A Price-less Pasadena

PERHAPS I SHOULD wait a few days before writing this commentary. Let that Southern dust settle a bit. Sell some of my Mike Price memorabilia on eBay. Take a couple hundred thousand deep breaths.

But I can't.


Just like I couldn't stop myself back in 1999 when I wrote my first editorial on Coach Price. Sandwiched between a pair of 3-win seasons, I wrote an adulating piece on the man we dubbed "Saint Mike." Despite the tough times, I wrote, the coupling of Price and Washington State was a Union of Destiny:


"The marriage between Mike Price and WSU is beyond perfect. The loyalty, the temperament, the spirit and the integrity of the man and school are mirror images of each other...Washington State and Mike Price have each found the proverbial glass slipper in the other. With Mike Price, the phrase 'dream job' isn't just press conference lip service, but words from the heart."


I mailed a copy of that article to Price back in '99, imagining it might be the sole piece of positive press he'd read on himself for some time. And I emailed him a paraphrased version of that article this past Monday, this time imagining it might be the one extra communique that -- added with the hundreds or thousands he'd already received -- would keep him from getting on that Bama jet.


And to show what a good sport I was, I assured him that whatever path he chose to take, my support and admiration would follow.


I lied.


Of course, I never thought his path would lead to Pasadena by way of Tuscaloosa. I never dreamed the Crimson minus the Gray. I never truly believed our beloved mascot Butch would be trampled by some angry looking elephant with a fat wallet and a private jet.


Allowing Alabama coach Price to helm the Cougs in the Rose Bowl is ludicrous on so many levels but -- first and foremost -- it slights both WSU and Oklahoma players. Price will be the story. Price will be the event. Alabama -- the irony of their bowl ban not lost here -- will be the featured team in this, the Granddaddy of Them All.


Remember the Disneyfication of the Cougs' last visit to the Rose Bowl in '98? If you thought Bob Griese calling color for ABC while his son Brian was quarterbacking Michigan was as nauseatingly melodramatic as it gets, get your barf-bags ready. Imagine All My Children on acid.


Sure, the media will feign an interest in the matchup of WSU's Outland Trophy winner, All-American defensive tackle Rien Long , with Sooner stud back Quentin Griffin (a story line I was writing until becoming too distracted counting the times Price was not officially contacted by Bama AD Mal Moore). And there will be some cursory coverage of Jason Gesser. But we live in a tabloid world where a bizarre turn of events like, say, an SEC coach leading a Pac-10 team against a Big-12 team in the Rose Bowl is just too juicy not to be the primary focus.


Price defended his proposed role in the Cougars' upcoming visit to Pasadena, citing that it's been his lifelong dream to win the Granddaddy, recalling the decades of blood, sweat, and tears he's left on the Palouse, and saying he doesn't care about those who disagree with his coaching in the Rose Bowl.


Well, Coach Price, that Cougar toil has made you a very rich man, filling your bank account with some very old southern money. And we Cougfans know a thing or two about blood, sweat, and tears. Just reference the 1998-2000 seasons. Or, hell, keep it simple and load the last 5 Apple Cups into your VCR. Besides, you cashed in one dream for another. Sorry, one dream per customer.


Yes, it's been just over a day since Price dropped the Bamashell on the Cougar Nation. I'm plenty bitter with Doppler radar showing nothing but continued bitterness in my 5-day forecast. Like virtually all Cougars, I'm angry over the timing, just two weeks shy of perhaps the biggest game in school history. I'm mad Price explained his rebuff of UCLA's overtures by telling Cougar players Pullman was "home" and he wouldn't become a Bruin because "I can't take you with me."


Sounded poetic at the time. Sounds pathetic now.


And I'm angry for selfish personal reasons as well. I'm upset my first trip to this storied bowl has been flooded by this crimson tide. I'm irritated no one is talking about the game. I'm mad our executive editor wrote an article on legendary Cougar coach Lone Star Dietz   -- the only WSU coach to win a Rose Bowl -- that absolutely gave me goose bumps and yet collects dust because we're writing articles on the sudden exit of another legendary Cougar coach. It disturbs me that the Christmas card we sent out showing our 5-year old daughter Lauren holding a Rose Bowl sign now seems, well, not so merry. And the fact that we mailed one to Price just a day before his announcement seems oddly inappropriate now.


But if I dig down deep enough into my den of denial and anger, I realize what truly upsets me most really has nothing to do with Bear Bryant or Pasadena. It has to do with good-byes.


This is not the way I wanted to say good-bye to Mike Price. I wanted parades. I wanted stadiums renamed and monuments erected. At the very least, I wanted Price and the Cougar Nation to affectionately part company the way we did with Cougar basketball coach George Raveling in 1983: A glorious good-bye awash in a sea of Crimson and Gray-hued tears, with shared memories of the good and the bad, when it seemed it really was just us against the world.


Sadly, I have to say good-bye to Mike Price. And I have to say it here and now. Not in Pasadena.








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