In 1997, amid the fanfare around a star quarterback and his Fab Five receiving corps, the big men in the trenches decided to nickname themselves. And the nastiest among them even showed his gentler side by drawing up the design for a memorable t-shirt.
On the stat sheets, they simply read like this: LT Rob Rainville, LG Jason McEndoo, C Lee Harrison, RG Cory Withrow, RT Ryan McShane.
But on the field and off they were special and memorable. When all was said and done, in Pasadena on January 1, 1998, they were two seconds short of defeating national champion Michigan. Here's their tale in their own words ...
Cougfan.com: What's your funniest memory of the 1997 season?
McShane: That's a tough one, you travel with all of your buddies and have a ton of fun and success, so it's hard to pinpoint one memory. Every Friday after our walk through the right side of the line (myself and Cory Withrow) would play Rob Rainville and Jason McEndoo (left side) in a 2 on 2 football game with Ryan Leaf as QB. It’s funny, because of our dominance over those guys. We were 12-0. Another funny subplot was our t-shirt battle with the receivers. The skilled prima donnas scoring all the touchdowns made t-shirts and coined themselves the Fab Five after Michigan’s hoops squad with C-Webb. McEndoo made his own t-Shirt with the five of us as a cartoon (pictured above) and came up with the Fat Five. Our t-shirts sold like hotcakes. WSU equipment manager Milton Neal couldn’t keep them in stock. I think we used the Fab Five t-shirts for an oil leak on Bus 3 on our way to Spokane. Just kidding CJ/KMac/Tims/Wash/82.
McEndoo: There are too many to list. I feel like a big part of our success was the chemistry we had as a team and how we played hard but had fun as well.
Rainville: I really just enjoyed being around the lineman and all the fun we’d have. So many memories and so many stories. Miss those guys a lot. MP’s ( Mike Price) stories and jokes - those were always a fun time.
Withrow: We always had fun on and off the field as a group, we still do in group text messaging. Honestly, I can't give you one that would be cleared by your editor based on content and language but Rob Rainville and Ryan McShane were hilarious, they were always making everyone laugh. Jason McEndoo was the serious one, he was always looking for a fight and pretty much stayed pissed off all game and most practices. He took his craft seriously. Lee Harrison was the smartest guy on the team, and maybe the entire Pac-10 -- he was funny but he didn't try to be. I was always trying to mess with everyone, like the little yip yip dog that never relents but in a good way, I guess!
Harrison: Funniest memory was when Cory Withrow ran off the field and ran right through a coach's headset wire. He snapped the line and it whipped back and caught this poor referee below the belt. It dropped it him like a bad habit. The poor guy had to be taken off the field and they finished the game down a sideline ref. Not sure to this day what happened to that guy.
Cougfan.com: What are you doing now?
McEndoo: I live in Stillwater, Okla., with my incredible wife Ruth and our four kids Luke (14); Libby (12); Aubrie (10); and Ainslie (7). I am going into my second season as the tight ends coach at Oklahoma State. Prior to OSU, Ruth and I spent the last 12 years at Montana State in Bozeman where I was the offensive line coach and run game coordinator. It has been an adjustment moving to Oklahoma dealing with the heat and learning how to dodge tornadoes! We have the best of both worlds though, coaching in the Big 12 while living the small town lifestyle. Our kids are very active in sports and show steers in 4-H. Ruth and I feel very blessed to be able to combine our backgrounds of sports and ranching for a nice balance. Stillwater reminds us both of Pullman and are time spent on the Palouse! Go Cougs!!
Rainville: I live in Chelan, Wash., with my wife Jenifer, an elementary school teacher, and our 13-year-old daughter Katie and 10-year-old son Ryan. I am the assistant principal and district athletic director at Chelan High. My parents have moved here, and Jen’s family is here, so we get to be around our families, our kids and all their activities. Chelan is a great place to live and raise a family. I am currently working on my superintendent degree, through Washington State. My bachelor's, my master's in Education, my principal certification and my superintendent degree will have all come from WSU. GO COUGS!
Withrow: I'm married to my fantastic wife Monica and together we have seven kids, Brady Bunch style. We have 16-year-old twins, a 13-year-old, an 11-year-old, a 10-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old. All are super active in sports and school! I am the president and CEO of The King's Craft Coffee Co. We are a specialty coffee business that operates out of Poway California, a town outside of San Diego. We have an extremely high value for coffee, serving Organic, Rain Forest Alliance, Micro Lot, Fair Trade and direct trade coffees roasted with excellence and consistency and served with those same values with in each cup. We are focused on these amazing coffees, relationships, and the experience of drinking coffee together. With that, we treat every drink and every guest as the most important and never rush the experience.
