Originally published November 24th, 2012
It was a combination of heart, and guts, and pride… and maybe a little luck. There are a lot of words that can describe the Cougar’s win over UW — Words like incredible, improbable, and even impossible. After outplaying the University of Washington on both sides of the ball, WSU still found themselves battling back from a 28-10 deficit. The lead they had coveted at halftime was gone, erased in a series of turnovers that had Cougar fans wondering if it was deja vu all over again. Cougar fans had seen this game before.
Andrew Furney is lined up for a chip-shot field goal. My hands are clasped tight and I can feel the sweat in between them. I’m not praying, I’m just anxious. I’m anxious for something to believe in. It’s been a hard, adversity filled year, and this one moment was a chance to feel like everything we’ve been through as fans or players was leading to something. It was about hope. The camera tightened in on the sidelines as players gripped their arms together so tight that you’d swear they were one continuous mass. I could see Tuel mouth the words “Please make it.” It’s up, it’s good! I’ve teared up during 3 games in my life, and all 3 of them were Apple Cups.
A fanbase exploded in unison while another deflated in an exhale of blame. The Washington State Cougars finished one of their most successful years in history as Apple Cup Champions. No, that wasn’t a typo.
A 3-9 season is never a success. I think every Cougar fan expected the Cougs would make a Bowl game in 2012. I know I did! 3-9 is not a Rose Bowl, or a 10 win season. No Cougar will be picked #1 or #2 in the NFL Draft. For the first time our success has been off the field. When Washington State University hired Mike Leach they made a commitment to a program that will ultimately mean more than any one season, and that’s what’s so exciting. The WSU program saw amazing success while the team seemingly failed on the field at every turn. Let’s break it down:
- On November 18th 2011, the WSU Board Of Regents agreed to an $80 million project to expand Martin Stadium. Not coincidently, regardless of your opinion, Paul Wulff was fired less than 2 weeks later and replaced within days by Mike Leach. It was an immediate commitment to the future of the program, a future designed to compete with teams like Oregon and UW, instead of the Sisters Of The Poor.
- Mike Leach’s hire brought an immediate spotlight to Washington State University. It boosted the program and sold tickets! The team sold more than 3,000 additional season tickets and sold out their first home opener since 2007. Outside of just season tickets, the Cougar Athletic Fund saw an immediate impact too, with over 2,000 additional members and over $2 million dollars in donations than the year before. None of that happens without Mike Leach.
- The Pac 12 Networks launched before the start of the season, bringing another spotlight to the teams in the conference and a new revenue source to the member schools. The Pac 12 Networks will show over 850 events a year, and they have a National base of over 40 million households and a potential average of 10-15 million viewers for each Regional network. At a minimum, that’s 10-15 million households that will be able to watch WSU football. And basketball, and baseball, and track, and… When was the last time 15 million people could watch WSU track? You can now. The Pac 12 Networks could mean up to $30 million a year to Washington State Athletics over time. Where was that with Root Sports?
- On November 16th, 2012, nearly a year since the Board agreed to expand Martin Stadium, the WSU Board Of Regents announced the approval of a new Athletic Operations building; another $61 million dollars to add to nearly $1 billion dollars of current or completed projects at the University.
Now take all of that and add a win in the Apple Cup as the cherry on top. A year that was mired in disappointment ended on the highest of notes, catapulting the program into an offseason filled with promise instead of discouragement. If the Cougars were destined to only win 3 games in 2012, the Apple Cup was the way to end the year. How would fans feel if the 3rd win had come against Stanford instead of UW? A win against Stanford — It would read something like: “1 win in their last nine games, a 4 game losing streak, and a loss to UW after being up at halftime and leading in nearly every category before collapsing again.” Stings doesn’t it? I take the win over UW and look at this season as a glass half full, a season that ends with a one game winning streak.
This year’s Apple Cup was about so much more than one game. It was a turning point in a season of adversity. The Cougars took the field without their all-time leading receiver in Marquees Wilson, who abandoned the team when they needed him most. The Cougs were playing with 18 freshman, including 2 starters at WR, and were an injury away from playing their 3rd string quarterback. Worse still, was losing Travis Long to injury days before the game. The Cougars didn’t just lose the heart of their defense, they lost the heart of the team. But as a team, they played through it — They showed execution, which had been missing for so much of the year. They showed ability, and determination, and heart — Pretty good for a team of corpses. And they showed pride. When the ball split the uprights like an ax, the players that weathered this season’s storm of distractions showed they wouldn’t quit, even when others told them they already had. They believed in their coaches, in each other, and in their fans, and that all came through Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium.
What a way to end the year. Go Cougs!