PULLMAN – Analee Falk has a pregame ritual, but it’s social, not internal, and she does it not to pump herself up but to encourage others to tone it down.
Once she sits down and fellow WSU fans fill the seats around her, Luke Falk’s mother makes an announcement.
“For two or three rows around me I say ‘Hey, I’m Luke Falk’s mom. You know what it’s like to be a mom. He’s my hero but he’s not perfect. He going to make mistakes and if you have comments I’d hope that you keep them silent enough that I don’t hear it,’” before adding, “‘and if you do say something that might trigger me, maybe you’ll hear from me as well. And that’s only fair.’”
Parenting a child who plays quarterback for a prominent college football program is a nerve-wracking and emotional experience, in which the high highs and low lows happen of their own accord, and all a mother like Analee Falk can do is wait as they wash over her. Analee Falk’s pregame pronouncement is her attempt to gain a small measure of order in the otherwise turbulent life of a football mom.
In just more than a year, Analee Falk has seen her son go from walk-on to all-conference, been overwhelmed when she saw his name bandied about as a chic Heisman choice – “How do you even process that?” – and heard her surname celebrated by fans who love its punchiness and endless punning possibilities.
But boy has she heard the boos. She quickly realized the ugly side of fans’ passions last year when the same folks who’d given her son so much love as he led the Cougars to a win over Oregon State in his first start, turned on him when he threw four interceptions – not all of them his fault – at Arizona State one week later. The Apple Cup the following week was even worse.
That’s when Analee Falk, leaning heavily on the guidance of Jessica Halliday, another quarterback mom, whose son Connor’s season-ending injury in 2014 paved the way for Luke’s opportunity and who had listened to plenty of strangers’ criticism herself, decided that she needed to create a safe space in the stands if she was going to be able to stand the already challenging experience of being parent to a football player.
Also this season Analee Falk has watched her boy exit the field of play in three games with progressively more sickening injuries, the most recent of which – WSU’s win over Colorado in the regular season’s penultimate game – saw a stretcher and cart used to take him off the field after his body went limp following a head injury.
And she’d always wanted Luke to play basketball.
Analee Falk tore through the Rose Bowl on her way to the training room, but not fast enough to catch Luke, who had already returned to the field after taking a shot to the head that ended his involvement in the first half of WSU’s game against UCLA.
When she got to her seat she watched as Bruins defender Jacob Tuioti-Mariner nearly speared Luke Falk’s head with his own by using his helmet as a missile when Falk slid to the ground.
“I get now why coach Leach doesn’t speak about injuries,” Analee Falk said. “I appreciate it now as a mom, because what did they do? They went right for my kid’s head. How brutal is that?”
As she ran back and forth through the famed UCLA stadium, her mind replayed the conversation she’d had with her son six years prior, when Luke Falk was in ninth grade and he told her that while he would continue to play basketball, football was his priority, and asked her to accept and support his pursuit of a dream that was fraught with risk.
“I knew what he was saying and I knew he knew what he was saying to me which was that he was going to go into a sport that was risky and how do you describe that? As a mom you hope they play golf,” Falk said. “But he said ‘I would rather live my passion and die doing it than not live my passion.’ At that moment I wrapped my brain around that I had to be OK. We were not going to put our energy into thinking negative things.”
During the halftime of the UCLA game, Luke Falk was able to pass the cognitive tests given to players suspected of potentially having a concussion – after a sideline dispute with his team’s medical personnel over possession of his helmet that led to him being taken to the locker room. But there was no question of his returning after the next week’s injury against the Buffaloes.
Falk spent a single night in the hospital after that game – a long, wakeful night with nurses waking him every two hours to perform more tests – but the discussion generated his sustaining blows to the head in successive games raged on, and was one more thing Analee Falk had to tune out as she supported her son.
And Luke Falk had to learn not to push himself back onto the field, as he did against UCLA, and come to terms with not playing in the Apple Cup, which the Cougars eventually lost 45-10 thanks in large part to seven turnovers committed by the offense.
Analee Falk knew her son would try to play in that game, and made him promise to be truthful with her and his doctors about his health.
“I just had to check myself in the mirror because I was trying to get back as fast as possible,” Luke Falk said. “I had to be honest about my symptoms. Protocol was tough to do. Standing on the sidelines watching my team play a rivalry game was tough.”
Doctors cleared Falk to practice on Friday, Dec. 4th and gave him full permission to play after last Wednesday’s practice, although he will continue to be monitored and he expects a checkup in his near future.
He will almost certainly lead the Cougars in their Dec. 26 game against Miami in the Sun Bowl. Shortly before that, his mother will introduce herself to her seatmates, explain that her son is her hero but that he’s not perfect, and ask them to understand that, and the challenges she faces supporting his dream while unable to protect him from criticism and injury.
“Football is one of those sports that a mom has to wrap her brain around because it’s so conflicting. In some arenas it’s been so amazing what Luke has accomplished, and I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, I always knew he had this in him,’” Analee Falk said. “Then you see him laying on the field and he’s taken off on a gurney, those moments are unbearable. It’s a bittersweet thing is all I can say.”
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