Movie countdown: Who is No. 1 in WSU history?

THE VOTES ARE COUNTED, but Jeff McQuarrie isn't talking -- at least not much. He will tell you the race to determine the greatest Cougar football team of all time is as close as an Ali-Frazier fight. And he freely shares the names of the top five contenders for this unofficial title. But to learn which one is THE ONE, you'll have to see his soon-to-be-released feature film, Legends of the Palouse.

The movie, a riveting three-volume DVD treasure, will debut with sneak previews around the state in September and go on sale at at the same time.

For the last four years, McQuarrie, a Washington State graduate, has devoted the better part of his life to researching, writing, interviewing, filming and editing -- all in the name of the colorful history, characters and games of Cougar football. His film includes marvelous old game footage, the best of Bob Robertson, original music, dramatic reenactments, and interviews with everyone from Jim Sweeney and Keith Jackson to Drew Bledsoe and Marcus Trufant.

McQuarrie also enlisted an expert panel of judges, plus nearly 800 readers of who participated in a poll, to help him with one of the film's subplots: ranking the 15 greatest Cougar teams in the 111 years football has been played on the Palouse.

McQuarrie weighed the vote equally, 50/50, between the experts, led by WSU sports historian Dick Fry and legendary baseball coach Bobo Brayton, and the fans who voted online. "The thing that struck me most was how closely the fans mirorred the experts. I think that says a lot about how astute Cougar fans are," McQuarrie said. "But there was definitely some divergence when it came to picking No. 1. The experts were unanimous in who it should be and the fans spoke clearly in another direction."

Mix it all together, he says, and you have the closest election this side of Bush and Gore.

"We have no hanging chads, but we do have a cliffhanger," he quips.

McQuarrie won't give a hint as to the outcome. Doing his best to take a page from Hollywood, however, he offers up a teaser. "Five teams stand out from the rest," he discloses. "In chronological order, they are 1915, 1930, 1997, 2002 and 2003. That's all I'm going to say until the film comes out."

Each of those clubs brings sterling credentials to the claim of No. 1:

Coached by storied Lone Star Dietz, this is the only undefeated and untied team in WSU's history. It's also the school's sole Rose Bowl winner. The team played in an era before polls, but research shows the club has a legitimate claim to the 1915 national championship. Outscored opponents 204 to 10.

Coached by legendary Babe Hollingbery and anchored by two of the greatest linemen in college football history, Mel Hein and Turk Edwards, these Cougars put together a perfect 9-0 regular season, which included big wins over USC and UW. Played played Alabama in the Rose Bowl.

WSU's first Rose Bowl team since Hollingbery, the Mike Price-coached unit opened the year with dramatic wins over UCLA and USC and then clinched the Pac-10 title in a nailbiter at Washington. Quaterback Ryan Leaf and the Fab Five receiving corps of Chris Jackson & Co. paced the record-setting offense while linemen Leon Bender and Dorian Boose led the stingy D. Finished 10-2, losing a conroversial Rose Bowl heartbreaker to national champion Michigan.

The Cougars' third 10-win team under Price, they climbed as high as No. 3 in the nation late in the season. An o - vertime win over Carson Palmer and USC proved the difference maker in getting WSU to another Rose Bowl. Quarterback Jason Gesser, a top 10 finisher for the Heisman Trophy, and All-American lineman Derrick Roche starred on offense, while the D was anchored by All-Americans Rien Long and Marcus Trufant.

In Bill Doba's inaaugural year as head coach, the Cougars put together their third consecutive 10-win season, capped by a thunderous upset of Texas in the Holiday Bowl. Led by a tenacious defense featuring Will Derting, Erik Coleman and D.D. Acholonu, they won six straight after a heartbreaker at Notre Dame.

BOTTOM LINE, THESE five contenders make for a showdown of the ages.

"This was more challenging than I imagined," said CF.C managing editor John Witter, who was part of the expert panel. "It's tough to compare teams from different eras because the game has changed so much. You also want to make sure you're not dismissing the older teams because your mind is so full of the techni-color moments of the last 25 or 30 years.

"By the same token, you have to guard against the possibility you're canonizing the older teams because of all the lore surrounding them --- think about the 1930 team, for instance. Hollingbery, the head coach, is in the College Hall of Fame and its two biggest stars (Hein and Edwards) are in the College and Pro Football halls of fame."

McQuarrie's film runs close to four hours. He'll count down to the top 15 team of all time with profiles on each, starting with No. 15 and concluding at film's end with No. 1.

Mike Monahan, a Cougar defensive back and punter in the late 60s and early 70s, knows McQuarrie's work well. The two collaborated last year on a video salute to WSU's 1965 Cardiac Kids (a team, by the way, that is rated among the 15 greatest in school history).

"I've seen several segments of 'Legends of the Palouse,' and all I can say is that it'll give you goosebumps," Monohan said. "This idea of ranking the top 15 teams in history is a fun twist. For that reason alone, I can hardly wait for the movie to come out."

The three-set DVD -- which will be sold in three phases starting next month -- contains bonus features, including an interview with McQuarrie and Cougar-related music videos. To watch clips and to pre-order a copy, click to Sneak preview events are planned for Spokane, Seattle, Tri-Cities and Portland and will soon be posted on the web-site,

The silver screen isn't the only place where the glory of the Cougars will be featured this fall. A fascinating new book about the life and times of Lone Star Dietz is hot off the presses. The author, Tom Benjey, will be holding a series of talks about the legendary Cougar coach throughout the state of Washington from Sept. 5-11. The book is called Keep A Goin'.

His schedule is as follows:
10 a.m. - September 5, WSU Spokane's Bookie
7 p.m. - September 7, Book and Game, 38 E Main, Walla Walla
3 p.m. - September 8, The Bookie, Too!, in Pullman
10 a.m. - September 9, The Bookie in Pullman
4 p.m. - September 10, Elliott Bay Book Company, Pioneer Square, Seattle

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