Almost nothing about Thursday, December 22nd was even close to how I envisioned it. This realization came as I sprinted onto the disgusting blue turf, frantically looking for anybody and everybody to hug.
I planted my first foot into the turf and expected the tears to flow from the my eyes.
The tears never came.
Prior to the game, as Idaho players ran out onto the field from the tunnel I began reflecting on the fact this was actually happening. Idaho is in a bowl game? I felt the tears start to come then. I fought them back.
I spent four years covering Idaho football as a reporter, but it doesn’t mean the perpetual losing didn’t wear on me as an alumnus of this school. Now, as a full-fledged fan, I’m acutely aware of the recent history and what winning this game would actually mean.
I expected to cry. And when the time came, I couldn’t. I think know why.
Frantically running around the field as Vandal fans poured onto it, I tried finding as many players as I could. I wanted to thank all of them personally. Thank them for committing to this university, and thank them for making me immensely proud to be a part of this Vandal community.
Needless to say, it was freezing. I lined up down in front of the gate to get onto the field with over four minutes remaining in the game. I was standing in a puddle and my feet were wet. It was both uncomfortable and surreal.
The gates opened and we massed at the 50-yard line on top of the gross Bronco and started jumping up and down, hugging, screaming, celebrating. But, as I looked around at the players the vibe was different. Celebratory, yes. Hyped, yes. There were hugs, there was screaming into the 10-degree Boise night. Still, it just felt different.
There is a different feel and a different vibe when you’re in the midst of an upset. In a true upset even the players can’t believe what they just accomplished. The Vandals were different. The Vandals carried themselves like a team that’s been here before.
Clearly, they haven’t. But they expected this. Not only to win, but to completely dominate and beat the crap out of Colorado State. They expect to completely take Colorado State’s will. And when they looked at how we, the fans, mobbed onto the field to celebrate … it was perhaps then that some of the players realized what the perception of the team really was.
Maybe that played a part in our players mostly choosing to calmly meander down toward the trophy presentation. They literally had over half an hour to reflect on the fact they already won well before the clock hit triple zeroes.
We led 61-28 with just over seven minutes remaining. It was over then. Before that, reality started to set in with just over 18 minutes left when we held a 41-7 lead.
Matt Linehan said it himself. “Nobody believed in us,” the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl MVP proclaimed to ESPN upon accepting his award.
He was promptly interrupted when a few dozen of us corrected him. “WE DID!” we shouted.
He smiled. We did believe. We truly believed in this football team and this program. For some of us it has been hard. It’s not easy to support a football team that regularly wins one game in a season and has been a perpetual national embarrassment, especially as your rival is on the national stage.
To them it’s fair to question. How many of the fans there were like me, like Peter Gregg, like Marc Trivelpiece who could list off the names of players who graduated on those one-win teams? Granted, I covered the team and was obligated to come when the team went through 1-11, and 1-11, and then … one win again. But I was here before the season started, telling you this football team was unequivocally a bowl-quality program.
This, though? Nine wins? Completely pummeling Colorado State into the ground? I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect this. I expected to win, but not this.
The guys on the team expected every bit of this. This was the day at the office they’ve been preparing for since December of 2012 when Paul Petrino stood in the Litehouse Center, selling us on his mantra of “feed the studs” and stating he was going to win at Idaho.
Petrino made good on that promise.
The players certainly felt like few outside of the locker room realized how much work was put in during the course of the last four seasons leading up to this moment.
A roster full of players who didn’t have the slightest clue what a bowl week was like still treated it like a business trip. They went through their bowl activities, the bowling, the arcade games, the sledding and enjoyed it. Of course, they deserved it. Then they made one of the least respected programs in FBS into the talk of ESPN in the latter stages of bowl week by overcoming being two-touchdown dogs and lighting up the scoreboard with 61 points in three quarters.
A glance over to the Colorado State sideline and you saw hype. A Rams squad jumping up and down in unison, looking at our guys as if they weren’t shit.
Apparently this happened as well:
At first, this worried me. I looked over at the Idaho sideline and only saw a handful of players jumping up and down. Others remained to themselves. Walking around, or looking blankly onto the field while nestling their hands inside the collars of their shoulder pads.
Did Colorado State want it more? You see this every year in bowl games. Sure, one team could be objectively better and more talented. Objectively speaking, that team is still Colorado State. I was worried, knowing Idaho needed to want it more in order to win.
