Last Christmas Dorian Boose was flat on his back, his temperature soaring. It was the perfect metaphor - the Cougar, home for the holidays, miserably removed from the joys of the postseason.
But so much has happened since then.
With a burst of 10 wins Boose and the ‘97 Washington State Cougars have defied the No of Novembers past, and with it redefined the concept of limitation.
The impossible no longer applies.
Washington State is in the Rose Bowl.
Caught up in the wonderment, Boose calls it nothing less than the resurrection of a community.
“The relationship we’ve established between the coaching staff and the team, just the whole resurrection of this community based on this season that we’ve wanted and needed, is almost unexplainable,” he said. “It’s a whole redeeming process. You just have to live it. Words really can’t describe the whole exuberant feeling.”
Reminded that his words hit pretty close, Boose, the Cougars’ 6-foot-6, 276-pound defensive end with the menacing speed, lightened his tight schedule with a long laugh, taking obvious pleasure in expressing so novel an idea.
The Cougs, in the Rose Bowl.
The Christmas he celebrates today, within a long pass of the beach at Santa Monica, with friends and family, is an experience sweetened by memory. A year ago, almost to the day, Dorian’s wife, Brenda, had a newborn son and a flu-ridden husband on her hands. When Dorian did bother to get up, Brenda and her mother, Dee Dee Voelker, erased his handprints with sprays of Lysol, hoping to zap the bug that was dogging Dorian and thus spare 2-week-old Taylor this misery.
Twelve months ago, Dorian Boose had five people watching him - six counting an emergency room nurse after he checked into a Tacoma hospital. Next week, when he lines up against Michigan, the audience will number in the millions.
“Who’d have ever thought we’d be in this position?” he said last week in an interview in his Pullman apartment. “We all talked about it. Especially me. I talked a lot about going undefeated. I said the same thing last year and people laughed.”
Boose had to be a little skeptical himself, since he’s said “The only championship I ever won was in pingpong.”
The reality - Pac-10 football co-champion - still was sinking in last week as he finished the last of his finals and packed for Pasadena.
The strength he found at WSU is an important chapter in the struggle-to-triumph, rags-to-riches story of this team, considered by consensus the greatest in WSU history.
Success has stirred what Brenda Boose calls the madness. Interview requests tripled. “People want things signed,” Dorian said. “The whole outlook on us has changed, hopefully from here on out.”
Perhaps mindful of the witch of Novembers past, Brenda Boose sweated out the win that assured her husband a place in football lore at Washington State. It came in Husky Stadium some 30 miles from where the couple had grown up - she in Puyallup, he in Tacoma.
“I was sitting there, a wreck, looking through my fingers the whole time from the end zone, in those ‘wonderful’ seats we had,” she said. “I was sitting with (Cougar linebacker) Brandon Moore’s girlfriend. I had lost the faith a little bit but then we were counting down the clock and we started to cry. We grabbed hands and ran out onto that field, with thousands of other people, to find our guys. It was incredible. It took me about 40 minutes to find him. He grabbed my hand and ran me halfway around the field.”
They didn’t want the celebration to end. Then Boose began to think half-seriously that it never would.
“I couldn’t even get into the locker room,” he said. “Fans wanted my shoulder pads, my helmet. I was out there, watching the purple just kind of filter out of the stadium.”
That the road to the Rose Bowl went through Husky Stadium was a nice touch for a kid from the neighborhood. As a senior at Foss High School, Boose spent an October afternoon there, watching Steve Emtman and the great ‘91 UW team tear into the Arizona Wildcats. At the time Boose was tall, fast, a little too skinny and struggling with the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
There weren’t a lot of arms in purple and gold stuck out to shake his hand. He remembers the slight - just as he recalls the months after that game, the work he did for Evergreen Door and Millwork his first year out of high school. He painted trim on houses and refinished doors, his options limited.
Although Oregon and Washington State wanted him, Walla Walla Community College finally tossed out the lifeline to his future, a chance to play two sports and get an Associate of Arts degree that would eventually open the door at WSU.
Dorian Boose, the first from his family to earn a degree from college, is one of the last of a breed. Walla Walla has discontinued football, the last of the Washington junior colleges to do so. Academic requirements at Washington State and other universities have been tightened. Watching him at ease with his young family, hearing that he will graduate on time, knowing that he has a shot at the big money in pro ball, it seems a shame that there will never be another at WSU quite like him.
