The Sporting News dispatched columnist Matt Hayes all the way to Pullman to spend the entire day with Saint Mike, from early in the morning right through the post-game locker room pep talk. The result was a brilliant story in this week's TSN about the day in the life of a college head coach. (In case you missed it, here's the link: www.sportingnews.com/voices/matt_hayes/20021107.html
Hayes wasn't the only national columnist in Pullman last week. Dennis Dodd, the senior college football writer for CBS' Sportsline also penned a snappy piece about the game, marveling at the Cougars' ability to rise above the Ira Davis fracas as well as the plethora of injuries that have plagued the 2002 Cougars.
Dodd notes, rightly, that if this team gets to the Rose Bowl, it will do so in a much different way than the 1997 Cougars, who were basically injury free from start to finish. So far this season, 38 players have been in WSU's starting line up.
And the list goes on.
The Washington Post on Thursday ran a lengthy feature story on Jason Gesser, his unrivaled leadership skills and his unlikely road to Heisman contention. And Sports Illustrated this week devoted a two-page color spread to an incredible, up-close shot of Jerome Riley's magical endzone grab last week against ASU's Brett Hudson
Oh, to be a winner.
There was a time not all that long ago when it seemed that the Spokesman-Review, Lewiston Morning Tribune, CF.C, Brand X and perhaps the Tacoma News Tribune were the only folks paying attention to Ol' Wazzu.
Today, you can hardly pick up an SI or TSN or click on ESPN.com without getting some commentary about the Cougars.
"And the two Seattle papers are covering the Cougars like you can't believe --- copy, photos and statistics. It's really something else," marvels CF.C associate editor Pat Mitchell. "This is whole season is crimson nirvana when it comes to publicity."
Heck, Keith Jackson is making back-to-back trips to his alma mater for ABC. That's unheard of. So was the 177 media credentials WSU issued for last week's game.
As George C. Scott so memorably reminded us in Patton, America loves a winner.
America also loves underdogs. So when you have an underdog, whether perceived or real, who also wins, you have a recipe for cooking up a national media darling.
Mike Price and the 2002 Cougars are the toast of college football right now. Everyone else in the top 5 has been there before. The Cougars are something new and refreshing for the national writers. They play in a unique town for a unique coach and their quarterback does his best when his ribs are throbbing.
Truly, it doesn't get much better.
Oh, to be a winner. Oh, to be a winner with quirks.
These Cougars are shaping us as America's team. A victory against nemesis Oregon and nationally reknown Onterrio Smith on Saturday and the national glare will burn even brighter.
So the next time you see some guy in civilian clothes marching up and down the Cougar sidelines, rest assured it's no a body guard for Saint Mike, but merely the New York Times or Chicago Tribune out to explain one of the great stories of the college football season.
NOTES FOR SATURDAY'S GAME:
THE LINE: Cougars by 5 1/ 2
THE TEAMS: The Cougars are 8-1 (5-0 conference) and ranked No. 5 in the nation. The Ducks are 7-2 (3-2) and ranked 15th. Oregon has won four straight vs. WSU to take a 37-35-7 series lead. Before Oregon's four-game win streak WSU took three of four games.
KICKOFF: 12:30 PT in front of a sold-out Martin Stadium crowd. Live regional TV coverage by ABC, with Jackson and Dan Fouts on the call.