WSU vs. OSU introduces Hanchett to the life of a sports reporter

As I look up from my phone, I see a beaver tail flying in the back of a van, an indication that we are nearing our destination.

We arrive in Corvallis after several hours on the road, and before we know it, we find ourselves on the campus of Oregon State University.

We park at a garage near the stadium thanks to the parking permit thoughtfully provided by the Oregon State Athletic Department.

“Don’t forget your press pass,” says my dad as I climb out of the Prius.

Never. I will double check about a dozen times that night before entering the stadium. This piece of paper is my pass to the inner sanctum of sports writing: the press box.

I part with my folks and find my way to the PreGame, the official tailgate at away games organized by the Washington State University Alumni Association.

It occupies a relatively small and enclosed area that seems to be hidden from all of the buzz around Reser Stadium.

At the entrance I come up to a woman behind a desk, explain that I am a student reporter from WSU Vancouver and ask if I can get in to take some pictures.

She glances at the pass hanging on my neck and then says, “go ahead, I’m sure it’s ok.”

The woman is Anna Marie Carlson, a Special Events Coordinator from Alumni Engagement. According to Carlson, roughly 300 people have registered for the event, a small turnout compared to the usual 600 to a 1,000.

Here I am surrounded with WSU’s familiar crimson, gray and white. Most tailgaters are congregating under a large tent in order to share in the upbeat mood created by the DJ or to make their last minute purchases of Cougar fan gear.

The PreGame. Photo credit: Andrew Hanchett

The PreGame.
Photo credit: Andrew Hanchett

Upon leaving the PreGame festivities, I head in the direction of the stadium. Most of the area around Reser is filled with OSU tailgaters. I notice that it is not uncommon for fans dressed in crimson to be entertained under an orange tent.

One of the tailgaters tells me that “the Beavers and Cougars are friendly with each other” and I agree. The atmosphere surrounding the game does have an affable feel to it.

As the sun is setting, I become increasingly aware of the light coming from the stadium. From a distance, Reser looks like a giant that is gradually waking up from a couple of weeks’ slumber. The time has come to ascend to the shrine.

I touch my press pass to make sure it is there and start making my way through the commotion in front of the east entrance to the stadium. The press box is on the other side, so I increase my pace.

The writers’ section of the press box is buzzing with media personnel. Some are catching other games via an abundance of TV screens, others are already getting started on their stories.

Seating is arranged in two rows, with the second row slightly raised over the first, giving the room the impression of a movie theatre. In place of a movie screen is a large glass window stretching the length of the room, giving a panoramic view of the field.

No doubt the box is the best place for watching a game. Nothing beats a perfect view and a warm climate.

With some assistance, I find my seat in the front row designated by a label with my name and “The VanCougar” printed on it. I pause to reflect on the significance of the moment.

I am now officially accepted into the great circle of sports reporters. Next to me is Jacob Thorpe from the Spokesman Review.

His attention is split between watching the game, typing, updating his Twitter, and discussing the action with Stefanie Loh, a reporter from the Seattle Times.

I look around, hoping nobody notices my excitement, but most reporters are immersed in their work.

The only thing that could dampen my spirits is a Cougar loss.

Photo credit: Andrew Hanchett

Photo credit: Andrew Hanchett

The Beavers are first to get on the board. Running back Ryan Nall scores after an 89-yard run, followed by his catch in the end zone to double the score.

OSU capitalizes once more thanks to a trick play. With seven minutes left in the half, the Cougs are down 0-21.

I step outside to get some fresh air. Reser is roaring. The press box is right under the roof, and it feels like the noise is rushing in my direction.

I start doubting whether I will witness WSU’s much-hailed defense, because so far the Beavers are turning the Cougars into spectators.

Back inside, I overhear Thorpe and Loh conclude that the Cougars are experiencing their “worst first half of the season.”

Cougars manage to get a touchdown on their next possession, but see their extra point attempt blocked. Beavers get the ball with less than five minutes on the clock, march down the field, and grab three more points.

Better than conceding a touchdown I guess. OSU is leading 6-24 at the half. My head is spinning.

I have not had anything to eat in the last seven hours, so I head towards the buffet area. Potato salad, pasta salad, corn chips and chili dogs are on the menu, along with cookies for dessert. I grab a plateful and sit down to eat at the tables in the back of the room.

The buffet in the press box. Photo credit: Andrew Hanchett

The buffet in the press box.
Photo credit: Andrew Hanchett

With both body and spirits revived, I return to my seat. WSU’s defense seems to be more focused now and Luke Falk is able to connect with Jamal Morrow for a touchdown early in the third quarter. Cougars go for two and redeem the lost point.

Then comes Gabe Marks’s catch despite the triple coverage, sending a wave of murmurs through the room. How in the world did he catch that? Beavers defense is clearly shaken up.

Falk seizes the momentum on their next possession and finds Marks for another TD. Just like that, the Cougars manage to come back, take the lead, and do it all in one quarter. The score is 28-24.

I have a strong urge to pump my fists with excitement, but nobody is doing that around here so I maintain my professionalism.

The rest of the game was just a matter of getting the job done. Although the Cougs had to make the game more interesting and fumble a punt—resulting in a Beaver’s touchdown—the moment was a mere detour on the way to winning the game.

The Cougars’ touchdown to regain the lead on their next possession only made sense. The defense then came out big and prevented Ryan Nall from getting a first down inside WSU’s half of the field.

With nine seconds left on the clock, I ask Thorpe and Loh if I can follow them to the press conference.

“I have no clue what I wrote,” says Thorpe as we pile into the elevator, “So I hope it’s good.” Clearly I have only scratched the surface of what it is like to be a sports reporter.

The two reporters dash out of the elevator towards the stands. Following them, I find myself descending towards the field, hopping from bleacher to bleacher.

As we run across the turf, I want to pause and take in the atmosphere, the lights, the stadium… but the pair will not stop.

I keep on running, dodging staff, coaches, players and nearly crash into Falk on his way to the locker room. I cannot afford to lose sight of Thorpe and Loh, however, so I keep going.

The media room is unimpressive in its plainness. Two rows of stack chairs are set up for reporters. I sit down in the second.

Photo credit: Andrew Hanchett

Photo credit: Andrew Hanchett

Across the room and facing us is a standard classroom table with two microphones and two chairs. A backdrop with a WSU logo hangs behind the table.

WSU Coach Mike Leach is the first one to be brought in. He looks tired. “I thought, certainly for the first half, we got outcoached and we got outplayed,” says Leach.

His speech is thoughtful and frequently interrupted by hesitation devices. “Second half we were more disciplined,” he said. Loh asks what Leach told the players in the first half.

“I’d get fined if I said that,” says Leach, “it was basically a preview to what I said to them at halftime, and it probably contained some words that your children should never use.”

Morrow said that at halftime Leach was “finding a way to fire us up.” Falk followed up by saying “nothing really went our way, but Coach gave us a message and we responded.”

This may or may not be typical press conference talk, but it certainly is a testimony to the enormous influence a coach can have on his players.

I leave the media room wide-eyed and with emotions soaring. I came as a curious reporter, but will be leaving as an enthusiastic supporter.

The press box, the game, the press conference: the day’s events are enough to fill a whole week and then some. Most importantly, the Cougars won tonight, and I loved it.

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