First off, let’s be clear. Outside of the realm of the positive impacts on student-athletes it can have, college football is not as important as the giant television contracts tell you it is. I’m as guilty as anybody as having supported schools in the past which follow the money and are morally corrupt in putting football above anything else. I’m also guilty of moments in which I treat this sport like it’s the difference between life or death.
It should be none of those extremes.
After my now 15 years of college football fandom I believe I’ve found my happy medium as a recovering wannabe sports journalist and my first season as an Idaho football fan. I’ve found the subtle happiness sports can bring.
This football team and this season we’ve had has emotionally helped me during my transition back to Seattle as I’ve started my post Moscow life. It’s not the most important thing. It’s not the reason. But it’s definitely helped.
Here is how Idaho football has been in my life throughout the fall.
Jersey announcements in July
It was almost awkward not being a part of the press corps when Idaho made its first major announcement of the young football season, gathering the team and a few fans in downtown Moscow for a little runway action to show off the new lids and threads. But I started my own website! Thanks to this, I got my first post off the ground and here we are. Nearly 30 posts later and 20,000 views later. Idaho football has allowed me this platform and this event helped me get it started.
Season opener vs. Montana State
I hadn’t been to an Idaho game as a fan since my first year as a student in 2011. I saw one win that year, against FCS North Dakota in a game in which we were losing at halftime. I had never been drunk inside the Kibbie Dome … until the Montana State game. It was a game that was uncomfortably close because for whatever reason Matt Linehan was off. The significance of the trip was being able to take a 20-hour roundtrip back to the Palouse for the first time since I’d left, see a handful of great friends and make it back to Seattle in time to start my new job at The Seattle Times. It was a whirlwind day.
Never in my life had I been inside Husky Stadium and hoped the Huskies lose. I grew up a Husky fan. Yet there I was, walking around the Husky Stadium tailgate in black and gold and looking at those wearing purple as if they were the enemy. It was a surreal experience, but also an amazing one being able to share a section with nearly a thousand other Vandals.
The first game I had to watch on TV! I couldn’t quite take the weekend off work to make this one, but it helped me realize the perspective of the blessing I had to still be able to work in sports media despite moving home to …. Not do sports media. The game sucked. It was a fluke.
I watched this one, live on Twitter, streaming from my tablet in the newsroom. This is when the actual reality of being able to become a bowl eligible team became real. I was texting with a mentor of mine who thought Idaho was going to get crushed. I didn’t agree, but his reasoning seemed solid. Survived a bad Montana State team, then gave up against UW and WSU at the first sight of things not going their way despite being able to land a few punches in the first quarter. But Linehan was great in those two games and I knew how good this team played last season offensively. And Idaho delivered. Every UNLV swing, Idaho fought back. A long drive. Two Kaden Elliss interceptions. The defense holding firm in the first overtime. Then Callen Hightower’s touchdown catch.
There I went, sprinting through the Seattle Times newsroom singing the fight song. “I. D. A. H. O.”
A few things. One, this win made bowl eligibility seem possible. Two, this win made me feel like I understood this team and knew what I was writing about. Three, Go Vandals.
This game kind of sucked. Both the same itself, and me trying to watch it. I was late taking the bus into Seattle because I was still living in Bonney Lake at the time. Then I couldn’t find a place around South Lake Union with good wifi where I can just sit down and plug my computer in and watch it. (What the hell, Paul Allen. This is your neighborhood. Can I get a damn functional coffee shop?) So I went to work early, then streamed the second half and got really upset Idaho seemed to quit and roll over when facing negativity again. This seemed to be a wake up call for the team.
Okay, Vandal fans, this is the one and only week this season I prioritized the Huskies over Idaho. I had to. It was Oregon week and this was the year we were finally going to break the losing streak. I had been a Husky fan for too long. So I went to Buffalo Wild Wings and made a few new friends at the bar watching a SEVENTY-BURGER being put on the Ducks. At the time I had a shitty replacement phone so I couldn’t stream Idaho at the same time but you better believe I shouted GO VANDALS when I followed Rehkow’s game-winning kick on the game tracker. I then re-watched the game and live tweeted the replay the next day. (And I wonder why I’m single).