Harrison: I live in Boise, Idaho, with my amazing and supportive wife where we're raising two daughters and one son. I am the founding principal of Axiom, a structural engineering consulting company. Our firm has been fortunate to be involved this year in some amazing projects all over the West Coast including a new $90 million hospital as well as some new U.S. embassy compounds overseas, pretty cool stuff! Boise is a great home base for raising a family and still allows me easy access to work all over the country.
McShane: I am a senior vice president for Colliers International in Northern California. I invest, sell and lease industrial real estate related to logistics and transportation. I married a Coug volleyball player, Angela Gotelli, and we have three boys: Dylan 12, Declan 10, and Finn 8. I also have two dogs: Niner and Gustavo.
Cougfan.com: Most memorable play of the 1997 campaign?
Rainville: Being selfish here: I had never scored a touchdown in my entire life, not in little league, not in high school -- and when Michael Black fumbled into the end zone in Husky Stadium, I got that ball and was credited a touchdown. And it happened in the '97 Apple Cup! We ended up winning by six points in the end, so my kids think I was the hero who sent us to our first Rose Bowl in 67 years. So that was fun. There were Lots of great plays: Leon Bender making stops, Chris Jackson and Michael Black making plays, Ryan Leaf throwing bombs. It was a great, fun year.
Withrow: The craziest play was in the Arizona game. About halfway through the first quarter Leaf came in the huddle and told us all to shut the "f" up -- we were all laughing and making fun of each other. Then he said, 'If you fat bastards give me four seconds, I promise you I will throw a touchdown.' We did give him four seconds, he did throw a touchdown. He said that two more times that game. It was pretty cool.
Harrison: Man, that’s hard. I feel like we had some huge plays that made our season. Chris Jackson running over the Huskies for a TD, the goal line stand at UCLA on fourth down to win the game, overtime with U of A when Ryan did a QB sneak to win the game. Okay, here’s one that’s a personal favorite: It’s watching the replay of Cory Withrow break the facemask of ASU’s nose guard when he came around on a twist. Cory was vicious. It makes perfect sense that passion and competitiveness catapulted him to play longer in the NFL than anyone else in our class, huh!
McShane: The most memorable play has to go to all those prima donnas I referenced. CJ’s comments in the paper followed by his two amazing touchdowns in the Apple Cup were right up there with McWashington blasting Simmons to free K-Mac for the final score at USC. They were a talented bunch. Beating Cal 56-6 at half time was cool too.
McEndoo: I have two plays that come to mind. The first would be Chris Jackson's TD catch in the Apple Cup and when he ran over Tony Parrish. The second would be the hook and ladder play we ran against Michigan in the Rose Bowl at the end of the game.
Cougfan.com: What was the single-best moment of the 1997 season?
Withrow: Picking the single-best moment would be hard because we had so many great moments, from beating USC down in the Coliseum to beating Arizona in overtime, rushing for a ton of yards against Cal, not giving up any sacks against UCLA. It was amazing knowing that if we beat UW we were going to the Rose Bowl. That was a great moment!
Harrison: Winning the Apple Cup and knowing we were going to the Rose Bowl. I believe we had heard on the sidelines that if we won, we were going to tie with UCLA and because we beat them head to head, we would go to the Rose Bowl. To have big plays like Chris Jackson running down the sidelines, running over people for touchdowns and beating the Huskies in Seattle to go the Grand Daddy still gives me chills.
McShane: Best moment of the season is easy: clinching the Pac 10 title in Seattle and celebrating as a team in Husky Stadium. For me personally, the overtime win at home vs. Arizona was incredible. Our D was full of savages. I still have a picture from the Evergreen of Leon Bender and me sharing a huge bear hug. I miss that guy.
McEndoo: Beating the Huskies in Seattle to win the Pac-10 Championship and go to the Rose Bowl.
Rainville: Beating the Huskies in the '97 Apple Cup to go to the Rose bowl. That game was the best: going to their house, kicking their butts all game, and winning to go to the Rose Bowl. Playing in Martin Stadium in a packed, sold out stadium with Coug fans each home game that year was a close second.
Cougfan.com: When did you realize the 1997 squad was a team Coug fans would never forget?
Harrison: Well, I’m more of a grinder and so that means I don’t know that I had a big 'wow' moment like that. I suppose a notable one was when we beat USC in the Coliseum. As I recall, it had been a very long time since both UCLA and USC had been beaten by the Cougs in the same season. They were such contrasting teams with UCLA being a more smallish, shifty defense that was likely blitzing and twisting on every play. USC was going to just hit you in the mouth and make you beat them. I think that we beat both styles -- and specifically, we ran all over 'SC. That made me feel like our team where going to make something happen.
