Apple Cup: After the emotional ride that began with wildfires and a slice of travel hell, one last WSU home game for the Cracrafts

HAVE I EVER told you about the time I went through hell on my first trip back to Washington State after graduation? It was homecoming of 2012 and because of a nightmare flight, I got to Pullman four hours late and missed the game. But on the same flight was a young River Cracraft, along with mom and dad. Little did I know what that day meant for the future of WSU and the football program.

Are you kidding me? I must have said it about 10 times to myself. On a flight to Pullman on Sept. 22, 2012, fires in Lewiston created so much smoke in the air that our pilot didn’t have a clean view to land. We circled around in the air for what felt like hours before an announcement came:

“Folks we apologize, but the skies haven’t cleared up. We’re going to have to head back to Sea-Tac.”


But as soon as we landed and made our way back to our gate to wait, I spotted a skinny kid and his parents right by me. Good looking family. I had heard them on the plane say something about an official visit. As a guy who lives and breathes recruiting for, I had to inquire.

“Hi, I’m River... Hello I’m River’s mom, Tracy... Hey man, I’m Riv’s dad.”

RELATEDCracraft's sterling pass catching career at WSU comes to an end 

River Cracraft was indeed heading to WSU for his official visit. Suddenly the travel hell didn't matter quite so much. Despite missing the game (a 35-34 loss) River made it to Pullman later that day to meet with Mike Leach and Co. To think, he almost decided to go home to California amidst the travel issues, but the family decided to wait it out and caught a later flight.

When I first laid eyes on River, I couldn’t help but think; 'Hey, I thought this guy Leach was going to bring in some good recruits?'

The day I met him, Cracraft looked like he was maybe 160 pounds. I didn’t think much of River physically that day, to be frank. Well, 218 receptions, 2,701 yards and 20 touchdowns later, the young man from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., has proven me dead wrong.

And it all started on that delayed flight to Pullman, which his mom still excitedly recalls.

“That was really what got everything started for our family,” Tracy said in a phone interview with CF.C this week. “I just remember the volleyball team was on the plane and everyone was wearing WSU gear. All the adults were drinking beer and wine. It was like we were having a party on our flight even though we were rerouted. We felt the WSU spirit and love from the start.”

And even before River committed to WSU, I was pretty darn positive he was going to end up in crimson. I’ll never forget what his dad, also named Tracy, told me at Sea-Tac when I asked if he could see his son playing for WSU and Mike Leach.

“Bro… Air Raid,” he said.

River went on to flourish in that Air Raid, putting up historic numbers in a crimson uniform. His 218 catches rank No. 2 in WSU history behind teammate and fellow senior receiver Gabe Marks. River ended his WSU career at No. 16 on the all-time Pac-12 receptions list.

Since his first year in Pullman, River made a difference. He started 10 games as a true freshman in 2013, hauling in 46 balls for 614 yards and three TDs. Those numbers earned him multiple All-Freshman honorable mention honors. But as Cougar fans know, the end has been bittersweet. He won’t be able to suit up (torn ACL in Cal win) in the Apple Cup on Friday as No. 23 WSU and No. 6 UW do battle, with a trip to the Pac-12 championship game on the line.

But River will be joined by his mom and dad, walking out of the tunnel one last time on Friday as part of the senior day celebrations.

River is able to walk on his own and isn’t on crutches. He’s set to have surgery early next week. But not before getting a standing ovation from the Cougar fans one last time this weekend.

“I can barely think about this,” Tracy said. “It was so emotional last year for us with Sky (River’s brother and teammate last year, CF.C correspondent this season) and we know it’s going to be hard with River. Knowing his playing time is over is very emotional. This is our last game together.”

But just because River’s playing days are over, don’t think that means Tracy and the Cracraft family will stop cheering on the Cougs each weekend. Oh and the epic tweets aren’t going anywhere either.

And Tracy was adamant in our conversation that her love for all things crimson will continue for years to come.

“I always tell people about Pullman and WSU,” she said. “It’s the type of place that wraps its arms around you. You feel like you belong there the whole time. I felt that way from my first trip. When the guys took River out, my husband and I went downtown to My Office (bar) and had a blast with everyone. They’re so welcoming. Nothing has changed since. We love this place.”

Though WSU Nation long ago embraced her as a Coug, Tracy could make things official in the near future. She told CF.C that she currently needs four classes to receive her bachelor’s degree in psychology and has applied to take online classes at WSU to wrap things up. Tracy needs to complete three psych classes and one other course to get her diploma.

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