2008 Apple Cup it was ugly. And painful.
But I still loved my Cougs. I watched every game that was on TV and listened to the games that didn’t get picked up, which was common, on the radio. I trekked to Pullman for a couple of games a year. What made this period in Cougar football so painful was how boring the team was. In years past, we might not have been in the upper half of the conference, but at least we were fun to watch, had colorful players and coaches.
Coug fans were understandably excited when the quirky Mike Leach was hired. He was, and is, the perfect fit for Wazzu. He promised to be the Hail Mary that would lift us out of one of the lowest points of Wazzu history.
That Hail Mary has been tipped, juggled, swatted, but hasn’t yet been dropped. Leach brought the Cougs to a bowl game in his second season, which is a gigantic achievement considering where the program was when he took over. Sure, the Cougs “Coug’d” the New Mexico Bowl, but at least they made the post-season. That hadn’t happened in a decade. Think about that. The last time the Cougs made a bowl game you couldn’t drink hard liquor at The Coug.
Despite such promise my Cougs still confound. How does a team lose to Rutgers and Nevada, almost beat Oregon, and come back from three touchdowns to win at Utah? How does a team put 59 points on the board against Cal and have a quarterback throw for numbers only seen in video games and still lose? (I won’t say they “Coug’d” it. This was not a case of “Couging” it. I’d explain, but the Huskies trying to read this wouldn’t understand).
There is no easy answer to explain this erratic, yet entertaining season. Maybe I’m the ultimate homer. Most Coug fans are obsessively loyal. Not just to the football program, but to WSU. Being a Coug means the school and its teams become part of your DNA.
I’m excited to watch the rest of this wild season starting Friday night at Stanford. The nation’s best defense against the nation’s gaudiest offense. I won’t predict a victory, but like the rest of the season, I guarantee it will be both exhilarating and frustrating, and that is fine. Embracing the ups and downs of Cougar football is a defining characteristic of being a Coug.
Ryan Blethen is a Washington State University alum, Cougar season ticket holder and the associate managing editor for digital at The Seattle Times.
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