McShane: Every week our team seemed to gain more national attention but we always kept our heads and never let the moment get bigger than the goal. We were a senior-heavy group that benefitted from being on fantastic teams like the ’94 squad and struggling teams such as the ’95 group. We learned over the years how to respect each other and we had a unique blend of harmony between the offense/defense, starters to walk ons. We knew that at any moment it could all disappear if we didn’t nurture our season. I must say the fans were unworldly. Loyal, intelligent, fierce, and drunk. I loved them all.
McEndoo: I realized that our '97 team etched its place in WSU lore after we beat the Huskies and found out we were going to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 years.
Rainville: I think it was later in season when we’d go out and everyone said, 'Go Cougs.' EVERYONE. People knew who we were, and an o-line never got props, ever. We did then. I think after the season, and people would comment about the season or the Rose Bowl or Apple Cup, and even today someone recognizes your name and says, 'I loved watching that year and watching you play - GO COUGS!' It's a pretty awesome thing to be around.
Withrow: I realized this was going to be the team in our spring ball before the season, and then again that summer. We had such a 'want to' attitude. We really all enjoyed each other and we had a ton of talent. We acted more as a family than anything else. The coaches did an amazing job letting us be young men and work together, yet always leading and directing. We had a ton of respect and admiration for Coach Price, and still do. He was an amazing leader and you could see his master plan kind of unfolding over the summer. It was really neat to watch.
Cougfan.com: Final thoughts? The mic is yours.
McShane: It’s coming on 20 years and people have come and gone in your life. I still remember that season as one of the best times of my life. I can’t wait to see Steve Gleason’s movie this summer. His courage, passion for life, and the message he’s been able to get to the world is heroic. He will live forever. I would be remiss not to thank Washington State University, all of my coaches, and especially Mike Price. That guy gave me more chances in life after my father passed my freshman year than I probably deserved. Thanks coach, for sticking with me. Go Cougs.
McEndoo: Of all my years of playing or coaching football, that '97 team was by far the funnest and most talented teams I've ever been a part of.
Rainville: I bleed crimson. Washington State has been so good to me. I met my wife there, had great memories and great battles and friendships there, and I will not wear purple even today!! My son says it’s a 'girl color.' WSU and the experiences I had with my teammates, and especially the Fat Five, can't compare to other events. They mean the world to me. Being a COUG is something that I cherish, and I hope that the Fat Five gets recognition some day on just how valuable and special we were. I'm really glad Mike Price is being inducted into the WSU Hall of Fame this year, he was the reason we were all there and this all happened. I'm so proud of him and feel privileged he brought me to WSU. Love you MP.
Withrow: There are so many of these that we would have to talk about it over the phone. I don't have time to type these up, it would take four pages! Thanks, and check us out at thekingscraft.com or on instagram and facebook.
Harrison: Few people realize that McEndoo schemed Cal that year and picked up a tendency that gave away every twist that their defense did. We were able to tell Ryan that game to audible to a run play when we saw this d-lineman tip off his move. We ran all over those guys and it was McEndoo, literally, that allowed us to walk all over 'em. We had some truly talented guys but I’m always amazed at how many walk on players we had making an impact that year and helping pull together a high-performing machine. I was fortunate to play with one up front with Cory, but we also had guys like Shawn Tims, Todd Nelson and several other starters and guys that rotated in that were impactful players.
NOTABLE FAT FIVE NOTES:
* Two of the Fat Five – Harrison and Withrow – came to WSU as walk ons. Withrow became a starter as a third-year sophomore in '95. Harrison scrapped and clawed his way through four years before earning the starting center nod in '97 despite his relatively modest size of 6-2, 266 pounds, allowing Withrow to move to guard. In his book 596 Switch, Ryan Leaf said of Harrison: "It was uncanny how smoothly he could get the ball to the quarterback."
* Withrow (somehow) went undrafted -- and then proceeded to play 10 years in the NFL.
* McShane, Leaf writes in 596 Switch, became one of the quarterback's very best friends at Washington State. Leaf says that despite lacking natural athleticism at 6-7, 305 pounds, McShane was "controlled intensity" on game day, and flat out nasty.
* Rainville replaced graduating All-America left tackle Scott Sanderson in protecting Leaf's blind side in '97. Leaf said in 596 Switch that Rainville did so seamlessly, despite being the only junior on the Fat Five.
* McEndoo was "probably" the nastiest of the Fat Five, Leaf says in his book: "Off the field, he was polite, articulate, friendly and mild mannered. But Holy Jesus, once the whistle blew he was in there mixing it up."
How they lined up: LT Rob Rainville (Lewiston), LG Jason McEndoo (Cosmopolis), C Lee Harrison (Bend, Ore.), RG Cory Withrow (Spokane), RT Ryan McShane (Lafayette, Calif.) ...