By Jason Krump
Earl Brenneis still has the desire to play.
The former Cougar fullback was attending the Dad's Weekend game vs. Oregon State, Oct. 12, and, while in The Club Premium Seating Building waiting for kickoff, a thought occurred to him.
"I got a year of eligibility left," says Brenneis, at the young age of 91.
"I should get a hold of Coach Leach," he adds with a wry smile.
Brenneis played for the Cougars from 1941-42 and had one more year of football to look forward to, but World War II changed his, and everyone's, plans.
After the 1942 season, football was suspended at Washington State College, not to return until 1945.
Though Brenneis' Washington State career ended prematurely, his love for the school has endured.
Brenneis arrived at WSU from the little town of Onalaska, Wash.
"No one knew me," he remembers.
But Brenneis high school coach knew his talent, and wrote a letter to legendary Washington State coach Babe Hollingbery on his behalf.
"I got a letter from him saying that he is only interested in good athletes and good students," Brenneis recalls.
Hollingbery invited Brenneis to try out. He made the freshman squad and his performance was worthy enough to be invited to spring practice to make the varsity team, which he did.
The 1941 season concluded vs. Texas A&M at Tacoma in a game billed as the “Evergreen Bowl.”
The game was played, Saturday, Dec. 6, 1941.
The Cougars fell in a hard-fought 7-0 defeat in front of nearly 30,000 fans. However, the significance of the loss was soon overshadowed by the significance of what happened the next day.
“We caught the train that night,” Brenneis remembers. “We woke up in the morning and somebody went through and Pearl Harbor was bombed.
“I remember someone said, ‘Where’s Pearl Harbor?’
“Next morning we knew.”
As the 1942 season began, the players, and Coach Hollingbery, knew this would be the final season for awhile.
"This is probably the last year any of the present WSC football squad will have a chance to play as a Cougar team and I want them to enjoy, as well as win," Hollingbery was quoted in the Evergreen, the campus newspaper.
Playing fullback, Brenneis 1942 season started off on an enjoyable note.
He scored the lone touchdown in the Cougars' 6-0 season-opening win at Stanford.
The Evergreen's account read: “Right half Jay Stoves flipped a short toss to Earl Brenneis who gathered it in, swerved past a couple of tacklers and ran over unmolested.”
"I remember that one," Brenneis says proudly, over seven decades since that game.
And his recollection is similar to The Evergreen's account.
"For one thing I didn’t know if I was going to make the traveling squad because I hurt my knee in practice," he explains. "On the way down doc wrapped me up and I got in.
"It was a pass play to me. I can still picture the back coming to tackle me and, 'Oh boy here’s goes my knee.' I stopped in mid-air and he went under me."
The win propelled WSC to the cusp of a Rose Bowl berth. But a tie vs. Washington erased those dreams.
"We tied Washington and that knocked us out of things," he remembers.
The Cougars had one final game, at Texas A&M. But the tie at Washington and travel problems to Texas let the air out of the team.
"There was a train delay and we missed our connection to Denver and was late getting into San Antonio."
After football, Brenneis left for the war.
"When we were drafted we left from here," Brenneis says, referring to Pullman. "I didn’t have to, but this is home to me."
He served in the Pacific in Saipan, Okinawa, and Korea. And then he returned to the States.
And on Dad's Weekend, he returned to his home.
"I made a remark to our granddaughter, 'Boy I would like to go back and see that new stadium," he says. "The bells started ringing, things happened, and here I am.
"This is my home."