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THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: Just grateful for the chance to play a little football

| December 16, 2020 1:23 AM

It’s easy to second-guess the thing now.

You know, why did the Pac-12 try having a football season in the midst of a pandemic?

Wasn’t the whole thing doomed to chaos with that late start, with more than a hundred possible infections every day in each school’s program, with the near-impossibility of safe travel under the circumstances, yada, yada?

Sure, you can look now at the conference having to make a last-ditch decision to match Oregon and USC in the title game, after a Covid outbreak shot through almost the entire Washington program.

That would be Oregon with its 3-2 record, having lost its last two and hardly appearing worthy of a spot in any championship game.

Most of all, maybe, you can peer over to Washington State, which is scheduled to play its season finale this weekend at Utah.

If the game actually goes off, it will be just the Cougs’ fourth of the year, and only their second in 35 days.

NOW HERE is a program that has taken a beating from the virus.

Wazzu went 22 days between its second game and its third — how’s that for rust? — then had last week’s match with Cal called off less than two hours before kickoff because a single positive test turned up on the Bears roster.

And yet…

The Cougs would give you the loudest possible argument that ANY season was better than nothing.

“These guys just want to play,” Coach Nick Rolovich said during a Zoom media conference this week.

Rolo rarely gets overly emotional — at least when he’s talking to the press — but he came close in that session, explaining that playing football is about the last possible way in society where young men can get into a “warrior” mindset — then go out and compete with their teammates.

When questions came up about the Cougars winding up with just one home game as opposed to three on the road, or whether they’d be bothered by predicted snow in Salt Lake City, Rolo tossed everything out the window.

“They’d play in a junkyard,” he said.

In that same Zoom event, senior offensive lineman Liam Ryan likewise made it obvious that he didn’t resent all the practices, all the work — only to be hit with the problems this chopped up season has created.


Well, because he’s been able to play a little football — up front where most of the banging takes place — and, hey, there’s another game scheduled this week.

“I just want to get back in the trenches,” he said.

THE MORE you hear from the Cougs and their coaches, the more you realize that even a bizarre and sometimes frustrating season has been far preferable than if the Pac-12 had bailed on football completely.

Surely, though, these players have been totally gutted by setbacks like the late, late cancellation of the Cal game.


“You just roll with it,” offered defensive back Daniel Isom.

“I just did what I’d normally do to take care of my body, and then to get ready for Utah.”

Rolovich says he amazed — almost awed — by how his team has stayed the course and kept its focus through everything that’s happened.

He also made the critical point that while his guys were disappointed to be shut down right before kickoff, he was sure that the Cal players felt the same way.

Rolo’s right.

AND AS this disjointed season winds down, it’s important to note that everyone in the Pac-12 has been burned by Covid at some point.

Oregon’s Mario Cristobal was asked if he thought the way the championship game scenario unfolded was fair, and he accidentally put whole season in perspective.

“I honestly don’t think it’s fair to anybody," Cristobal said. “It’s not fair to us. It’s not fair to Washington. It’s not fair to Stanford. It’s not fair to the rest of the guys.

“But it’s here, and no one needs to apologize for that. Grateful for the opportunity to play.”

Washington State isn’t in a title game argument, but the same sentiment most definitely stands.

Grateful for the opportunity to play.


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball which is published on Tuesdays.