Thompson: It's time to retire No. 17

JACK THOMPSON, WSU's legendary Throwin' Samoan, launched a campaign last week in Seattle at the first-ever Night at The Village Pub. With 150 Cougar partisans gathered at this popular spot in the heart of Huskyville, the record-setter from the 70s fired a message as clear and accurate as any of the 601 passes he completed while on the Palouse: It's time to retire Jason Gesser's jersey.

Gesser himself, was standing just a few feet away, and clearly had no idea Thompson was going to let fly with this grand idea.

Ol' No. 17 offered up a sheepish smile of embarrassment.

Red faced or not, facts are facts, as Thompson explained.

"Back-to-back 10-win seasons, the 2003 Rose Bowl, an incredible leader," Thompson said in support of his proposal. "Jason Gesser is the greatest quarterback who ever played at Washington State."

At a school nicknamed Quarterback U for all the right reasons – namely, Goddard, Thompson, Rypien, Rosenbach, Bledsoe, Leaf and others – such a claim is no doubt a lofty one.

Moreover, in the 111 years football has been played in Pullman, only two players have had their numbers retired: Hall of Fame center Mel Hein (7) from the 1930s and the one and only Jack Thompson (14).


But the case for retiring Gesser's jersey is indeed a powerful one. He is the winningest quarterback in school history, with 24 victories as a starter. He is the only Cougar ever elected team captain three straight years. He also happens to be the most prolific passer ever to set foot on campus, firing for 8,830 career yards and 70 touchdowns. He took more snaps and completed more passes than anyone who ever wore crimson and gray. And he finished No. 7 in Heisman Trophy balloting.

For me, though, the capstone to his renown is grit and determination. This guy was as gutty as they come. And no game showed it more than the one that clinched the Cougars' Rose Bowl berth his senior year. Gesser couldn't even walk without pain, the victim of a high ankle sprain suffered against Washington two weeks earlier, yet there he was in the final game of the regular season orchestrating the Cougs to a cathartic 48-27 win at UCLA that punched the ticket back to Pasadena.

Not that WSU athletic director Jim Sterk is counting, but judging from the reaction of the Cougar faithful listening to Thompson's suggestion last week, the move to retire No. 17 would be welcomed with enthusiasm.

Gesser, who took the stage immediately after Thompson, quipped that his aim at WSU was simply to fulfill a request he received from Mark Rypien upon arrival in Pullman back in 1998: "Don't disgrace my old number!"

Jason, who is now working as quarterbacks coach at Federal Way High until his Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League suit up again in January, also reiterated his long-stated career goal of one day coaching the Cougars.

HAT'S OFF TO WSU alum Erin Doss and frequent CF.C message board poster Cougrrrr (he didn't want his real name used). Part of the Night at The Village Pub included the chance to have your photo taken with Ol' Crimson, the Cougar flag that shows up on ESPN GameDay every Saturday during football season. In exchange for the pic, we asked for a $5 donation to the Ol' Crimson Booster Club. Erin and Cougrrrr tossed in $100 each.

The crowd at the event spanned the demographic spectrum – a fact readily apparent when Thompson and Gesser arrived together. All the 40-somethings said, "Hey, there's Jack Thompson," while all the 20-somethings instantly muttered, "Look, Jason Gesser is here."

Jack and Jason proved to be as cordial and gracious as we've always known them to be. They patiently signed every ball, poster and football card given away as door prizes. Ironically, one of the winners of a WSU quarterbacks legends poster was Jeff Morgan, father of WSU sophomore QB Cole Morgan.

By the way, if you haven't visited The Village Pub, you ought to. Located in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle, the walls are covered with Cougar football and basketball memorabilia. Owner Matt Baker, a WSU product, is moving things to a bigger space across the street in October (when we hope to have another Night) and plans to have tabletops depicting Martin Stadium, Friel Court and the Rose Bowl. The prototype I saw was downright slick.

Thanks to one and all who helped make our first Night such an enjoyable success.

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