By Jason Krump
An air of optimism filled the bus ride from the Washington State University campus to Spokane during the morning of Nov. 22, 1963.
"Everyone was really animated and looking forward to the game," Bill Gaskins, a sophomore halfback on the 1963 Cougar Football team, recalled 50 years later. "We had a good week of practice and were really up.
"We had a great bus ride to Spokane."
Though the Cougars were 3-5-1 and experienced their share of struggles throughout the season, a 32-15 victory at Stanford a week earlier had the team's confidence level soaring heading into the Apple Cup at Seattle.
"We were sky high," remembered Blain Eliot, a senior tackle on the team. "We were ready."
And then, while exiting the bus to have lunch in Spokane, they first learned the news.
"Our trainer, Dick Vandervoort, said, 'President Kennedy just got shot,'" recalled Eliot.
Vandervoort was known to be a practical joker, and players initially did not take him seriously.
"We said, 'Dick, that's not funny,'" said Eliot. "He said, 'No, I'm serious.'"
A television was brought into the restaurant, and the players' attention was devoted to watching the developing news story rather than eating.
"The first thing that came to mind is the President is shot, but you hope he survives," remembered Dean Kalahar, senior center and team captain.
Those hopes were dashed when Walter Cronkite delivered the news.
"Everything was kind of surreal after that," said Kalahar.
"It was awful."
The Cougars continued with the trip, boarding the plane to Seattle and traveling to the stadium for a walk-through.
It was at 3:30 p.m. they received word the Apple Cup would be postponed to the following Saturday, Nov. 30.
The team returned to Pullman that night, with emotions much different than when they left that morning.
And plans for the upcoming days changed from going home for Thanksgiving to one more week of practice.
Though classes at WSU were scheduled until noon on Wednesday, the population was rapidly dwindling as students were exiting Pullman for the holiday.
"It was a lonely place," said Kalahar. "You had the feeling we were the only people still there."
"We came back to campus and nobody was on campus," said Eliot. "We were there by ourselves. Then you turn on the TV and it was all about Kennedy. It was negative, negative, negative."
"Very, very lonely," recalled Gaskins. "It was a quiet place."
Though the date of the Apple Cup had changed, the stakes had not. The Huskies were playing for a Rose Bowl berth. The Cougars the Apple Cup.
But the emotions that had accompanied them on the bus ride to Spokane the previous Friday morning no longer existed.
Though it didn't seem that way initially.
The Cougars started strong. On their opening drive they moved from their own 27 to the Husky five-yard line.
But Washington denied the Cougars' scoring chance and WSU would not threaten again, four turnovers proving to be their undoing.
"We just played flat," said Eliot. "Football is such a game of emotion. You got to get up to get beat up."
"I don't know if it would have changed the outcome of the game or not, but I like to think we had the momentum coming in from the game at Stanford," said Kalahar. "It may have rolled into that game and made it more competitive."
"The score was indicative," explained Eliot, who organized a 50-year reunion for the team held in August at the WSU campus. "Washington was better than we were on an even playing field, without us being emotional to be up for that game.
"Had we been up, that 16 points would have been gone in a heartbeat," he added.
What the 1963 Cougars experienced is one of the countless footnotes reflected on as the nation remembers what happened that November weekend a half century ago.
Undoubtably, the Huskies and all the collegiate teams that had games postponed endured similar experiences as the Cougars.
And, undoubtably, they all shared a similar loss.
"It was discouraging because so many of us, being young people, identified with the youngest president," said Kalahar. "It was a sad time."
"Here was a man who was starting to make strides of making everything positive for all of us," Gaskins said.
"Our innocence was lost."