Everybody loves a great comeback story – especially in sports by a team with nearly impossible odds. Last night, I missed what will probably go down in the history of my alma mater as one of the greatest games of all time. But it could have been any team at any college in any state. A great comeback story needs only to include a few key elements: The odds must be stacked against the eventual victor. There needs to be a struggle – and a pending heartbreak – where at least one of the competitors stands to lose more than a game. And there needs to be at least one unlikely hero, who in a tiny, squeaky voice says, “We can do it.” For a story to be retold for years to come, the spirit, confidence and perhaps the entire momentum or memory of the season must be on the line. Last night, those pieces knitted together in a most unexpected way.
We hear stories of hurt, loss, disappointment and the long rebuilding of dreams and circumstances that didn’t go as planned. Those stories are sad, but unfortunately ordinary.
It’s that crazy story that defies all odds, and touches us in just the right spot to make us scream, “Yes!” – that rouses a throbbing hope buried deep inside, longing to re-surge. Without the slightest hesitation, our inner champion confidently shoves the cynic to the ground, and grabs tight to the belief in this indelible victory, both for what it represents to the underdog team and what it potentially represents to our own hibernating dreams. And just like that… Poof! That great beam of optimism and anticipation suddenly and instantaneously returns.
There’s no need to rehash a college football game that’s over, but I wanted to share a few highlights that made it one of the greatest comeback stories that will likely be told at WSU for years to come – mostly because we can all use a great comeback story, especially with all the bad news in our world right now.
When I graduated from Washington State University in the 1990s, we didn’t go to bowl games. We supported our team, celebrated with our friends – which is code for drank a lot of beer – and the most hopeful of us walked away believing, “Next time will be different.” In fact, there’s actually a term called Coug It which refers to our football team giving up victories that should have been in the bag. And sadly for me, when I went to bed last night (before the game ended at 11:44 p.m.) that’s pretty much what I thought. I wrote off this game the same way I have some of my most precious dreams. Discouraged by the score, and the small amount of time left on the clock, I checked out.
With eight minutes left in the home game, WSU was down 31-10 against the clearly formidable Boise State team, in Pullman. Boise State had just scored AGAIN when a freshman player walked up to a senior and said, “Yo, we’re going to come back and win this game.” Imagine what that senior player was thinking. (It’s worth searching the game to read the play-by-play.)
The facts included these: The 20th ranked Cougars were down 21 points and their starting quarterback. It was very late at night and fans were starting to leave the stadium. The Cougars needed to come back bigger, better and faster than they had in more than three decades (with three touchdowns to just tie the game) – and for this miracle-believing freshman to be right, they had to do this in less than eight minutes.
At 11:44 p.m. local time, in a game no one imagined would go into triple overtime, WSU shocked Boise State and football fans far and wide with a 47-44 win. I’d like to say it was a moment I’ll never forget, but of course, I went to bed. Frustrated. Fearful. If we Couged it in a non-league game, so early in the season, what would it do to team morale for the Pac-12 games still to come?
The Sunday morning headline in the Spokesman Review: Washington State Beats Boise State With Miracle Comeback.
How many times in life do we give up and go to bed early because our dreams seem too impossible to reach? I’ve done that in my own life. I have this great plan, and then I take a pounding, and a win seems so unlikely.
But what if it didn’t have to be? What if the freshman voice of possibility in each of us talked back to the senior voice of experience and said, “Yo, we’re going to come back and win this game?” What if we didn’t settle? What if we didn’t go to bed? What if we stood strong and kept fighting?
Life has pushed most of us down at some point – or will. Circumstances, injuries, relationships and choices have taken the wind out of our sails.Dreams get crushed. And sometimes in life, we simply Coug It. But what if, when these things happened, we kept believing? What if we actually found the strength to get up one more time? What if we believed?
It’s football season and hopefully that means months of excitement ahead. Each day is also a chance to create a new season in life. For some, that’s the excitement that comes at the coin-toss to start the game. For some, it’s rebuilding a life after an illness or a natural disaster, when exhaustion is yet another obstacle. For all of us, it’s a reminder that with faith, determination, and a little grace, there’s always the chance to do the impossible and create the greatest of comebacks. We just have to believe!
PHOTO CREDIT: KIM GREENE, PULLMAN, WA