Dec. 14, 2007
By Jason Krump
A 10-1 record, winning the Apple Cup, and earning the program's first Rose Bowl appearance in 67 years apparently wasn't impressive enough to sway many pollsters regarding Washington State's standing among the nation's best teams.
The day following their rousing Apple Cup victory, the Cougars moved up one spot to No. 10 in both polls.
Although WSU could now call itself a top-10 team once again, the Cougars were the lowest ranked 10-1 team in the coaches poll and only a 10-1 Kansas State team, which was ranked 11th, was ranked lower than the Cougars in the media poll. Additionally, the Cougars were ranked well below a 9-2 UCLA team that was sixth in the AP and seventh in the coaches poll.
"Yesterday was Rodney's Dangerfield's birthday - it sure fits right with us," Mike Price said in a conference call with reporters the Sunday evening following the Apple Cup.
Eventually, by the end of the month, the Cougars would establish an all-time high ranking when they moved up to seventh in the Nov. 30 coaches poll and eighth in the AP poll.
With the Pac-10 season completed, the Cougars established Pac-10 single-season records for total yards (5,524), passing yards (3,789), and average yards per play (6.8).
A major factor in setting those records was Ryan Leaf, who put up a number of marks of his own. Leaf broke conference single-season records for most touchdown passes (33), total offense (3,583 yards), and yards passing (3,637).
While Leaf broke many records, there was one thing he didn't break, and he and the Cougars were thankful for it. The quarterback received good news on the Monday following the Apple Cup when X-rays showed no sign of a fracture or broken bone on his right thumb.
While swollen and black and blue, the time off in between the Apple Cup and Rose Bowl allowed the thumb to heal, along with the other injuries that had nagged Leaf throughout the season.
"At the Rose Bowl I felt pretty healthy; we had a lot of time off to get prepared and get ready to roll," Leaf said.
On Tuesday, Nov. 24, Leaf and the Cougars began to reap the rewards of their historic season when the Pac-10 announced its end-of-the-season accolades. Heading the honoree list was Price, who was named Coach of the Year, and Leaf as Offensive Player of the Year.
Leaf and Leon Bender were named to the All-Pac-10 first team; however, they were the only Cougars who earned spots on the team. Curiously, Washington, a team that finished fourth in the conference, placed seven players on the first team.
Six Cougars (Michael Black, Jason McEndoo, Cory Withrow, Dorian Boose, Duane Stewart, and Jeff Banks) were named to the second team while nine other Cougars were honorable mention selections (Shane Doyle, Steve Gleason, Brandon Moore, Chris Jackson, Shawn McWashington, Kevin McKenzie, Dee Moronkola, Shawn Tims, and Brad Philley).
In addition to their Pac-10 accolades, Leaf and Bender also earned AP All-American honors. The Pac-10 and AP awards just scratched the surface of postseason honors for Leaf. He was named the recipient of the Sammy Baugh Trophy and was a finalist of the Davey O'Brien Award and the Maxwell Award.
Furthermore, Leaf was also named a finalist for college football's most revered award, the Heisman Trophy, along with Peyton Manning, Charles Woodsen and Randy Moss.
Leaf and Price traveled to Orlando for the College Football Awards show and though Leaf missed out on the O'Brien and Maxwell Awards to Manning, Price was the recipient of the inaugural Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award and accepted it from Robinson himself.
Days later at the Heisman ceremony, Leaf finished third in the balloting with 861 points, behind Manning (1,543 points) and Michigan's Woodsen, who won the Heisman with 1,815 points.
"It was our first time to a big bowl like that and Coach Price let us enjoy it. But he got us ready to play."
The Heisman ceremony completed the award's season and now it was time for the Cougars to set their sights on the task at hand. WSU arrived in California on Dec. 20 a healthy team, so healthy in fact, that trainer Mark Smaha did not submit an injury report.
The Cougars set-up their headquarters in Santa Monica and would practice at a venue that just a few months ago represented a nightmare but now held only great memories for the team, the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Ironically, three months after defeating USC at Los Angeles for the first time since 1957, the Cougars now called the Trojans' stadium home.
"We practiced at the Coliseum and our locker room for two weeks was USC's locker room," Ryan McShane said.
"Being at the Coliseum really worked out well for us," Sports Information Director Rod Commons said. "It was a familiar place, and we had success there. We had a tremendous media turnout everyday. Our practices were open and our coaches and kids were available."
While the Coliseum served as a lineage to the erasing of an inglorious history for WSU, Price brought in a linkage to the past and created a bridge between Rose Bowl appearances.
Myron Davis, 89, a halfback on the 1931 Rose Bowl Team who lived in the region and one of only seven still living from that team, addressed the 1997 Cougars before their morning practice on Dec. 26.
