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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Football

Cougar football has come far, will continue to grow


LOS ANGELES – The score was 31-13, but let’s forget about that. Quickly.

This story is not about yesterday, but tomorrow. It’s not about what happened on the field, but what’s happening off of it.

Twenty minutes before The Forgettable Game began, this UH graduate, Class of 2003, took his seat in the corner of the Rose Bowl just behind the UH band, turned around and marveled. There behind me was a sea of red, wide and deep, standing and loud. More than 1,500 miles away from Robertson Stadium, some 3,000 Cougar fans gathered to make themselves heard. The UCLA ticket allotment of 2,600 for visiting teams had sold out, and from the looks of a section that stretched all the way up to the top of this massive stadium and spilled even beyond that, many more had joined.

To understand my marveling you must understand my perspective: a decade ago I was a sports writer for this very newspaper who often traveled with the football team. Never did I see such a UH throng so far from home. A few wealthy boosters? Sure, but that was all. The visiting “section” was always a joke. The visiting team? Pretty much the same.

During my four years at UH I saw our football program win half as many games (15) as it lost (30). I saw lame fan support outside of the old-timers whose minds still held on to better days far gone. And at home in Robertson Stadium I saw a UH student section that generally numbered in the hundreds rather than the thousands, basically comprised of a few fraternities and Moody Towers residents with nothing better to do on a Saturday night.

And in 2001, I saw The Bottom: an 0-11 season.

But this is what I saw on Saturday night: a program to rally around, to believe in, no matter this UCLA hiccup. A coach in Kevin Sumlin that must be held onto no matter his occasional gaffe (shotgun throw on 1st and goal at the 2?). And a new stadium back home that needs to be built in order to keep this UH Football Revival going, especially in the midst of this current conference-shifting football landscape.

Before Saturday, the Cougars were nationally relevant again, ranked No. 23 and led by a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Case Keenum. Two home games had come and gone just as planned, the Cougars rolling right over lesser opponents in Texas State and UTEP. Though here again, the story was not on the field but off of it. Both of those games were sellouts, and on ESPN last week I watched along with the rest of the nation a rocking stadium filled to the edges with fans both old and young, the UH student section now an actual section.

“People are hanging off the rails now,” Miller Bassler, who played for the Coogs in the early 70s, said before the UCLA game while standing among fellow Cougar tailgaters.

“It’s like it was when he played,” added his wife, Kathie.

On Saturday night, though, UH lost a game that turned on its head on that first-and-goal pass that was intercepted and returned 77 yards the other way. The play effectively sealed a UH defeat and probably finished Keenum’s remarkable career at UH, the quarterback having reportedly suffered a torn ACL on the same play.

The glimmer of hope in this darkness? While Keenum may have been lost under the lights of Hollywood, UH will now look to Broadway for the rest of this story. Prized freshman recruit Terrance Broadway, originally slated to redshirt this season, soon entered the game and looked as good as advertised, repeatedly using his very quick feet to escape trouble and some beautiful touch on a perfectly thrown fade pass that went for UH’s only touchdown.

Kid, the keys are now yours.

By the time it was all over, the UH section holding its collective Cougar Paw up one last time as the band played the alma mater in defeat, a feeling washed over me that I never experienced in my four years as a student at the school: hope. True hope.

Football games are won and lost on bad bounces, bad calls, unlucky injuries. Football programs are built by the brick.

What happened on the field Saturday was ugly, indeed, but what this UH alum saw off of it was simply marvelous. There is a buzz and a light around this program now that I never saw with my own eyes while at the school, and this movement must press forward.

Saturday’s defeat makes it all the more important for UH fans to show up again in droves next week when the Cougars host Tulane at Robertson Stadium. And stand. And hang off those rails. And roar.

The future — in Terrance Broadway, and in all of us – is most certainly now. And brick by brick, we must continue to build.

Josh Gajewski, a former Daily Cougar sports editor, is a freelance writer now based in Los Angeles.


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