The next Dorian Boose may never get out of the refinishing plant. But at least Boose won’t go through life wondering what might have been.
He showed up at WSU in late summer of ‘95 at 218 pounds, accomplished in basketball and football but an athlete without a position.
“It was overwhelming when I first got here and saw the size of everybody,” he said. “Dwayne Sanders, James Darling, Chris Hayes, Brandon Moore. Even the DBs looked big to me.”
On the final day of two-a-days in fall camp of ‘95, the undersized Boose got a break disguised as a fractured left foot.
After a summer of rushing around, readying for a new life in Pullman, Brenda walked into the couple’s apartment to find her husband sitting on the floor wearing a cast.
With nothing to do but lift weights, “Working out became a habit,” Boose said. The process snowballed. “I started to enjoy it,” he said. “Instead of just doing the planned workouts - three or four a week - I was lifting four or five times, including weekends. Since I couldn’t run, the weight came naturally.”
With 21-inch biceps and sculpted shoulders that rise up from tapered hips, Boose looks almost too good to be true. He’s been asked more than once if he used steroids to pack on 58 impressive pounds.
He has, he says, been tested at random with other WSU players. “No matter what random tests we do I’m always on it,” he said. “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs. I can’t stand beer. I can’t stand coffee. I tried it. I never enjoyed any of it. I’m very natural. When you see things (develop) naturally why put anything in your body?”
A man with an abiding faith, Boose believes in a spiritually directed purpose. The broken foot he sees as a blessing.
But when he broke his wrist last year, the faith was tested. It happened in the California game. Boose thought it was sprained. The following week he came out wearing a “beehive on my arm” and, with a cracked wrist, turned in one of his better games.
“When I die I’m going to ask God about the wrist,” he smiles. “I understand the foot. A little humbling technique. But the wrist was uncalled for.”
In the painful times Boose turns to an extensive support system that starts with his wife, who works part-time as a secretary in WSU’s Department of Education, and his year-old son Taylor, who works at destroying the apartment.
“We’ve been excited through the good times and bad times,” Brenda Boose says. “Dorian is very hard on himself. He’ll come home thinking he was awful in a game, even when he does something wonderful. He ‘could have done this better or that better.’ We’re just excited that he played, and played without getting injured.”
Brenda heads up a Dorian Boose admiration society.
“As guys go, he’s very sensitive,” she said. “He cares about what I care about. He’s an awesome father, a very good daddy. He’s much more patient with Taylor than I am.”
As if on cue, Taylor heads for the computer in the corner of the living room. It’s Dorian’s turn to pursue the curious toddler. When Taylor’s energy is redirected, Boose sits back down to itemize the support network. It includes his in-laws, the Voelkers, Howard and DeeDee, his parents, Joseph and Evelyn, three brothers, assorted cousins, family friends and his church, Bethel Baptist, where he met his wife (“The pastor likes it when I mention the church in the paper,” he says.)
“They’re just all-round Dorian fans,” Brenda Boose said. “They’ve enjoyed being part of the ride.
“My mother came over and helped us out this semester, taking care of Taylor. Because of her we didn’t have the expense of putting him in child care, which we couldn’t afford. My parents wanted to do it. They said this is your last year, let us be a help to you in any way that we can.
Christmas, Dorian says, “is special, with the position we’re in, the fact that we’ll share it together. We’re usually separated by football trips. This one brings us together. It’s tremendous, to have everything come together and share it with your family. They deserve it, too. They’ve been there for me, sweating tears and blood.”
Although Boose is enjoying the ride, he’s more than ready for the game of his life.
“It’s like a kid, waiting for Christmas,” he said. “We’ve been studying those things (the Wolverines’ offensive sets and tendencies) forever. To tell you the truth, it’s getting boring. I can call the plays out before they even happen. And I know the formations which they can only run so many plays out of.
“I’m sure the (Michigan) coaches have thought about that but at the same time they’ve been successful all season, so why change anything? Just go out and play smash-mouth football. If you can’t stop them they’ll live off your mistakes.
“I’ll always be a part of WSU history,” Dorian Boose said. “That’s something I never thought I’d be, any part of history, in any part of life on this earth. It’s a trademark, set in stone now.
“We’ll always be remembered as a team, and I’ll be one of the names mentioned.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 color photos