In addition to making his players aware of the historic significance of the game, Price, as is his philosophy for all bowl games, made sure his players enjoyed the experience without sacrificing the preparation for the game.
"It was hard to put that into words, it feels like it went so fast," McShane recalled. "We got treated like royalty and it was definitely an experience of a lifetime."
"I remember having a great time with the team," Steve Gleason said. "Coach Price was very cool letting us go out and enjoy ourselves. No one got into trouble, which is a testament to the maturity on the team."
Gleason recalled one moment that particularly stood out for him.
"One of my best memories was on Christmas Day," he said. "There were dozen of guys who weren't from California so they didn't have anywhere to go. We ended up talking about it and said `We got to do something.' "
"Here I am 20 years old and I haven't been without my family on Christmas Day ever," Gleason added. "We ended up getting a huge group of us and going to Disneyland for Christmas and it was just great. It got our minds off the fact that we were a long way from home for Christmas. That was one of my best memories from that trip."
"It was our first time to a big bowl like that and Coach Price let us enjoy it," Leaf said. "But he got us ready to play."
While Price let the players enjoy this experience, he didn't hesitate to enjoy the experience himself.
"I remember Mike's comment when he went down for the pre-Rose Bowl press conference in Pasadena," Commons said. "He said, `Hell froze over today.' Because the standing joke around the Palouse was the Cougars will go to the Rose Bowl when hell freezes over."
"We walked off the bus and there were thousands of fans in this plaza. We had no idea what was going on because Coach Price surprised us. There were thousands of fans erupting as we walked in. It was very cool to have that kind of support."
No one could confirm if hell froze over or not, but one thing was without debate. The combination of WSU's first Rose Bowl appearance in nearly seven decades with Michigan, the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, made the Rose Bowl a must-see event.
Just two days after the Apple Cup, the WSU Athletic Department placed Rose Bowl tickets on sale, with priority given to season ticket holders and donors.
"For alumni and boosters, people who have supported the program for so long, you kind of hit the pot of gold," said Commons. "There were people who said, `I don't care if we win another football game, we've been to the Rose Bowl in my lifetime.' The tickets that year were the most in-demand Rose Bowl ticket in history."
WSU ticket allotment was just over 35,000, and by mid-afternoon, nearly that many calls had been made through the ticket office phone number, 1-800-GO-COUGS.
As the game drew nearer, tickets, which had a face value of $75, were going for 10 times that from scalpers.
Jack French, chief executive of the Tournament of Roses, was quoted as saying that the demand for game tickets was the strongest he had seen in 17 years.
WSU fans' passion for the game showed itself at a rally during Rose Bowl week.
"We walked off the bus and there were thousands of fans in this plaza," Gleason said. "We had no idea what was going on because Coach Price surprised us. There were thousands of fans erupting as we walked in. It was very cool to have that kind of support."
No doubt the majority of fans at the rally would be in the Rose Bowl Stadium, New Year's Day to lend their support for WSU as it took on an 11-0 Michigan Wolverine team.
Despite their No. 1 ranking, the Wolverines were not the only undefeated team in the nation, as No. 2 Nebraska also held that distinction. Playing an opponent ranked in the bottom portion of the top 10 may have elicited a disdain for the Cougars that wasn't too hard to detect.
"They were upset; they wanted to play somebody better to win their national championship," Bill Doba recalled. "That is the way they acted. They were afraid if they won they wouldn't get the national championship."
From the national polls to their Rose Bowl opponent, it was just another example of the lack of respect perceived by the Cougars. All it did was provide extra motivation leading into New Year's Day.
"We were the story of the season, everybody knew what was going on with Washington State," Leaf said, "They were undefeated, but it was our opportunity to knock off No. 1 team in the country."
Relive the Roses
- Chapter 1: Motivation
- Chapter 2: Fourth and Roses to Go
- Chapter 3: The Catch. The Block. Vanquishing History.
- Chapter 4: The Nation Begins to Take Notice
- Chapter 5: Fabulous!
- Chapter 6: Getting Defensive
- Chapter 7: 63 and 6-0
- Chapter 8: In Elite Company
- Chapter 9: Fumble, Then a Recovery
- Chapter 10: Stepping Up to the Challenge
- Chapter 11: Memories of a Memorable Man
- Chapter 12: Confidence
- Chapter 13: A Storybook Championship
- Chapter 14: Leading up to New Year's Day
- Chapter 15: A Block that Lent a Great Assist
- Chapter 16: A Game 67 Years in the Making
- Chapter 17: Playing No. 1 to a Deadlock
- Chapter 18: To the Final Snap