CANTINA GRILL, DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – This fall, my brother and I had a secret.
We were in love.
Uh … not with each other. Or at least no more than usual.
No, we were in love with our alma mater’s football team.
For most college grads, this is no big deal. But we’re alums of Eastern Washington University. Back in the ’80s, we chose Eastern the way you buy a used car: It was close, affordable and didn’t smell like someone had died in it.
Shamefully, if you ask old EWU grads like us where we went to school, we often respond, “Just Eastern.” Maybe we were accepted at the University of Washington but money was tight and we stayed close to home. Or perhaps we wanted to go to Stanford but found out that a 600, while a good series in bowling, was not such a good SAT score.
But settling for a school because it makes sense isn’t a bad thing, especially in these hard economic times. In fact, we think it should be a series of T-shirts: “Just Eastern.” (Hey, marketing department: That’s a freebie.)
It’s actually the best thing about EWU graduates: our lack of misty-eyed nostalgia. We don’t foist Cougar sweatshirts as unwanted Christmas presents; we don’t paper our Saabs with “Husky Mom” bumper stickers; we don’t dress our poor babies in “Little Eagle” onesies.
Gonzaga can have its “did-you-see-me-at-the-game” fans. Montanans can have their football weekend crowds of 30,000.
We have what we like to call “lives.” You want to spend your days reliving your old college days, go ahead. We don’t consider the high point of our existence the time we spent in some dingy fraternity basement, on the business end of a beer bong. (Actually, Ralph calls that “a Tuesday.”) We go about with a bit of dignity, perhaps with a slight sense of underdog achievement; yeah, maybe we JUST went to Eastern, but look at us now. Grown-ups.
Which was why it was a little bit shocking to find ourselves digging out our old red T-shirts, growing tailgate facial hair, jumping up and down and acting like a couple of moonshine-fed Alabama boosters over what was unquestionably … THE GREATEST FOOTBALL TEAM IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!
They throw for touchdowns on fourth down! They have a running back named Taiwan who averages 104 yards a carry – and they don’t even need him to win! Their quarterback, Bo Levi Mitchell, has an arm strong enough to reverse the polarity of the earth. They feature a bunch of wildly talented local kids, like Ferris triple threat Jeff Minnerly, whose parents were on the plane in front of us and might buy us another drink if we mention his name. Their linebacker J.C. Sherritt is only 7 inches tall, but when he blitzes, Homeland Security raises the terror threat to “Oh, crap.”
And they play on a red field! Red!
Oh, we’ve been caught up in Eastern sports before. Back in 2004, when the Eagles made their first-ever trip to the NCAA basketball tournament, we lost our minds and rushed onto the court to celebrate amid the shirtless frat boys (cheerleaders ran away from our high-fives, yelling, “Bad touch!”). We then followed the Eagles to Kansas City (by way of Las Vegas) where they lost a first-round game to Oklahoma State, and we lost what little dignity and cash we had left.
So three weeks ago, with the clock ticking down on EWU’s semifinal win over Villanova and the crowd beginning to surge toward the red turf of Roos Field, we had a decision to make. Should we follow? After all, we weren’t 30-something booze-hounds any more. We’re in our 40s now. Guys our age don’t storm a field; they soil it.
And if we followed the team all the way to the NCAA Subdivision championships at Pizza Hut Field (more on that later, of course) in some place called Frisco, Texas (yep, that, too), this Friday would we have anything fresh to add, or would it be just another stupid sequel (“Meet the Fockers’ Great-Grandchildren”).
So we turned to ask our more stable friend, Kevin Blocker.
But Blocker was already gone, in the process of climbing a chain-link fence and overpowering a security guard who hadn’t seen this kind of excitement since World War I. (Blocker, who didn’t even go to Eastern, said: “Hey, when you get a chance to storm a field, you go.” This is true; we once saw him storm a wheat field.)
Next thing we knew, Ralph and I were running down the grandstands, hurling ourselves over the chain-link fence and running around like lunatics. (A little-known fact about the red turf of Roos Field: it actually burns the skin.)
And now, here we are at an airport bar in Denver (Ralph keeps getting back in line for TSA pat-downs) just one delayed flight from Dallas and our date with football destiny. Go Eags! Go hot TSA agent! Go Ralph!