December 1, 2009 in Sports

Cool to snow, but Californian found traction in ‘Snow Bowl’

By The Spokesman-Review
 
FILE photo

Then: Shaumbe Wright-Fair (1989-92) established himself as one of WSU’s all-time top running backs.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Now it can be told. The Apple Cup of 1992, the famed “Snow Bowl?” The game that ranks No. 1 in nearly every Washington State football fan’s heart, not simply because the Cougars won going away but because hated Washington caved in the conditions?

Well, Shaumbe Wright-Fair didn’t greet the day with cartwheels, either.

“I woke up that morning,” he recalled, “and saw it was snowing again and thought, ‘Aw, man’ – I just wanted to roll over and go back to sleep.”

He had pretty much the same reaction on his recruiting trip to Pullman four years earlier, when he flew “into one of the worst storms I could imagine. You couldn’t see the ground. I’m thinking, ‘Where am I going? This is insane.’

“The grad assistant picks me up in a station wagon with snow chains. I was a city slicker. This wasn’t right to me.”

Except it turned out to be just right. All of it.

That snowy day in 1992? Wright-Fair did his slide-and-glide act on the Martin Stadium turf for 194 yards and three touchdowns, the best Cougars rushing performance in Apple Cup history. He left WSU with a bowl game ring after enduring a coaching change and one of those program nadirs that always look impossible to reverse. And if NFL fame didn’t come his way, the hard knocks he absorbed early on as a Cougar gave him enough perspective to walk away from the game on his own terms and find another means to make his mark.

That would be as an officer with the police department in his hometown of Monterey, Calif., where Wright-Fair has served for 13 years – since he was released in training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995.

That came after looks with Detroit, San Francisco, Kansas City and a season with the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe, when he discovered that pro football is a precarious existence unless you have knockout talent.

“At some point it just comes down to the politics of football,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just a case of them saying, ‘Well, we remember this guy for a play he made in 1988 when we played against him and this new guy, we’re not sure about him.’ Sometimes, there just has to be some angle for them to keep you around.”

Wright-Fair has done a little of everything with the Monterey police – detective, school resource officer, hostage negotiator, field training officer, community action team member. Currently, he’s on motorcycle patrol.

There are days in law enforcement, he acknowledged, “where it feels like you’re just shoveling sand out of a hole.” But there are just as many days when he believes he’s making a difference and a positive impact on people’s lives.

“You just see it in little ways sometimes,” he said. “There was a young lady in our community who was making some dangerous decisions, hanging out with the wrong people, being uncontrollable at home. I responded to her house on an incident, and over time I tried to find out what her interests were and tried to help her look beyond the here and now.

“I found out she liked animals and I was able to hook her up with some veterinarians in town, and she did some volunteering there and the last I heard she was doing better. Her parents wrote me a nice letter. It was just trying to get her to see that there was more to life than just her and that she wasn’t always going to be where she was then.”

That comes from personal experience – Wright-Fair’s own childhood was fraught with considerable chaos and risk, first in Compton and later in Monterey. He had hand-ups along the way but he’s been just as determined to seize his opportunities.

He recalled the transition in the Cougars program from Dennis Erickson to Mike Price “when some athletes Coach Erickson recruited were mishandled and left school.”

He survived the rock-bottom seasons of 1990 and 1991, emerged as one of college football’s top running backs and earned a degree in psychology. Not content solely with police work, he spent four years in night school at the Monterey College of Law to earn a juris doctorate, though he has not passed the bar and is unsure how he’ll use it.

In the meantime, he and his wife Kelly – high school sweethearts who were married shortly after the Apple Cup his junior year – have three sons, ages 15, 12 and 10. The oldest, Shaumbe, is “more of an academic – but he’s a tank.” Matthew and Christopher, both left-handers, seem to prefer baseball to football.

“My Washington State experience was great,” Wright-Fair said, “and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been back since I graduated.

“But I fly the colors down here where everything’s Cal or USC or the (UC) Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. Every time I see a Washington State license plate, I’m inclined to go up and say, ‘Go Cougs.’ ”


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