PULLMAN – In a game that generally produces one winner and one loser, there should be only one outcome for Jim Walden this Saturday.
Whether Washington State or Wyoming wins Saturday’s nonconference matchup at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Walden is likely to be satisfied, probably sporting a grin spanning from one end zone to the other.
Few can relate, but these are the benefits that come with being enshrined by two schools. (Technically it’s three for Walden; Mississippi’s Itawamba Community College, where Walden was an All-American JC quarterback in the late 1950s, also recognizes him as a member of its Hall of Fame.)
In 2009, the Cougars inducted Walden into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, recognizing a man who brought them back to the postseason after a 46-year drought, beating every Pac-10 program along the way. Two years later, the Cowboys immortalized their former quarterback, who won consecutive Skyline Conference titles in 1958 and ’59 and was named the league’s MVP both years.
Walden, who will attend Saturday’s game with family members and former teammates, reflected on his time in Laramie and previewed WSU vs. Wyoming in an all-encompassing Q&A with The Spokesman-Review.
Spokesman-Review: The obvious question first… who will you pull for on Saturday?
Jim Walden: Well, I’m going into the stadium and I played there, and I tell everyone, being on the inside it’s always pretty to go back to where you played. So emotionally, I’ll probably be pulling for the Cowboys. I went to school there. I love Washington State, but I didn’t graduate from Washington State, I graduated from the University of Wyoming. I played with great friends that I still have, and I will probably be sitting with some of them and my family. So I’d get put out pretty quick if I started pulling for the Cougars. But the great thing is when it’s over, I have no loser, and that’s not every day you get to do that. I’ll be happy with whoever wins.
S-R: And how many times have you been asked that this week?
JW: Well, ever since probably last year. Since the last time they played in ’15; I had to go through this then, too. That’s the first thing everybody wants to know, but I don’t know if it makes any difference who I pull for. They’re going to play hard anyway.
S-R: Will you wear all Wyoming garb or throw in some crimson, too?
JW: Well, what I did last time is I wore a Cowboy golf shirt and I had a Cougar cap, so I’ll probably stick with that.
S-R: You haven’t been back for a game in quite awhile, so I’d imagine you’re looking forward to this weekend.
JW: A bit of sidebar stuff, we’re having a family reunion. My first wife Janice was from Evanston, Wyoming, and we met in college and married, of course until she passed away. And so her middle sister has also passed away. Dave (the husband of Janice’s sister Diane) and me, our families are going to get together Friday night and have a little reunion. It’s kind of a different thing – we’re also going to go for the ballgame, but we’re tying it into a little bit of a mini-reunion. Not everybody gets to come. There’s a brother and another sister who can’t make it, that are still living, but some of their families are making it. I think there’s about 19 of us that are going to be there and have a good little mini-reunion, plus watch the ballgame.
S-R: Wyoming is where you met your wife. Is it more sentimental going back knowing what the school meant to you beyond football?
JW: Well, sure, and the fact that I’m in the Hall of Fame there. And of course I’m in the Hall of Fame at Washington State, which I said, maybe that’s in itself a trivia question. I’m in both of them, and I appreciate the fact that I did something good enough that both would do that. And so this will be a lot of fun. Maybe I should just pull for whoever has the ball and let the best man win. How’s that?
S-R: You’ve got to just pull for whoever has the lead…
JW: It’ll be an interesting game, with the two quarterbacks. I watched a little bit – not a lot, didn’t see all of the game – but I watched quite a bit of the Wyoming game last week. Of course, they just dominated the thing on defense. You have to evaluate New Mexico State, they made them look inept if you want to know the truth, and I don’t know if New Mexico State is that inept. But anyway, I think the intrigue will be the new quarterback, Minshew for Washington State, and watching the new kid (Tyler Vander Waal) from Wyoming. So that’ll be an interesting, interesting part of watching the game. I love to go to games and just watch the game. I’m not a good fan because I don’t jump up and down so much, but I guess that’s called coaching. I get to a stadium, I like to coach.
S-R: Do you have any fond non-football memories that really come to mind when you think about your time in Laramie?
JW: As silly as it is, we used to, in the dead of winter when you didn’t have a lot of money … we used to go up over the divide and it’s called the Vedauwoo Mountain Range, and it’s on your way to Cheyenne. Up above on that range, there was a huge slope where you could tube, and it was risky because we would go up and sled. We’d come down with wooden sleds and we’d also take some inner tubes in those days, just big old tire tubes. And on certain times you’d get those sleds, those trails so slick that you could go, my goodness, you could go 15 miles an hour. And so I wondered if we hadn’t got killed because you’d just come off so slick. I just remember the things that we did – everybody remembers their football things to a certain point. But as far as going to the university in Laramie, it was a treat for me coming from the Deep South to enjoy the winter. I know a lot of people say, ‘God, you enjoy 40 below zero?’ I say, ‘No, I didn’t enjoy that, but I enjoyed doing things in snow.’ So that’s kind of what I remember, is I did so many fun things on weekends when the season was over. Going to games, watching wrestling matches, going into the snow, going up on the mountain. That was my memory of Wyoming, and we had a great group of guys that went to school together, we were great friends, had great success with coach (Bob) Devaney and it just made a wonderful college experience.
