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Ralph Walter: The best way to welcome the football season? Playing our football board game

“Football is like life. It requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.”Vince Lombardi.

Thursday, though, it mostly requires scissors and a single die.

Because with football season finally upon us, what better way to celebrate the game’s 2019 return than with an actual game of football.

A board game, to be exact.

It’s called BECU/Air Raid*, and is included as part of our annual football section, Game Night, which you’ll find tucked inside Thursday’s print edition of The Spokesman-Review.

* Note: Some assembly IS required (See scissors above.)

Loosely based on Coach Mike Leach’s pass-first, shotgun spread offense that has transformed his Washington State Cougars into a perennial bowl team, our simple Air Raid game blends modern football strategy and decision-making with nostalgic 1970s technology.

Think Madden without the fancy graphics.

Even the mobile version of Air Raid, currently being adapted by the heroic efforts of our web team, will be gloriously old-school, less Fortnite than family game night. Stay tuned for that.

And to get a full appreciation of Thursday’s entire football section, inspired by classic board games, I’d wholeheartedly suggest buying a print edition. It’ll be the best $1.50 you spend all week.

The magnificent work of photographer Colin Mulvany, artist Molly Quinn and designer Madison McCord is on full display with engaging season previews of our local teams that feel as much “Game of Life” as they do game of football.

Since Washington high school teams start games a week later than last year, we’ll hold off previewing them until next Thursday. In the meantime, Dave Nichols serves up a wonderful tale of four prep linemen, all with hefty appetites to compete at the next level. And you’ll find previews of North Idaho high schools in Thursday’s sports section.

In addition, writer Kip Hill sticks to our game theme as he analyzes his favorite video football games over the years. Along with that, we look back at the evolution of all football games, from electric football to the recently released Madden 20.

And, of course, there’s the Air Raid – both our board game and the offense that inspired it. (You’ll find the Air Raid game and the instructions on how to play in the back of today’s football section, and can read all about the Air Raid offensive philosophy near the front.)

Writer Dan Thompson – a WSU alum – explains how the Air Raid offense seems to have eclipsed Quarterback U as the new identity of Cougar football. Enlisting the help of Leach mentor Hal Mumme, WSU outside receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. and former quarterbacks Alex Brink and Connor Halliday, Thompson dissects the offense through the eyes of a QB surveying the defense at the line of scrimmage.

It’s really not that complicated, according to Mumme. It’s about exploiting advantages. And more than Xs and Os, he tells Thompson, the Air Raid offense is an identity.

WE know we’re going to pass. YOU know we’re going to pass. Now try to stop us.

We applied that same bold philosophy to Air Raid, the game, hoping to simulate a video-game offense in the kind of dice-and-luck throwback board game many of us played as kids.

“Yeah, I remember a game kinda like that,” recalled Leach, who sat down recently with defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys for a test drive and photo shoot. Predictably, Leach got the ball first, Claeys hunched over his six possible defensive schemes.

And how did our Air Raid game measure up to the real thing?

“You need more running plays,” Leach groused.

You know your offense is too one-dimensional when Mike Leach complains about the lack of a ground game.

With a play chart that featured just one dedicated run (a draw) among its 20 offensive sets, Leach seemed determined to exploit OUR weakness, even if it meant going against his pass-first instincts.

“All right, you ready?” he asked Claeys as he faced third-and-7 from his 28-yard line. “Let’s go draw.”

Five-yard gain. Fourth down.

“Yeah, why not? Let’s go for it,” Leach said, shaking his head as he again pored over the flawed play chart. “You don’t have any run plays on here, do you?”

(Again, my bad. That’s what happens when the guy recreating an entire offensive scheme claims as his career football highlight an end-over-end touchdown pass in the fifth quarter of an eighth-grade game.)

Facing fourth-and-2, Leach called a halfback swing and was stopped for a 3-yard loss. Claeys took possession and quickly responded with a four-play, 30-yard touchdown drive.

And just like that, their game was over.

As with most offenses at the start of fall camp, there were a few kinks that needed to be worked out. But thanks in part to Mumme, our game’s Air Raid offense arrives to you in midseason form with the addition of a few more running plays.

Let’s just hope that’s enough to keep Leach from calling them.