Perhaps it is a smug little self-delusion.
But some of us graduates of Big Sky Conference colleges have long believed that the role of sports at our alma maters is slightly more sane than at institutions playing big-time football and basketball.
Lately though, I have wondered about my friends out at Eastern Washington University. Has all this recent gridiron glory gone to people’s heads in Cheney?
There was one way to find out. Friday morning, I donned my “Northern Arizona University” alum shirt and strode onto the autumn-kissed EWU campus. Would the Eagles embrace me in the spirit of Big Sky solidarity on the eve of today’s televised EWU vs. NAU football game down in high-altitude Flagstaff?
Or would they, how should I put this, think they are too good to associate with the likes of a graying Lumberjack?
If you are looking for an excuse to stop reading this, I’ll help you out. In a nutshell: I was 99 percent ignored as photographer Dan Pelle and I walked back and forth across the leafy campus. Nobody booed me and my garment. No one flashed a thumbs-down gesture.
I’d chalk it up to good manners, sports obliviousness, people minding their own business and a bit of not knowing the difference between NAU and Northern Colorado (the team the Eagles beat last week).
So I had to stop people in their tracks and say, more or less, “Hello! Lumberjack here!”
Rachel Clark, a sophomore from Chehalis, Washington, who is studying biology, had nothing snide to say about my shirt. Instead, she went with a positive message. “I’m proud of our team for doing so well.”
Reece Hayes, a fourth-year student from Tacoma studying to be an athletic trainer, knows the football players and said they are good guys. Being ranked No. 2 in the country just a few years after winning a national championship? “It’s good for the school,” he said.
No one I spoke with – an admittedly small sampling of Eagles Nation – seemed to be worried that Eastern is turning into a soulless football factory.
Before asking two female soccer players if they would pose with me for a picture, I showed them my Spokesman-Review I.D. card – twice.
Laci Rennaker, a sophomore from Spokane Valley who is studying exercise science, said the football program’s success wins the university valuable recognition.
Her teammate, Ua Ruedy, a sophomore from Hawaii studying public health, echoed those remarks. “It’s a good thing for the school.”
They noted they recently had been in Flagstaff, but did not mention their team had beaten NAU while there. Somebody raised those girls right.
But this was getting a tad monotonous. So imagine my relief when Mark Thomas noticed my shirt while we were in the building housing the ice rink. He offered his take on NAU’s prospects today: “Not a chance.”
Remarkably, he managed to say that in a way that was not obnoxious.
Thomas, a 39-year-old father of four, is preparing to become a teacher after an adulthood spent doing physical labor. If that doesn’t work out, maybe he can become a college football analyst.
Another person who playfully gave me some flak did so in such a good-natured way that I put my arm around her when Dan took our picture.
“You can’t wear that shirt here,” said a mock indignant Karen Wichman, director of facilities services.
She said the winning football team has been “a fabulous story” that has electrified the Cheney campus.
Easily 100 people faced me and my shirt as Dan and I walked back to the car. Not one uttered a rude comment.
So I’ve just got to say it: Go, Eagles.
Well, maybe not today.
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