Could it be the Curse of the Babe?

PULLMAN -- So what was it this time? The secondary? Quarterbacking? Coaching? Officiating? All of the above? Possibly, but I see Washington State's incredible series of unfortunate events powered by a higher source, a force almost beyond control.

It's the Curse of the Babe.

Not the Curse of the Bambino. That's another story, put to rest last year by the Boston Red Sox.

What the Cougars have endured -- five razor-thin football losses in a half-dozen Saturdays -- is hardly the lifetime of suffering the Red Sox bore. It only seems that way. In the mere twinkle of the cosmic eye, on a few autumnal weekends, the pain threshold of the hardiest Coug has been pulverized to numbness.

Blame it on the Babe. Orin E. "Babe" Hollingbery. The curse of the Babe. What else can it be?

After another incredible fourth-quarter loss, this 27-24 nailbiter to Arizona State, what would you call it? What is there about the Washington State Cougars that has them winless in the Pac-10? Why are the angels of good fortune lined up so solidly against them?


Babe and star lineman John Bley, ‘34

Is it because they took the tying points off the board late in the game Saturday evening? That'll stir the ire of the football gods.

Is it because seven guys disguised as officials were actually privately contracted bodyguards assigned to watch over ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter?

Is it because with less than four minutes to go, WSU quarterback Alex Brink held on to the ball a count too long? Brink went down for an 11-yard sack that took the Cougs from the ASU 24 to the 35, leaving them with a pressure-cooker 52-yard field goal try into the wind? The long kick failed.

Of course.

Pick, prod, point and second-guess, logic and even illogic adds up to five bitter losses that with any stroke of luck could be five wins. No WSU football team this good has ever been this bad.

I think it stays that way until somebody pays renewed homage to the Babe.

The WSU fieldhouse is named in his honor. That was a grand gesture, certainly enough to hold the fort for a while, but I think he's back, in spirit, and he's hacked off.

Maybe it's because our best player, Jerome Harrison, is called The Ghost and Babe doesn't appreciate co-star billing. Somehow, a door we can't see has opened and Hollingbery has come back, a little owlish in this cycle of appearances, obviously.

Of course you don't know who I'm talking about. I don't know who I'm talking about. It all happened before my time, and I go back to Hopalong Cassidy and the Cisco Kid.

Babe Hollingbery coached at Washington State for 17 years, from 1926 through 1942. The demands of World War II wiped out the 1943 and '44 football seasons. When the war ended, the world had gone nuclear.

Hollingbery, whose face is chiseled inside the College Football Hall of Fame, might have seemed indispensable to the Cougar restart in '45.

Hollingberry, along with every right-thinking person this side of Wapato, expected he'd return for an 18th season. There was a dispute over a proposed cut in salary. Hard feelings replaced good will. Maybe a push came from outside or from on high.

Regardless why, Babe Hollingbery drifted away, back to his hop farm in the Yakima Valley. He couldn't have been happy.

He wasn't just any coach. He was the winningest coach in WSU history, a coach who not only took his team to the Rose Bowl but to Washington, D.C., to visit the president. Hollingbery's quarterback in that 1930 season was Tuffy Ellingsen, who remembered not too long before he died that the president, Herbert Hoover, agreed to pose for a team photo in front of the White House. Mired in the early months of the Great Depression, Hoover seemed on edge, but the Prez still took time to hobnob with the great Babe and his Cougs.

There's a wonderful 1931 photograph of Hollingbery in the Cougar football guide, looking like a young George C. Scott, a whistle and a long-forgotten coaching aid hanging from his neck. It's a megaphone.

Today's staff doesn't need a megaphone. They've got George Yarno and Robb Akey.

After Hollingbery and Washington State parted company, the Cougars, predictably, spiraled into the dumpster. Nine of their next 11 seasons were losing ones. Miserable years were not unusual beyond that. Not even Mike Price, who mastered the exacting sciences of recruiting and the passing game before our very eyes, won as many games at WSU as did Babe Hollingbery, whose teams won 93 times. Price is next on WSU's all-time list with 83.

The difference is that Mike left on his terms. Babe was asked, in effect, to drop the megaphone, despite the glaring fact that his last WSU team went 6-2-2 and missed another Rose Bowl berth only because of a scoreless tie with Washington.

Nice gratitude.

And now I believe we're paying for it. Nobody loses Saturday after Saturday under such virulent circumstance as the Cougars have, without some fiercely aligned vibration penetrating their space.

The Babe, after all these years, is getting even. Again.

It may not be a full-blown curse this time. We probably could downgrade this to a jinx. Sports is replete with jinxes. Sophomore jinx, Sports Illustrated jinx, Spokesman-Review jinx, and now the Hollingbery jinx. If the recent suffering defeat is not part of a real curse, and only a jinx, it might not take much to placate old Babe.

The WSU fieldhouse bears his name. That bought long-term protection but now the ill-wind blowing in from the great schism of 1945 threatens to go Category Five.

You might help. Take a few seconds. Know that this coach's curse was to be ahead of his time. Realize that nothing is permanent. Walk in the shoes of a jilted legend for just a heartbeat. Think of what a college football coach with a lifetime .625 winning percentage -- Hollingbery's record -- is worth today.

Multi-mega. Fawning from Dan Patrick, cloning from Jim Rome.

That just might mollify the Babe.

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