Parting reflections and perspective setting

BY MOST STANDARDS, the 2005 Cougar football season was disappointing. No bowl game. A 4-7 record. Five losses by a total of 16 points. A defense more charitable than a food bank during the holidays. Momentum-killing three-and-outs. And a quarterback controversy (at least among the fans). Not exactly the makings of a memorable campaign. Yet for me, on the sidelines with my camera for every home game and some on the road, the season was indeed memorable.

Despite all of those heartbreaking losses, there were great moments.

Cougar All-American Jerome Harrison made plenty of great moves in 2005, but this dazzling stop and zig to the right for a TD against UCLA just may have been The Ghost's most impressive.

Many of them, of course, came courtesy of Jerome Harrison. Sure, Harrison had shown promise at the end of 2004, but could anyone not named Jerome Harrison honestly have expected him to lead the nation with a school-record 1,900 rushing yards?

It was an honor to have a front row seat to see Harrison's exploits. And it didn't take long for him to get things started. On the Cougars' very first play of the year, against Idaho, he ran 80 yards for a touchdown.

Many times he surpassed 100 yards by the end of the first quarter. Most impressive was that touchdown run against UCLA. With one last defender to clear before the goal line, Harrison somehow came to a complete stop, sucked his gut in, zigged to the right and burst into the end zone.

Despite the numerous close losses, Coug fans kept rooting. Here fans give some noise early in October's game against UCLA.

Maybe it's because I was covering the Cougs as opposed to yelling in the stands, or maybe it's the upcoming new chapter in my life (marriage and a move to Iowa) that changed my perspective.

When you step back and look at something other than bottom-line results, things brighten considerably.

Is there anything better than the roar of Martin Stadium on a key play?

Or Glenn Johnson's booming voice proclaiming "And that's another…"

Or the thrill of seeing the Cougar flag flying every Saturday on ESPN's Gameday?

Two oft-criticized Cougs, Alex Brink and Trandon Harvey, celebrate after coming up huge at the Apple Cup. Harvey caught a pass late from Brink and scampered in for the game-winning score. The play ended Harvey's star-crossed Cougar career on the highest of high notes, while also making Brink the first WSU QB to win back-to-back Apple Cups.

And how about Trandon Harvey's doghouse-to-penthouse Apple Cup story?

THE DRIVE TO PULLMAN isn't the most fun in the world. From where I live, it's 650 miles roundtrip, with about 300 of those miles on Highway 26, voted favorite highway in the world by, well, nobody.

The distance to Pullman was one of the things I liked about WSU when choosing a college to attend. Driving the distance five times in about 10 weeks? Yeah, not quite so fun.

But while it would be nice if Pullman was just a tad (say 200 miles) closer, the drive isn't all that bad. You get to pass through Dusty, and recall the Jason Gesser ‘Gess who?' Heisman campaign banner that once proudly hung there on the side of a grain elevator.

Butch wants to be sure that everyone knows about the "twelfth man" at Washington State -- the Cougar Faithful.

You get to see plenty of farmland, and be reminded that great players like Will Derting have come from such fields.

A little east of Othello (RE: speed trap) there is the barn with "GO COUGS!" in huge letters.

Of course, that's to say nothing of the garage sales in Hooper and the chance to stop in Washtucna.

Sure, schools like UCLA and UDub are far less remote. But honestly, does Seattle match Pullman for charm, even when the Space Needle is painted crimson and gray?

The WSU Spirit Squad get the crowd fired up for the Seattle game against Grambling State.

Yes, WSU goes against big city programs like USC. But on the drives to Pullman, I kept getting this image in my mind.

It's the image of a grandma knitting in her favorite living room chair, listening to Bob Rob and Walden do the play-by-play of her boys on the field.

This grandma watched the Cougs when she went there, and when her sons and grandsons played there. She remembers going to the games in Spokane, and the excitement of games returning to Pullman.

She's the type of fan who might get disappointed by a bad play, but knows her boys are doing their best. She may question a call by the coaches, but still supports them without fail. After all, these are her Cougs.

Coug fans had plenty to cheer about during this year's Apple Cup.

No matter how much money flows around the program, this is still the program in a small Palouse town where young men not only learn a game, they learn how to become responsible adults under the guidance of fatherly coaches like Bill Doba. These young men play in a stadium filled with local families that enjoy living in a small family-friendly town.

This grandma knows just how special Pullman is, how it never leaves you, and how great it is to run into a fellow Coug at the store and say "Go Cougs!" with a smile on her face.

No matter the record, she tunes in every week to hear Bob Robertson, just like the old days. To her, those old days were good. And so are the current ones, because she gets to listen to her Cougs give it their all.

Know any fans like her?

Editor's note: Unless the gods of football destiny pull out a fast one, this story from our talented friend Craig Murphy will be his last for CF.C. He's moving to Iowa with his new bride -- and Iowa's just too far a commute to be covering the Cougs. His work for us this season, especially with that magical camera of his, was nothing less than supreme. Thanks Craig. All the best in the land of Hawkeyes and Cyclones.

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