Relive the Roses
Oct. 17, 2007
By Jason Krump
With the hard fought 11-point triumph at Oregon, the Cougars moved up to a No. 12 ranking in both polls, the highest the program had been ranked since 1958 (10th).
Following Oregon, WSU was able to enjoy its second and final bye week of the season, but, though the Cougars were absent from the competitive arena for a week, it didn't mean they were away from the national consciousness.
Beginning the Monday of the bye week, media members found in their mail an envelope containing...a leaf.
No, the purpose of the mailing wasn't to promote the fall foliage of the Palouse -- it was to promote the Heisman candidacy of Ryan Leaf.
The idea actually originated from Mike Price, who two years earlier had received a leaf in the mail from an anonymous fan who wanted the then redshirt freshman quarterback to start in place of Chad Davis.
"We decided to put a leaf in a football office envelope, and that was the only connection to WSU on it," Sports Information Director Rod Commons said. "There were no photos or paper inside the envelope, just a leaf."
Commons sent leaves to the Heisman mailing list, which amounted to approximately 500 mailings. As the season progressed, Commons said, the sports information office received numerous phone calls referencing the leaf.
"Most of the feedback was really good," Commons said. "Everybody thought it was very clever. We ended up using it as the kickoff to get people's attention. It worked."
Attention was something that Cougar fans rarely had the opportunity to give the team during the first half of the season. Since their Aug. 30 season opener against UCLA, the Cougars had played in Pullman only once; the 58-0 win over Boise State on Sept. 27.
So when the Cougars returned to the friendly confines of Martin Stadium for their Oct. 18 homecoming game versus California, it was a true homecoming in every sense of the word.
And in California, WSU was facing an opponent they had experienced much success against in recent years. Since 1980, WSU was 10-4-1 against the Golden Bears and had won eight straight games in Pullman.
"For some reason, we had their number," offensive tackle Jason McEndoo said. "We felt good going into that game because we had success against Cal."
"That was a homecoming game for us, and you always get up for a homecoming game," Chris Jackson said.
Two weeks earlier at Oregon, the Cougar offense was stifled to its lowest point total of the season of 24, but, largely in part to a Cal defensive line tendency that was picked up on film, it took the offense just over a quarter to eclipse that total, and then some.
"I don't know how I caught it, but as I was studying film, I picked up their keys, and how they were twisting," McEndoo said. "They were a huge twisting team. When one side did one twist, the other side did the opposite twist, and it was 100 percent when they did it."
What this meant was instead of the Cougar offense running into the teeth of the twist; it ran the other way so the Cal lineman was looping out of the play. In essence, the Cal defense was naturally taking itself out of the play.
"When we saw the key on the field, we automatically flipped the play over and our line calls the other way," he added, "and we were able to do it within just a matter of seconds. Film study paid off."
In addition to the film study, the success of the offensive line in this game and throughout the 1997 season was largely due in part to it being a veteran corp, and staying injury free.
"If you can get a group of guys to play for one another and willing to lay it on the line for the guy next to him, good things happen," McEndoo said. "We had a special group that year.
"Anytime you have the ability to start the season and end the season with the same five guys is pretty rare," McEndoo added. "Sometimes you have to shuffle offensive linemen like a deck of cards, but that year we were fortunate that everybody stayed healthy."
Like their "Fab Five" receiving counterparts, the offensive line was made up of four seniors: McEndoo, Lee Harrison, Cory Withrow, and Ryan McShane as well as one junior: Rob Rainville.
And just as the receiving corp gave themselves the "Fab Five" moniker, the offensive line also game themselves a similar name, sort of...the "Fat Five."
"The receivers were such an eclectic group and they all had great personalities," McEndoo said. "They came up with a cool name so we just said, `Let's just call ourselves the Fat Five.'"
On the field, McEndoo enjoyed sparring with defensive linemen. Off the field, McEndoo, who majored in education, was also an aspiring cartoonist.