S-R: Hopefully coach Devaney didn’t know about the sledding…
JW: He probably knew about it, but he probably didn’t know how dangerous it was, because they had a big thing where we would go as football players, it shows you how dumb we were, they had a big sign out there “Sledding illegal this time of year, it’s dangerous.” We didn’t care, we were just crazy, same old thing. Young people never think tragedy’s going to happen to them, and luckily it didn’t, but boy, it was something. We’d put three or four on a tube, start down that hill doing 100 miles an hour, it seemed like. Guys sliding off every which way, but that’s what we did for fun, I guess.
S-R: What’s the game, or games, that stand out when you reflect on your time there?
JW: Only one, and it was one play. We played New Mexico and Marv Levy, the old Buffalo Bills coach, was the old coach at New Mexico. I remember this distinctly, and we were running out of time down there, and they had just scored and went ahead of us. And it was for the (Skyline Conference) championship, and Coach Devaney sent in some play and I didn’t like it. And I did have the option in those years to run a play if I thought it was better, unless he just really was emphatic, “run this play!” type of thing. I changed the play and went to kind of a bootleg action, and we ran kind of a Statue of Lliberty kind of a way, where the back you fake to going left swings all the way up the left sideline and you boot out to the right and throw a cross-field pass. We ran that simple little play, and why it fooled the defensive back I’ll never know, but the right corner came all the way over to the fake on the boot and left Dickie Hamilton wide open. And it was about a 75-yard touchdown pass with about a minute and a half to go in the game. And he caught it and it all worked out, and we won the game and won the championship. I don’t remember a lot of stuff because – I always used to say the same thing to the guys that I coached – you won’t always remember the plays, you remember more the players. But that is one play that in my two years that I felt was a special play for me, because it won the championship, it was done when everything you thought couldn’t happen, and it was a big, big play.
S-R: How many times have you been back to Laramie since you played there?
JW: I went there once with Iowa State and played. That was really hard. I didn’t think it was going to be that hard going into it, but it was quite emotional for me. It was even worse when we got beat, but we weren’t very good. Then I’ve only been back one time. This will be my second time to ever go to a ballgame at Laramie. I don’t get there very often, so it’s kind of fun to be able to do that.
S-R: What can you tell Cougar fans about the gameday environment they should expect on Saturday?
JW: Well the gameday will be fun. They have this big cannon, every time Wyoming scores a touchdown they’re going to shoot this big old Army ROTC, shoot this big old cannon down there, it’ll almost jar you out of your seat. But the second thing is, wear your hat backward, because the wind’s going to blow like you can’t believe. I used to say I came in second in the nation in punting my last year – only reason because sometimes we’d punt on third down because you had the wind, and you didn’t want to play another down and take a chance if you were down in your own territory. So I got to punt with the wind a lot. But it will blow, prepare yourself for a pretty good wind.
S-R: What’s your impression of this Washington State team?
JW: Well for the Cougars, because of some injuries, I think I’m not going to get to see the team I thought I’d get to see when the season was going into. I’m interested to see how their offensive line pulls back together, because they lost two really great components there. I think their defense is suspect, mainly because they’ve got a new defensive coordinator. I think the other thing is they’ve got four new coaches on offense. I think Cougar fans need to be very aware that you can downplay that all you want to, but take it from me, you do not lose five coaches and especially the defensive coordinator – to lose him, I thought was a big blow. I like [Tracy] Claeys, I think he’s got a great reputation, but don’t underestimate the effect of having five brand-new coaches will have. They don’t know yet how each other’s going to respond (under) the stress. They may like the new coaches, but there’s too many unknowns for that not be an effective or ineffective thing. It takes awhile for players and coaches to get on the same page in lots of ways. Not just X’s and O’s, that’s a small part of it. How the players react to the criticism, how do they react to the stress, how do the coaches react to the players not doing something they’ve been taught. I mean, it’s a whole new ballgame for both sides – both coaches and players – in a lot of spots. So that to me is going to be one of the biggest things. How’s this football team going to adjust this season going forward to all these new coaches, and it’s not easy. I’ve been through it.
S-R: Do you have a score prediction?
JW: No, I don’t. I don’t know enough about each quarterback’s play. Let me just say this, I think it won’t be as a high-scoring ballgame as the normal Mike Leach games will be. At this point I’m really impressed with Wyoming on defense. Will I be that impressed going against the Cougar offense? I don’t know. I can’t imagine that the Cowboy defense will be anywhere near as effective against Washington State as they were against New Mexico State, but I’m still convinced it’s going to be a little bit lower-scoring game than normal Mike Leach games are.
S-R: Certainly would’ve been fun to watch Luke Falk and Josh Allen duke it out last season…
JW: That would’ve been a great matchup, that would’ve been really sensational. You talk about big-time quarterbacks on the same field. That would’ve been sensational to watch that.
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