By Jason Krump
Dave Minnich stood outside the tunnel. Ahead of him lay the Martin Stadium field, behind, his energized Cougar Football teammates, waiting to unleash two weeks of pent-up fury.
Surrounding him were thousands of cheering fans.
Above the din, Minnich, who served in the Marines from 1994 to 1998, heard a member of the WSU ROTC say, "Make us proud."
"That was the last thing I heard and out we went," Minnich remembers.
It was Sept. 22, 2001, 11 days after the September 11 attacks, and the Cougars were returning to competition for the first time since playing at Boise State on Sept. 8. As part of WSU's pregame observances, a player would lead the team out of the field carrying the American Flag.
In normal circumstances, Minnich, as one of four team captains, along with Jason Gesser, Jeremy Thielbahr, and Billy Newman, stepped onto the field before the rest of the team to meet with the officials.
For this reason, another former Marine on the roster, Wendell Smith, was to have the honor of leading the team out.
But Smith was injured the week of the game and would not dress.
That's when Coach Mike Price turned to Minnich.
"It was Wednesday or Thursday when Coach Price told me about the flag," Minnich says. "Coach asked me if I would bring the flag out."
It was an easy decision for him.
"Of course I'll bring the flag out, I'll do anything for that flag," Minnich says. "I'll carry it out, I'll drag it out, I'll staple it to my back and run out with it. It doesn't matter.
"I love that flag."
So as Gesser, Thielbahr, and Newman left for the field, Minnich stayed behind with his teammates.
"There I am standing in the tunnel with the flag and I ran out on the field with it."
Minnich learned of the attacks when his wife woke him up on that Tuesday morning informing him that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.
"I turned on the TV right when they had the footage of one of the planes hitting the building," Minnich recalls. "Then I heard about the Pentagon, which was more personal to me."
That afternoon, Price held practice, but made it optional for the players.
"I think most of us were there," Minnich says, "We had a game in four days that we still had to prepare for, but I don't think anybody's head was really into what we were doing at the moment."
The Cougars were scheduled to host Colorado that Saturday but two days after the attacks, the game was canceled, as was all athletic events that weekend.
"I was a kind of upset about that," Minnich said of not playing. "We cope with things in a different way. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to hit somebody not on my team to cope."
Minnich and the Cougars had the opportunity to cope when they took the field against Cal, and did so by dismantling the Bears, 51-20.
"I was happy to be playing again because I really wanted to hit somebody," remembers Minnich, who ran for 69 yards and one touchdown. "I think we were all happy to be out there hitting someone else."
The win improved the Cougars to 3-0 and propelled them to a 10-2 mark, culminating in a win over Purdue in the Sun Bowl. It would be the first of three consecutive 10-win seasons for the program.
"Those were the two best years of my life," Minnich says of his WSU career. "I got to play Division I football in a stadium in front of thousands of people, which is what I always wanted to do, and my kids got to watch me do it."
A decade later, Minnich not only watches his kids play high school football in Rhode Island, but coaches them as well.
And as the nation commemorates the decade that has passed since the events of Sept. 11, Minnich has nothing out of the ordinary planned to remember that day.
Because he remembers every day.
"I don't think anything special of the anniversary because I have never forgotten it. I don't need the yearly reminders because I don't ever forget about that day."