New Mexico State
Much like when Idaho’s season started to take off, this is when my life in Seattle started to take off as well. This was the first time I was able to watch a game with the Puget Sound Vandal boosters club, who were able to get a couple of dozen people to come out to Buckley’s downtown to watch the game. Seeing some faces I’m familiar with, meeting completely new ones and talking about mutual friends we have. Oh, yeah, and we completely beat the crap out of New Mexico State to move to a winning record for the first time all season. That was cool.
I was in Moscow for this game! Unfortunately, the game happened to be on the road. I was in town for a wedding! (OPEN BARRRRRRRR). I won’t delve too much on all of the free crown and cokes I enjoyed (but I will say we sang the fight song at the wedding go vandalssssss). This game, however, was somewhat of an impossible task for Idaho. Nearly 3,000 miles away from home against a conference title contender but the Vandals played hard. An incredible first half, Rehkow lights out again and App having to pull away in the second half. It was a tough loss, but an encouraging showing from Idaho after the way we lost to Troy.
This is where the surreal nature of Idaho’s season really began to shine through. This was the first game of a four-game winning streak and of winning three of our final four games by double digits. This is where all silvers began. And, the first of three straight viewing parties at Art Marble 21 in South Lake Union. I got to see a ton of people I hadn’t seen in a while. Cooper, my favorite bartender back at the Corner Club. Dave Ellison, a Vandal grab who accompanied me to the Montana State game. Mike Marboe, Idaho’s exceptional center who now resides over here.
This game was emotional and weird and serendipitous. It was the first game after the election. It was the day after the US Men’s National team lost to Mexico … after the election. And, among other things going on in my personal life, this was when Idaho was able to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2009. I also met my friend who is now my roommate there. A friend who happened to recognize me as the Tubs at the Club and former Spokesman guy and who happened to have a room for rent in Fremont and who helped me work it out to move in with him. I never imagined I’d be living with another Vandal here in Seattle, and I’m blessed to be able to do so! It was a wild, somewhat disappointing weekend with an optimistic end.
I sat there and basically cried at the end of the game when Idaho clinched its bowl eligibility. Then I went to work and started a new part-time position at work as the agate guy and it went horribly wrong. But it’s usually that way on your first go at it. I’m pretty good at it now, don’t worry!
By this point I was already living in Fremont, preparing to travel to Idaho’s bowl game wherever it was and settling into my new role at work. Idaho now trying to turn bowl eligibility into a nine-win season? In my line of work you don’t get holiday weekends off. A couple Rainiers and a Vandal win made it a perfect holiday weekend. Oh, I also got to my my cat up to Seattle with me from Bonney Lake! So, this weekend was basically perfect.
At this point I just want to find out where we’re playing our bowl game. The challenges of my life seem to have fallen into place. A great job, a happy place to live, my cat being able to snuggle up with me every night. But I want to know where I’m going to travel! Arizona for New Year’s? Orlando or New Orleans on the day I’m actually sitting down to write this blog post? It’s shortly after Idaho thrashes Georgia State with a handful of turnovers and wins its fourth conference game by double-digits that reports surface it’s Boise. Idaho will be headed to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. I was overcome with joy at that point. Do you understand how many people I’m going to be able to see? Oh my god. Couches to crash on. Dozens of people I know. As of writing this I am two days out from spending a day in Moscow and three days out from getting into Boise that afternoon. I am extremely impatiently counting down the days until I am surrounded by Vandals.
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
While a me even just a few weeks ago would probably be excited to spend an entire week not being sober in the name of sportsball athletics, the current me is going to use this week for a bit of self-betterment. Believe it or not, I won’t be drinking very much! Hopefully, not much at all. I’d rather buy you guys a drink and see how you’ve been. Hopefully I’ll have two extra tickets to the game in my hand. I haven’t figured out how I’ll give them away, but I’ll figure it out.
I also want to use this week to remember a friend who I won’t say I lost, but the entire U of I community lost when she passed away in a car accident last Thursday morning. She was from Nepal, a friend to so many people who I love and was committed to making a difference in the world.
Now, we just want to help her get home to her family so they can perform her final rituals. I’ll have this with me to represent her memory and so that I can ask anybody who asks about it to donate to help her family.
You can do so here if you’d like.