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In the clutch, Just Eastern

SATURDAY, JAN. 8, 2011

HEAVEN – And we thought that hamburger was big.

In the greatest game in the greatest season in the history of football – perhaps of all sports – our little Eastern Washington University won the Football Championship Subdivision title game 20-19 over Delaware Friday night in Frisco, Texas.

Down 19-0 and looking as trashed as our hotel room, the Eagles did what they’ve done all season: put together the most unlikely fourth-quarter comeback since … well, the last time they played.

Who’s the national champion?

Just Eastern. (Really, Marketing Department, you can have that one.)

And Ralph and I were giddy to be able to be here to celebrate it. You know it’s a good season when you start to get bored storming fields.

But we did it, went over the fence and down onto the field without breaking our 40-something-year-old hips, jumped up and down, high-fived and found ourselves embracing total strangers (this is not so different from Ralph’s normal Friday nights).

From the very beginning it just felt like one of those days. The morning dawned clear and crisp over the Texas plains – right about the time we went to bed. Seven hours later we woke up and got lunch at Rudy’s Barbecue, where we asked for barbecue sauce that wasn’t too hot and were given “sissy sauce.”

But enough about us. What do other Eastern fans think about us?

“Hey, it’s those brothers,” said Ashleigh Mathews, 27, of Cheney, as she shared a pregame tailgate beverage with fellow EWU grads Brandon Lennick, 28, and Nate Weaver, 30, all class of 2005, and 29-year-old Rick Scott, who graduated a year earlier than his friends. (Weaver: “Stupid overachiever.”)

They had been in Frisco all of 24 hours and were having a great time (Scott: “Good beer, great barbecue”) but had failed to pull off their master plan. “We were going to get drunk and paint the field red,” Lennick said.

Well, one out of two ain’t bad.

Anyone who has ever mocked the slacker school spirit of EWU alums – as we often have – would have been stunned to come upon the red shirts that filled the parking lot west of Pizza Hut Park, a sea of devoted fans like Jon and Jeremy Heimbigner and Kevin Bacon. (Yup, that Kevin Bacon … the one who went to Mead High School.)

Nearby, Rick Byrum, of Mukilteo, EWU class of 2001 (after a self-described “seven-year spring break”), was reflecting with a proud clutch of fellow Eagle fans about this remarkable season of comeback wins and courageous plays.

As for our opponent, no one could quite get a handle on the Blue Hen fans, who seemed to lack a certain Del-awareness about the nightmare they were about to have.

“The Delaware fans we met at the liquor store were pretty nice,” Rick’s wife, Amy, said. But when those fans intimated that the Blue Hens – gaudy 9 1/2-point favorites – were likely to win, Amy told them, “I’m not sure you guys should be in a liquor store. You’ve had enough to drink.”

A 9 1/2-point spread was too good for us to pass up, too. Through a bookie our friend Big Dave knows, we managed to get $20 on the Eagles. We know just where we’re going to spend our winnings, too: Kenny’s Burger Joint, home of the 7-pound El Jefe Grande hamburger that Ralph tried to eat and eventually Delawared on Thursday.

At game time, the odds were stacked heavily against us, and not just because our best player, Taiwan Jones, was out with a broken foot. Delaware also brought in its big gun, Vice President Joe Biden, causing the Secret Service to create a no-fly zone over Pizza Hut Park, which clearly hampered EWU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell’s ability to throw the long ball.

As if that weren’t enough, after a random test for superpowers before the game, linebacker J.C. Sherritt was forced to wear a kryptonite liner in his helmet. And here’s something really unfair: The game was played on a green natural surface we’d never seen before. Something called grass.

With all those obstacles it’s no wonder the first half was like watching a self-induced coma.

By the time the Eagles woke up, down 19-0, less hearty and sober fans might’ve panicked. So did we.

But thankfully, we couldn’t remember where we’d parked our rental car, so we couldn’t leave early. And anyone who has seen this Eastern team this year would be crazy to go before the final gun. Bang, bang, bang: three drives, three touchdowns, more clutch plays than a person can count.

And in the end, one team stood above all the others. Just Eastern.

Novelist Jess Walter is a proud graduate of Eastern Washington University. Spokesman-Review page designer Ralph Walter is two credits short.Follow their dispatches at www.spokesman.com/sportslink.


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