More than a game

<i>EDITOR'S NOTE: This editorial originally appeared on the pages of <b></b> two years ago, just one week following the September 11 attack on America.</i>

IN THE WAKE of the carnage that befell our country on September 11, a decision was made to cancel all Division I-A college football games this past Saturday.

It was just the second time in collegiate history such a cancellation occurred, the first being the dark Saturday following the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.
Given the fog of horror and heartache collectively shrouding us this past week, it seemed almost disrespectful discussing the status of the Washington State-Colorado game, just as it did routinely carrying on with the basics of our lives.
To some, proceeding with the game was completely inappropriate; to others, it was a fitting tribute to the fallen.
Personally, I relished the thought of my wife and I taking our three-year-old daughter, Lauren, to her first-ever Cougar football game. Better still, we would be accompanied by my parents, her grandparents - - two people who had prayed they already seen the worst mankind had to offer.
Surrounded by those I loved most, traveling to my personal heartland of America - -Pullman, Washington - - and reflecting upon the tragedy with 40,000 other mourners, if only for a pre-game moment or two, seemed to be just what I needed. And, yes, I fully hoped to use football as a tool to escape the bloody realities of the terrorist attack for three hours.
Others, like my wife Jackie, thought it just too much, too soon. However cathartic the bond between a stadium full of grievers might be, they said, decency calls for a quieter, more subdued weekend of reflection. Maybe a return to normalcy - - if there can be such a return - - should be taken in slow, thoughtful steps, not reactionary sprints.
People are unique, as was the attack and its aftermath. There was no clear-cut answer here. Colorado coach Gary Barnett was correct when he said, "I think whatever is decided upon is the best. In a situation like this, there is no right or wrong."
Still, some who opposed the games being played went to great lengths to label such contests as insignificant, simplistic, and trite entertainment, void of any true redeeming value to our society especially in light of the tragedy.
How wrong they are.
Athletic events - - more specifically and personally, WSU Cougar football - - unites people, forging strong chains of loyalty, strengthening friendship and familial bonds, and, yes, often bringing a childlike joy to our often too-adult lives.
Trite? Cougar football has been passed from generation to generation in families like a precious heirloom. My daughter marks the fifth generation of my family to live in Eastern Washington. Through those five generations, there are very few common threads - - other than blood - - connecting my great-grandfather to my daughter. Cougar football is one of those threads.
Insignificant? As long as our country has known athletic competition, so to have our soldiers used special memories of games and players to stay hopeful and close to home. Just ask retired U.S. Navy Captain Jack Fellowes.

He was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam's brutal "Hanoi Hilton" from 1966-73. Like many POWs, Fellowes feared the unusual harshness and solitude of captivity would cause his mind to atrophy. He spent his first three years trying to recall the name of a particular NFL quarterback who he'd admired.

When Earl Morrall's name finally came to him, he knew he wasn't going crazy and credits Morrall with saving his life.
Simplistic? Certainly. But isn't it the simple things in life, the routines and rituals we take so for granted, that mean the most to us? When we lose a loved one it's not the extraordinary times we shared that we miss the most, it's the ordinary moments.
I'd be lying if I said the outcome of this Saturday's WSU-California game means as much to me as it did one week ago. Nowhere near. In fact, my heart seems thousands of miles away from Martin Stadium right now.
But I have a feeling that - - sooner than later - - Cougar football will edge it's way back solidly into our lives. It won't make us forget the World Trade Center or Pentagon, but it will hopefully free us for a few hours a week from the smoking rubble our world has become.
It is just a game - - but so much more.

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