Again, I should have known better. I should have known this assistant coaching staff, who’ve heard everything Chuck Staben has said about the role football should play at this university, would have given everything in preparation for this game. In hindsight, knowing Idaho’s FBS death warrant had already been signed, of course there is no logical scenario in which these coaches wouldn’t get these players up to play this football game.
Colorado State didn’t come even a quarter as hard as it needed to in order to fend off Idaho’s upperclassmen playing the best football game of their lives.
How did I not know? I’m the one who kept telling you to defy your own expectations of this football team. I told you this team was different. And I still didn’t see this coming.
Then you could see it when Matt Linehan was animated, livid even, after being sacked and seeing routes not coming together during our first couple of drives in the first quarter.
He wanted it more than anybody in that stadium wearing green.
Personally, I was prepared for the worst when Colorado State hit its first touchdown, covering over half the field on a home run strike. That’s their game. Hit big plays and hit them often. I wasn’t sure if Idaho was going to work its efficient, methodical offense enough to overcome it.
I should know better than to doubt Matt Linehan.
We weren’t just efficient. We did whatever the fuck we wanted on offense.
I didn’t even see Deon Watson’s touchdown which put Idaho up 34-7 in the third quarter. I buried my head as he streaked down the sideline so I could collected myself for a minute and gauge if this was even real life.
Jordan Frysinger’s inhuman one-hand grab over the back of a defender was literally right in front of me. He glided into the end zone, and it was over. That was IT. This was definitely over at 55-28 and barely half a quarter remaining.
The University of Idaho won a bowl game in four hours, although it took four years to build. My lasting memory from that game may be walking up to Dallas Sandberg and Jake Manley, seniors from the 2015 squad, prior to the trophy presentation and profusely thanking them for the way they helped mold the players on this team.
“It’s a program,” Sandberg told me.
Sandberg would wake up the offensive linemen at six in the morning on a military regimen to get them in the weight room. This win was much for guys like him as it was for the 85 on the team right then.
Fans rushing the field that moment deliriously couldn’t believe what had just happened. To us, it was just another miraculous, brilliant Vandal bowl win. It’s just what we do.
To this football team it was the materialization of four years of pain, which for four hours they projected onto their hapless opponents from Fort Collins, Colorado.
It’s pain no longer. It’s one of the most well deserved nights in the history of Vandal football.
– – – – –
Here’s what else I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect it to be THAT cold. I had six layers, including four long-sleeve shirts, over my Nasty, Inebriated t-shirt. I had gloves. I wore three pairs of socks and I wore a Vandals flat-brim fitted hat.
My dumb ass also wore Vans, who soaked through and my feet were wet all game. I shouldn’t had a beanie. I should’ve had a scarf. I should’ve had a Vandal hoodie to go over my six layers. I mean, damn, Idaho, I don’t think I’ve ever been that cold in my life.
I didn’t expect my tailgate situation would be so unorganized. I planned on walking around and seeing a million people. It was cold as fuck. I didn’t want to take my gloves off and use my phone.
I showed up to the Corner Club tailgate with 30 Rainier tall boys from the gas station around the corner. I was looking for zip-ties to tie the Nepal flag I had to the piece of PVC pipe I was using as a flag pole. I used rubber bands instead.
I expected to walk around and hand out Rainiers. It was too cold to use my phone and everybody was buzzing and busy. Thirty tall boys was more than enough for the Corner Club and Delta Sigma Phi tailgates. D Sig had heaters. I didn’t want to leave.
Did I mention it was cold?
I didn’t expect the number of Idaho fans as there were. I admittedly was not a part of the Vandal family in 2009, and my perception of what I saw on television that year didn’t match up to what I saw on Thursday.
THE ENTIRE SIDE OF THE STADIUM was filled was black, silver and gold and most of the fans on the other side of the stadium were Vandals. We had the entire end zone stand that was open filled with Vandals, mostly students I believe.
The weather was miserable and we still came through.
I didn’t expect to see the number of former classmates that I did. All my friends from the Corner Club, Peter and Lauren on the field, Nick Cain finding me at the 50, Tyler Santi from the B-Dubs crew. Friends from The Argonaut, Stephan and Josh. Friends from Boise, Sean Foster and Robert Pfeifer. Rob Taylor.
That was still about two dozen less people than I was hoping to see.
Most of all, I didn’t expect to meet as many people who recognized me from this website right here and who kept encouraging me to write. People I have never met told me they love the concept of this website, what I do and that I give them another avenue to read about the Vandals.
I hear all of you. Just because the season is over doesn’t mean this blog is over. This is your website as much as it’s mine. I hear you loud and clear. Tubs at the Club will go on.