Sports Illustrated came out with a four-page spread on Washington State in this week’s edition - but it had nothing to do with the Cougars’ undefeated start.
“The Long Way Back,” by staff writer John Walters, is the story of Cougars linemen Jason McEndoo and Ryan McShane, whose lives and friendship were forever changed when McEndoo’s wife, Michelle, died in a July 1996 car crash in which McShane was the driver.
The magazine reached newsstands Friday, but neither player read the story - which is accompanied by a haunting photograph of the overturned Ford Explorer - before WSU’s 24-13 victory over Oregon on Saturday.
“I didn’t want to look at it - didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to talk about it,” said McEndoo. “I’ll read it Monday, or maybe (Sunday). I wanted to focus on the game.”
“I saw some of the pictures and my mom read some of it to me over the phone,” he said. “But I didn’t want the distraction.
“From what I hear, it’s pretty well put for how sensitive it is. John Walters did a real nice job with Jason and I. Personally, I feel he brought us closer through the article.”
Mutual denigration society
WSU quarterback Ryan Leaf and Oregon linebacker Peter Sirmon won’t be exchanging Christmas cards this year.
Leaf called Sirmon “a dirty player” after the game - and during it, apparently, because his rival across the line wasn’t surprised when the quote was relayed to the Oregon interview room.
“They should look in the mirror,” Sirmon said. “They’re not the cleanest team I’ve ever played against.
“He (Leaf) is getting his cheap shots in. I expected that. Hey, they won. It’s easy for them to say. But I’m not impressed with him as a person at all. A lot of great athletes can handle being successful. I don’t think he’s one of them.”
As it was, Leaf-Sirmon was not necessarily the main event.
The Cougars claimed that Ducks safety Michael Fletcher spit in the face of receiver Shawn Tims during the game - and fellow wideout Shawn McWashington said other Ducks players and fans also spit at the Cougars.
“They were doing a lot of dirty stuff out there,” said Tims, “more than I’ve experienced.”
Running back Michael Black said Tims “came back to the huddle real mad and wanted to fight and stuff because they spit in his face.
“But Fletcher apologized after the game. I know Fletcher from home - me and his brother used to be best friends when we were growing up. He’s kind of a cool person, so he apologized anyway. I’m just glad Shawn didn’t react the way he wanted to.”
The other Shawn reacted more pointedly.
“It reflects on (Oregon coach Mike) Bellotti and he needs to address that with the team and the athletic director needs to address it with the fans,” said McWashington, who had security move two fans. “They’ve been to the Rose Bowl. They should have some class.”
Tims took it a little more in stride.
“I guess they had a little too much rum or something,” he said of the fans. “They were kind of wild out there. Almost catching up to our fans a little bit.”
The two-headed quarterback
Jason Maas, who started at quarterback for the Ducks, had taken roughly two-thirds of Oregon’s snaps this season. But after throwing three interceptions - two on batted balls - Maas was replaced by Akili Smith, who played most of the second quarter and virtually all of the second half.
The difference was dramatic. Smith completed 14 of 30 passes for 205 yards, and gained another 33 rushing.
“He’s pretty athletic,” said Cougars defensive end Dorian Boose. “He’s more accurate than I thought he was. They made him out just to be a runner compared to Maas, who’s really accurate and has a good arm. But he’s swift and smart with the ball.”
WSU receiver McWashington tweaked a hamstring during the week and was held out of several practices. When he aggravated the injury only moments before kickoff, it looked as if the Fab Five might be reduced to the Fab Four.
But Oregon would have no such luck.
McWashington fought through the pain to make the game’s most spectacular catch. His diving grab in the second quarter was good for 38 yards, setting up the game’s first touchdown.
“I’m real proud of the job that he did, because he was in tears before the game (when it appeared he might not play),” coach Mike Price said.
McWashington’s play could not have come at a more opportune time. WSU had gone three-and-out on four of its previous five possessions.
“We were just waiting for somebody to step up and make a play,” McWashington said. “I mean, the Fab Five, Michael Black, Love Jefferson, Leaf. We have umpteen weapons, so we expect one of them to step up.”
Cougars appreciate Black
WSU tailback Black carried 24 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. During the third-quarter drive that stretched WSU’s lead to 21-3, he carried for gains of 6, 8, 18 and 5 yards.
“We got to running the ball straight at them with Black and that really helped,” Price said. Added Leaf, “If you give the ball to him enough times, he’s going to make something happen. It’s fun to turn around and watch him run.”
Price, when asked to assess the contribution of center Lee Harrison, a former walk-on who has earned a spot in the starting lineup: “He was not expected to be one of these Fat Five, as they’re called. We have the Fab Five and we have the Fat Five, and they’re proud of it and they hit their belly five times when they do something good.”
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