"I had drawn a picture of the five of us," McEndoo said. "I showed it to Milton Neal (equipment manager) and before I know it, he got a T-shirt made. That's how the Fat 5 T-shirt came about. Milton told me that they couldn't keep that T-shirt in stock. Everybody wanted one of those T-shirts."
While the group was conveyed as cohesive on a shirt, they were also close in real life.
"We treated each other as brothers and were always sticking up for each other," said McShane,"and we were very competitive. We would always have bets with each other on when a receiver caught the ball who could make it downfield first to knock someone on their butt. Usually Withrow won. Even Fridays before games we would play a 2 on 2 and have Leaf as the all-time quarterback. The right side (Withrow and I) won against the left side, 12-0, for the record."
While the offensive line, along with the rest of the offense, would have plenty of opportunities to score, it was the Cal offense that registered the first score. Less than five minutes into the game, quarterback Justin Vedder connected with receiver Kofi Nartey on a 52-yard touchdown pass. But, in an ominous sign for the Bears, they missed the extra point.
The Bears had taken a 6-0 lead and would score 31 more points in the game; problem was, their next score did not occur until the Cougars had scored 56 unanswered points as the Cougars followed Cal's lead of scoring touchdowns on the big play...eight times.
The scoring barrage began when Michael Black scored on a 24-yard run. Rian Lindell made the extra point and the Cougars were up for good 7-6 with 7:10 remaining in the opening quarter.
Later in the quarter, DeJuan Gilmore sprinted to a 54-yard touchdown, extending the Cougars' lead to 14-6, which they took to the quarter's conclusion.
Less than three minutes into the second quarter, WSU was up 28-6, thanks to a pair of Leaf-Jackson touchdown combinations. The duo took advantage of one-on-one coverage precipitated by a Cal blitz for a 72-yard pass play that gave the Cougars a 21-6 lead with 13:54 remaining.
On Cal's ensuing possession, three plays netted six yards. On fourth down, Nian Taylor, a member of the "Fab Five" receiving corp, came in to block Cal's punt attempt and recovered the ball at the Bears' 14-yard line.
It didn't take long for WSU to take advantage when Leaf connected with Jackson on the drive's first play to extend the lead to 28-6 with 12:05 left in the half.
Two more Cougar touchdowns ensued in the second quarter, a 28-yard Black run and a 57-yard pass play from Leaf to Kevin McKenzie, to complete the first half scoring at 42-6.
WSU's stats looked like a complete game total for a team that had produced a sterling offensive performance, but this only took into account the first 30 minutes.
Leaf was 8-of-15 for 209 yards and three touchdowns. Black ran for 84 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries while his counterpart Gilmore had 58 yards and a touchdown on just two carries.
The Cougars didn't step off the gas, scoring their seventh touchdown on another big play; this time a 55-yard pass from Leaf to Black, to open the second half.
With 5:50 remaining in the third quarter, Leaf, who finished the afternoon with 332 yards, threw his school record-tying fifth touchdown pass, this time to Taylor from 43 yards out extending WSU's lead to an unfathomable 56-6.
The day was done for Leaf, as he gave way to backup Steve Birnbaum, but his performance on the field that day was not only memorable for the fans but to his teammates as well.
"I think the defense got a turnover, and Ryan comes in the huddle, looks right at us and very intently says, `If you guys give me time up front, this is going to be a touchdown,'" McEndoo recalled. "We all look at him and think `Come on, dude.'"
"Sure enough he went up top for a touchdown," added McEndoo, "and I think later on in the game he did the same thing and, of course, the second time we actually believed him."
With the majority of reserves in for WSU, Cal closed to 56-37 late in the fourth, but, fittingly, the Cougars closed out the scoring on a Birnbaum one-yard run to give WSU 63 points, the highest scoring output by a Cougar team ever against a Pac-10 opponent.
For the first time since the 1992 Copper Bowl season, WSU had started a season 6-0. With a 3-4 Arizona team coming into town the next week, improving the mark to 7-0 seemed to be a lock.
Relive the Roses
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