Commentary: Heart goes out to Halliday

IT WASN’T SUPPOSED to end this way for Connor Halliday. The WSU senior was supposed to hit Vince Mayle for the game-winning touchdown in the Apple Cup and go out in a blaze of record-setting glory. Instead, the nation's leading passer and the most prolific quarterback in WSU history is done. My heart hurts for the poor kid. There’s no other way to say it. It just wasn’t supposed to end this way.

I sat in a bar Saturday night in Manhattan, New York.

With countless beautiful women walking around, the only thing my eyes could stare at was my phone. I couldn’t find a place to watch the game, so Twitter was my best friend.

Suddenly, there was a flurry of Halliday tweets, including this ominous one from @COUGFANcom: "Oh man. Halliday in serious pain."

I searched “Connor Halliday” on Twitter and came across the Vine of the play he was tackled. When I saw USC’s Leonard Williams fly into Halliday’s body with superhuman force, I knew it was bad.

When I saw Halliday helplessly lying on the ground, screaming in pain and clamping his fists, I knew it was harrowing. A 25-year-old man, I fought back tears in that crowded bar.

As I watched the video, and ensuing replays, I saw Halliday on the stretcher being carted off for what was supposed to be his second-to-last home game. In a season where everything has gone wrong for Washington State, seeing the Spokane native taken off the field was not only unbelievable, but heartbreaking.

HAS ANYONE GIVEN more to this program over the past four years than the 6-4, 200-pounder?

I still remember the first time I saw him at a practice in the fall of 2010. Halliday looked like he was 6-4 and about 135 pounds. He didn’t look like much of anything to be honest with you.

“Who the (expletive) is this kid?” I remember asking WSU SID Bill Stevens.

He went on to tell me, “That’s my boy Connor. He’s going to be a stud. Just wait on it.”

I thought Bill was out of his mind and told him I highly doubted “his boy” would ever see the field. As has been the case in most of my sports predictions, I was wrong. I was dead wrong.

The numbers don’t lie. Halliday had an unbelievable career in crimson and gray. He threw for 11,308 yards, 90 touchdowns and 50 interceptions. This season alone, he led the nation with 3,873 yards and 32 scores.

"Connor's huge,” head man Mike Leach said Saturday night. “Connor's contributions to this program, most of them are ones that the public doesn't fully have an appreciation of. But Connor's contributions to this program are gigantic."

THROUGHOUT HIS CAREER Halliday had a plethora of memorable moments. Who could forget his coming-out party in 2011, where he threw for 494 yards and four touchdowns in the 37-27 victory over Arizona State?

How about later that season vs. Utah? The kid played most of the game with a lacerated liver. A lacerated liver? Are you kidding me? There are days I debate calling in sick to work because I have a cold or a headache.

I watched that game at Martin Stadium that year. It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I was an academic redshirt junior at the time, and I had told my CF.C editors I was leaving Pullman and couldn’t cover the game. I lied. Sorry fellas.

Halliday was a soldier that game. Each time his body hit the turf, he would bounce up gingerly and get to the huddle. WSU lost in overtime, but Halliday made it clear he took pride in wearing a Cougar jersey that day. He earned my respect on that cold, miserable November day in Pullman.

And now three years later, it has all come to an end. Although on Saturday Leach said he wouldn’t comment on whether or not Halliday is done for the year, we all know he is. Reports surfaced that he suffered two fractures in his leg, his tibia and fibula. He won’t play for Washington State again.

IT’S NOT FAIR. It sucks. This kid had far too many more lows than he had highs in Pullman. There were the injuries, all the losses and the pressure of being the next great quarterback under “offensive genius” Mike Leach.

His high, though? Leading the Cougs to their first bowl game in 10 years last season. Halliday received more criticism last year than arguably any other player in the country. However, he put the team on his back and got things done. If anything, last year should have been how his Cougar career ended.

Instead, the last memory he has of playing in Martin Stadium will be his screams, which probably could have been heard all the way to Colfax. Heck, the gasps by the crimson faithful were likely heard in every living room from Everett to Omak.

Halliday will now rehab and fight to make his dreams of making an NFL team next season. Before his injury, he was a projected late-round selection or free-agent signee.

Late Saturday, he shared his frustration on Twitter:

“22 years of hard work and I was 3 god damn games away from my dream,” Halliday posted. "3 freakin games away from being drafted and living my dream."

I have zero doubt in my mind Halliday will bounce back. Last week, Leach said NFL scouts always ask him how a guy bounces back from an injury. Halliday has proven he can battle adversity and come back. He’ll have to do it one more time, but any NFL team smart enough to take a risk on him won’t be disappointed.

The Apple Cup is slated for Nov. 29 in Pullman. Halliday will put on a Coug jersey for Senior Day, come out of the tunnel and receive one last standing ovation from the WSU faithful. It’ll be an ovation he’s undoubtedly earned, but not the kind he or any Cougar fan was hoping for.

It just wasn’t supposed to end this way.

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