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‘Taking Flight’: Longtime journalist Paul Delaney serves up the history of Eastern Washington football

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 28, 2021

By Dave Cook For The Spokesman-Review

After spending his lifetime writing sports stories, working in the printing/design business and 40 years as a whitewater rafter, Paul Delaney has found a new role in his retirement(s).

He’s schlepping books, or, in his own word, he’s trying to hock as many “Taking Flight” books so he can pay back the savings used to help fund the project that relives and uncovers EWU football history.

The 68-year-old journalist and lifetime Spokane resident has written an epic 472-page history on “the INCREDIBLE story of Eastern Washington University football and its rise as a national power.” The three-year project finally came to fruition in September with the actual printing of the books, and distribution began as the 2021 season started.

It’s a definite must for the bookshelves and coffee tables of Eastern fans, friends and former players and coaches.

“I tackle things you hear about, but you don’t dive below the surface,” says Delaney, who spent 20 years as a Spokesman-Review contributor, primarily as their motorsports writer. “Diving below the surface with Eastern football was very rewarding and very educational.”

Pre-sales and initial purchases were brisk, but now Delaney finds himself still sitting on about 1,500 books and peddling them whenever and wherever possible in order to pay himself back for the substantial printing bill. The EWU Eagle Store in Cheney and Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane are helping sell the books.

Thus, the main marketing for “Taking Flight” is word of mouth, some social media posts and by a pitching a tent in the parking lot at Eagle games – even in Portland on Nov. 19 and 20. He’s hoping for a boost with Christmas looming, even though it’s categorically a stocking splitter-at-the-seamer and not a stocking stuffer.

This is not the first time Delaney has ventured into the black hole of book publishing. In 2001 he wrote and created “Saturday Nights Were Special: A History of Hockey in Spokane,” and before that, in 1989, on Gonzaga Prep Football called “Blue & White Dynamite.”

“It’s the biggest and most intensive project I’ve done so far – and the most expensive,” he says of “Taking Flight,” knowing the cost of printing alone has skyrocketed since 2001 when his hockey book with similar dimensions, look and feel was a measly 272 pages.

For God’s sake, where was Simon and/or Schuster when he needed them most? His wife of 43 years, Melanie, must certainly agree.

Many of the stories in “Taking Flight” were taken from articles Delaney wrote in his time as a writer for the Cheney Free Press from 2007 through 2018.

He still spent considerable time and energy chasing down other interviews and writing more content for the book. And as he conducted his research and the Eagles continued to be successful, the size of the book also swelled.

Most of the photos are his own too, even on the cover of a diving, one-handed grab by a sprawled-out Eagle receiver. No. 10, Cooper Kupp, ever heard of that guy?

Delaney is gracious in thanking profusely the more than 200 people who assisted him with the book.

After all, it’s a love story – his own of a journalism career that hit its stride when he covered the Eagles for just over a decade beginning in 2007. He’s even an Eastern journalism graduate, earning his degree in 1982 and then later obtaining an EWU degree in education – presumably as a career security blanket.

Now, he hopes the love is returned in the form of followers purchasing the fruits of his labors at a cost of $35 per book – a total steal at less than a dime a page. Shoot, some sportswriters have received less than that – the dime that is – for their creative services.

Ordering information is available at: ewufootballbook.com.

At 472 pages, a person needs to be retired to embark upon such an endeavor. Delaney did that twice, first in 2018 – just before EWU’s second drive to the NCAA Championship Game in the Football Championship Subdivision. He returned to the Free Press for a brief time before re-retiring, but the book was well underway by then.

The idea of a book on Eagle Football actually hit him right after Eastern won the national title in 2010, a season in which the Eagles rallied in the fourth quarter to win six of its games and the unique red turf made its debut in Cheney. Included was a 20-19 victory over Delaware in the title game that will likely forever be the ultimate moment in Eastern’s history.

Ultimately, the idea was hatched in 2018 as his Free Press time was winding down and Eastern was collecting a sixth Big Sky football title since 2010. That season culminated with a second trip to the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas.

“I began thinking what an INCREDIBLE piece of EWU football history I had witnessed,” he says.

Delaney was granted use of stories and images for the project by Bill Ifft, the owner of the Free Press at the time.

Heck, you need to be retired just to be able to dive into the book and get through it in a reasonable amount of time. Oh yes, I did just that – retire and dive (I’ve made it to page 123 so far) – so I’m ahead of most purchasers at this point.

Present-day head coach Aaron Best can talk of the grind of practices, games and the off-season, but nothing compares to the chore of getting through this behemoth. Alas, it’s way too large to take into the bathroom or bed, unless of course you have a sophisticated crane system in your house. Well-supported bookcases and sturdy coffee tables are advised.

Delaney organized the book into six sections, starting each with the catchphrase “IncREDible.” Those sections are: games, milestones, people, stats & stuff (my favorite, of course), trailblazers and a postscript. As he began designing the book pages in 2019, he knew Eastern would continue to make history and created the “postscript” section. That was a measly 14 pages.

As can be expected, the “people” section is the largest at 130 pages worth. Plus, there are the Trailblazers – Dick Zornes, Mike Kramer, Paul Wulff, Beau Baldwin just to name a few – another measly section of only 100 pages. But from a historical context of EWU football, no section was more important.

And even though he is not a part of the Trailblazers section, rest assured that Best and his 30 years in the program as a player, assistant coach and head coach, is prominent and well-chronicled throughout the book. But, as Paul points out, there is so much, much more he could have included.

“That was one of the problems,” he explains. “Figuring out what I would leave out was hard.”

Personally, it took me just a few pages to realize that this book was going to be a “fantastic, unprecedented history book on EWU football that will be something utilized long into the future.” Those were my very words to Paul, with the caveat to use my endorsement if it helps him sell a few more books.

At various times in the last decade or so, I’ve had many people ask if I was going to write my own book on the history of EWU Athletics, specifically Eagle Football, based on my 31-year history in the department and at the school. Oh, the stories I’d love to write and the places I’d love to take readers. But no, it would be too much work and investment – unless Simon and/or Schuster came calling.

History books are a tough sell, yet so very important. But like all the VHS tapes of Eagle games I saved through the years, maybe it’s best to read Paul’s book in 10 or so years when my dementia really sets in and I don’t remember a thing from the ’80s, ’90s, et al.

I will always remember early on in my career at Eastern reading cover-to-cover the book “Light for an Empire: The Story of Eastern Washington State College” and being struck by its importance. If that’s on your past or present reading list, you are a true follower of Cheney Normal and the school’s other iterations in the past 140 or so years. And, you are old as heck.

Published in 1965 by Cecil Dryden, it was a history of Eastern from the 1880s through the 1950s. Most notably to me, it had an extensive section on the “Red Reese Affair” which explained in detail the controversy regarding the lack of an advanced college degree for the icon who served as Eastern athletic director, head basketball coach, head football coach and head track and field coach for more than 30 years.

But although the Light for an Empire book was just a measly 369 pages, some 70 years later it’s still regarded as arguably the best history book about the history of the university. Who knows how hard Dryden had to work to sell those books back in the day?

Thus, Paul’s book has a long, long shelf life in my estimation. He just has to get them out of the boxes in his garage into the hands of people who have shelves and coffee tables.

Dave Cook spent 35 years as a college sports information director, first at Eastern Washington University, then at Idaho and then back for his final 30 at EWU. A lifelong Washingtonian, his love for all things athletics, music, reading and running in the region are topped only by his penchant for writing what he terms as “more than anyone could ever need or care to know.”

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