It was a glorious introduction to the Church of the Holy Cougar.
The following season, he made his first pilgrimage to Pullman. And what a weekend it figured to be. The Cougars, ranked in the top 25 following wins over Oregon and UCLA, were 14-point favorites against Arizona. A win would clinch a bowl berth. The Sporting News opined in the days leading up to the contest that WSU was poised to run the table and, with a good bowl draw, might chalk up another 10-win season.
Meeting Mike Utley just before kickoff heightened Ryan’s excitement about it all. Two minutes and one 78-yard pass play later, however, the Wildcats were up 7-0 and on their way to a 27-17 upset. The name Willie Tuitama still elicits grimaces around the house.
That was nine years ago.
Ryan -- pictured above sometime in the nervous moments before the Brink-to-Harvey heroics in the 2005 Apple Cup -- is now a junior in high school. And he's still waiting for the Cougs to fulfill the promise he envisioned on that autumn day.
The lead up to the Arizona game in 2006 turned out to be the last look at the sun he and Cougar Nation would see.
Let's repeat that: Until now.
These are corner-turning days we’re living this week, Cougar fans.
WSU is being tossed around the top four of Pac-12 power rankings. ESPN has the Oct. 31 game in Pullman against Stanford on the short-list for GameDay. Every bowl projections list now includes the Cougs.
No, WSU isn’t favored the week at Arizona, and there is no assurance of a bowl berth at season’s end.
Whether they win or lose on Saturday, however, is beside the point given the remarkable way they've righted the ship since the season opener. This is a competitive, exciting football team. You can see it on the field, but also in the way the players carry themselves, and in the general buzz around Cougar Nation.
All of which adds up to jaw-dropping shock when I see that WSU is out this week with a special ticket offer for the Stanford game: four tickets, four hot dogs, four soda pops and a parking pass for $70. They’re dubbing it a “Scary Good Deal.”
Scary is right.
Not because the game is on Halloween, but because WSU is forced to do this kind of thing to fill the stadium.
A call to the Bohler Complex confirmed it: As of Tuesday morning, 7,000 seats remained available for the Stanford game.
The “scary” sales promotion makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that Cougar fans aren’t clamoring to see this team. This is not 2008. This is the turning point everyone from Omak to Longview has been yearning for.
From every corner of the Cougar Football Complex last Saturday following the rout of Oregon State, players, coaches and administrators talked about the high energy in the sold-out stands helping fuel the team. Mike Leach, a man not given to hyperbole, dubbed the fans “incredible” and said “I really appreciate their participation making today what it was.”
In other words, sold-out stadiums make a difference on the scoreboard.
Now is the time, Cougar fans, to make every game like Homecoming. Support this team. Buy tickets. At the very least, join the Cougar Athletic Fund or send a donation to the Indoor Practice Facility project.
The wait to get to this point, fellow Cougs, has been nearly interminable -- just ask a high school junior who has been hoping and praying since he was a wide-eyed kid.
Relish this moment. Soak it up. But more than anything, support the team by being with them on game day.
IF COUGAR FANS STEP UP, DEALS LIKE THIS CAN BECOME A THING OF THE PAST.
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