Mike Price's halfway mark

IF YOU THINK the Cougars' appearance in the Sun Bowl on December 31 will bring a close to a memorable chapter in the WSU football scrapbook, think again. It's actually just the introduction to a tale Mike Price has longed to tell.

Washington State's head man yearns to put the Cougars in back-to-back bowl games, with one of them being the Rose --- albeit with a timekeeper whose watch isn't two seconds too fast.

Make no mistake, Price is delighted to be taking his troops and their nine wins to El Paso against an as-yet-determined representative from the Big Ten. In fact, he says he's been listening to Marty Robbins' famous ballad, El Paso, for days on end. "I've become a country western music fan," says the man heretofore known to groove on Clapton.

Indeed, the Sun is a bowl game with a proud and lengthy history.

It's a reward for a regular-season that exceeded most everyone's expectations.

But more than that, El Paso represents the halfway mark of a goal Price stares in the face every day.

Literally.

Right smack dab in the middle of his Bohler Gym desk sits a photo of the 1915 Cougars.

That's right. Biff, Bull, Elmer, Silas and the rest in all their grainy black-and-white glory.

Not a picture of Price's own 1998 Rose Bowl team. Not a shot of Drew Bledsoe. Not even a color glossy of his beloved Joyce.

Mike Price chooses to look Lone Star Dietz & Co. in the face every day because they were the last Cougars to win the Rose Bowl.

In an interview with CF.C two years ago, Price was asked about the photo. It's there, he said, to remind him every minute of every day that his job is not done.

"Back-to-back bowl games, with one of them being a win in Pasadena -- that's my goal for this program," he said at the time.

How far away did that seem in those dog days when even a five-win season would have seemed heaven sent?

Today, it's within reach. And that's no stretch.

The Sun Bowl is the launching pad for 2002. Regardless of the outcome, the Cougars will get 18 or 19 more practices under their belts before kickoff time. That's like getting an extra session of spring workouts --- workouts that are worth gold for the value they have for the youngsters in the program.

That kind of boost --- to a club that will return a veteran quarterback and seven other starters on offense, plus seven starters on defense, and an All-Pac-10 kicker --- positions the 2002 Cougars to turn Price's dream into a reality.

Heck, ten of next year's returnees were just this week named all-conference honorable mention or better. Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN already is talking up WSU as a top five contender in 2002

Of course, there are miles to go before Price sleeps. There are injuries to avoid or work around. There are GPAs that must be maintained. There are the Ohio States, Stanfords and Washingtons of the world who will stand in the way.

But for now, there's just Marty Robbins on the CD and the legend of Lone Star staring him in the face. Other than a trip to Pasadena a year from now, life couldn't be much better for Mike Price.


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