PULLMAN, Wash. — Revenge of the Hicks had a nice run Saturday as the Hayseeds of Washington State, playing in their own pleasantly bucolic setting, the straw sticking out of their helmets, blew away the big city boys of USC. Score one, finally, for the farmers and dairy managers who are presumed to constitute WSU.
Well, score one for the long-suffering Cougars, anyway. Despite some ill-advised comments from Trojans that appeared in a Seattle newspaper (Rex Moore: "Everybody there thinks we're Hollywood surfer weirdos . . . That's OK, because we all think they're rednecks"), Washington State football is indeed something more than a 4-H club in pads.
"Rednecks and hicks," sniffed WSU quarterback Ed Blount. "I mean, I'm from Pasadena." He played like he expects to return there New Year's Day.
Blount, in the Pacific 10 Conference upset of the season, completed 13 of 20 passes for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead WSU over ninth-ranked USC, 34-14.
It was the first time Blount, who has a keen hatred of USC ("Growing up, I always thought their games were fixed, the way they'd come back to win"), defeated his personal rivals. More importantly, it was the first time WSU had beaten USC in 29 years.
Maybe you can see why rural football has had such a bad rap in some corners of the conference.
Senior fullback Kerry Porter, who led the conference in rushing in 1983 but who has been injured the last two seasons, rushed for 164 yards, reclaiming his previous form and making some small claim to farmers' football. "Hicks," Porter said sadly. "Why three-quarters of the team is from California. Course, I'm from Montana . . . "
Wherever they're from, they made some small claim to WSU football, which has suffered in a miserable frustration lately. Things were so bad for a while, WSU Coach Jim Walden managed to alienate even his team, never mind conference members (he called Cal a "moped") and poor Pullman, which decreasingly attends his games.
At one point, after San Jose and Cal upset the Cougars on successive weekends, Walden announced he "was never more receptive to the idea" of another job and that he "was sorry" he ever recruited this particular team. He was so furious with his players--not a leader among them, he said--he put them through a second Hell Week.
"A lot more hitting, a lot more running," Blount recalled. "A lot more."
Saturday, Blount praised the coach's motivational instincts, a psychological mastermind. "I didn't take anything personal at the time," he says, "but then, too, he might have meant it. He was enraged. I never thought he should have done what he did publicly, but we got the picture. Anyway, look at us now."
But Walden says he wasn't being coy about the public demeaning of his players. He really meant it.
"I'm not smart enough to be calculated," he says. "I was mad, as mad as I've ever been. I didn't enjoy saying those things about my own players, it was a stomach churning time. But I'd rather do that and let them have a day like today."
If it wasn't calculated, it was effective. "I proved I was right, that we are good," he said. He thinks, too, it shook them up. "Maybe they said, 'Hey, let's not let him dump a season.' "
Well, if it wasn't Walden getting under the Cougars' skins, it was the Trojans. In one newspaper account, All-American safety Tim McDonald bemoaned the trip to Pullman, which is indeed situated among an odd acre or two of wheat and not accessible by anything but farm implements.
"All week dreading it, going to the middle of nowhere," McDonald said. When somebody asked him where Pullman was, he said, "It's a two-hour bus ride from some airport somewhere.
"You know what gets me mad," McDonald continued, "you get into these towns and you don't see anybody. Nobody's out at night. Nobody's on the streets. Then you go to the stadium the next day it's full of people. Where do they all come from? It's really weird."
It didn't exactly make the bulletin board here--hey, it does take two hours to drive from Spokane to Pullman--but you could tell it did rankle some Cougars, or maybe even amuse them. The idea that, after the game, they'd hitch up their bib overhauls and go bale some hay just doesn't square with reality. When prodded, Blount admitted they did have running water. "We just don't have an ocean," he conceded. Oceans of rolling wheat, maybe, but try and surf that.
Blount had to admit that WSU wasn't his first choice, but his only option. WSU was the only school to offer him a scholarship, presumably because he finished his high school career at Blair as damaged goods. He hurt his shoulder. "Man, I didn't even get a junior college offer."
But for Washington State, which likes its quarterbacks mobile to run the veer-type offense, he is (sometimes) perfect. Saturday he was as close to perfection as he or Walden can expect. Though not supposed to be a pure passer, he was sensationally accurate, even with a long ball. And he was not intercepted once and, running the risky option offense, did not fumble.
It was, quite literally, a dream game. "I had a dream we beat SC, 42-0, and I threw 3 touchdown passes," Blount says. "Well, I didn't throw 3 touchdown passes . . . "
The upshot of this premonition is that Blount is more tired than jubilant. "Man, I've been playing this game in my dreams since Wednesday. That's a lot of SC."
For Walden, it's enough USC. "We only get this every 30 years," he was saying of a win over USC. "I'm just glad it was in my lifetime."
He said he was glad his team had the week off because it gave him an extra week to tell people what a great coach he was.
And it certainly relieved his frustration. Angry that attendance actually declined 2,000 after a victory this year, he has blistered fans this season. But Saturday the scorned masses lifted Walden to the crisp autumn skies and carried him off the field. As he was carried off he held his hands out to the people, saying, "Thank you, thank you."
He didn't look mad at anybody Saturday. He had just gotten some Farm Aid.