July 11, 2002
DUSTY, Wash. (AP) - Washington State University, spoofing its rural image, launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for quarterback Jason Gesser on Tuesday by placing a giant photo of him on the side of a grain elevator.
It's a lighthearted poke at rival Oregon's campaign last season for quarterback Joey Harrington, whose 10-story likeness adorned the side of a Manhattan skyscraper.
"I would have liked to have it a little bit bigger, Cougars coach Mike Price joked of the 25-by-15-foot vinyl banner of Gesser that was dwarfed by the 10-story, 100,000-bushel concrete grain elevator.
Although his head is very big on the LaCrosse Grain Growers Dusty Elevator, Gesser said he's not letting the Heisman hype swell his ego.
"I'm going to do the things I've always done and do whatever I can do to help this team win games, he said as dozens of reporters and Cougars fans clustered around him across the street from the elevator.
It was Price who came up with the idea to put a larger-than-life Gesser on the side of a barn in the middle of the Palouse, Washington state's dryland wheat-growing region.
Rod Commons, WSU sports information director, suggested the grain elevator in Dusty, about 40 miles west of Pullman on the route that Seattle-area students take to WSU.
Commons said the WSU Athletics Department spent about $2,500 on two of the banners that say: "Gess Who 4 Heisman? Jason Gesser over a photograph of the senior quarterback throwing a pass. Oregon spent 100 times that much in its unsuccessful campaign to get the Heisman into Harrington's hands.
Gesser, who threw for more than 3,000 yards and had 26 touchdowns last season, is the first WSU Heisman hopeful since quarterback Ryan Leaf left after his junior year in 1998. That year, sports writers were mailed a single leaf.
The Cougars finished with a No. 13 ranking and a 10-2 record last season after defeating Purdue in the Sun Bowl.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Gesser appeared to take the campaign in stride.
"Hopefully it'll be something good we can look back on and something that we can laugh at, he said.
Price said he has told Gesser's teammates that they will see the quarterback's picture a lot this season, and that Gesser represents them.
Gesser said his teammates have taken up the Heisman mantra.
"I get teased a lot. 'Gess who? Gess who?' I take grief every day, he said. "When I throw a pass that misses, they say `Gess who drilled that pass?'
Commons said the WSU campaign is not meant to denigrate Oregon's efforts last season.
"We have a lot of respect for what Oregon has done with its program, coming up with consistently good teams, he said. "We think we are on the cusp of that, too.
Gesser said he thought Price was joking when he broached the idea after spring drills.
"I went to Rod's office and saw the picture they were going to use and I said, `You guys are serious about this?'
The campaign sat well with a couple dozen Cougars boosters who drove to Dusty to see crews put up the banner.
"We live in Pullman, so how could we not come? asked Alice Davis, a football season ticket holder. "Whoever thought of something like this is a genius.