Indeed, it was a decade of extremes. On one awful end there was the Gulf War, the L.A. Riots, the Oklahoma City bombing, and atrocities in Somalia, Yugoslavia and Rwanda. At the other was a booming economy, Beanie Babies, the McGwire-Sosa chase of Roger Maris, the end of the Cold War, and the repeal of apartheid laws in South Africa.
Cougar football reached unprecedented heights, with three bowl games and two of the finest quarterbacks the Pac-10 has ever seen. It also reached lows that hadn’t been seen on the Palouse since the dogs days of 1969-70.
In the fourth of a periodic series recapping every season of Cougar football, here's how it all shaped up on the crimson field during the ten seasons from 1990-99.
Cougfan.com Offensive Players of the Decade -- Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf
Cougfan.com Defensive Player of the Decade – DeWayne Patterson
Cougfan.com Lineman of the Decade – Scott Sanderson
Cougfan.com Team of the Decade -- 1997
Cougfan.com Game of the Decade -- WSU 42, Washington 23; 1992
WSU 41, Washington 35; 1997
1990 -- A mid-season quarterback controversy erupted when second-year coach Mike Price benched veterans Brad Gossen and Aaron Garcia in favor of true-freshman Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe performed admirably in five starts, finishing the season with 1,386 yards and 9 touchdowns, including one score against Oregon State that he threw to himself when he nabbed one his of own deflected passes out of the air. While the offense was respectable, the defense was last in the league and led to the Cougars' demise in a 3-8, 2-6 season. The low point in the season was a 50-36 loss to BYU at Provo; WSU led by 28 points in the first half. The three victories came over Texas Christian, California and Oregon State. Kicker Jason Hanson, who added punting duties to his regular kicking chores, turned in another outstanding year, becoming only the third player in Pac-10 history to be named to the all-conference team as both a punter and a kicker. As a punter, he averaged 45.4 yards per kick. As a kicker, he converted 29 of 29 PATs and punched through 17 field goals, including seven of 50 yards or longer. The Cougars' other all-conference pick was TE Clarence "Butch" Williams, son of the Cougar All-American from the 1960s.
1991 -- Sophomore Drew Bledsoe led the league in total offense (240.6 yards per game) and threw 17 scoring strikes in a 4-7, 3-5 season. Jason Hanson solidified his position has the greatest kicker in Pac-10 history, leading the league in punting for the second year in a row and booting another 10 field goals, including an NCAA-record 62-yarder (without a tee) against UNLV. Hanson graduated with a host of school records including most career points (328). For his efforts, he was named All-Pac-10 for the third year in a row and All-American for the second time in three years. For the second year in a row, Hanson was joined on the all-conference team by Cougar TE Clarence "Butch" Williams, who averaged 12.5 yards on 31 catches. The Cougars' victories came at the expense of UNLV, Oregon State, Arizona State and Arizona. The Cougars lost to eventual NCAA champion Washington, 56-21, but the game served notice that good things were in store. The Cougars, led by spirited cornerback Torey Hunter, played tough the entire game and their three TDs was the most any single team scored on the Husky defense that season.
1992 -- Junior quarterback Drew Bledsoe re-wrote the record book in a 9-3, 5-3 season highlighted by 42-23 rout of the Huskies in a Pullman blizzard. Bledsoe, who was named All-Pac-10 and All-American, threw for a school record 476 yards in the Cougars' nail-biting 31-28 Copper Bowl victory over Utah. His 3,246 passing yards for the season also was a school record. He also established new standards for single game total offense (468 yards against Utah) and most pass completions in a season (241). Other school records survived only because Bledsoe turned pro before his senior year (he was the first pick in the 1993 NFL draft). In 2 1/2 years as a starter, Bledsoe threw for 7,373 yards and 46 touchdowns. His 1992 performance earned him Pac-10
Offensive Player of the Year honors. While Bledsoe was softening opponents' defenses with aerial bombing runs (and leading the league in total offense), RB Shaumbe Wright-Fair kept the defenses off balance with a 1,330 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Wright-Fair also was the league-leader in rushing. In the Snow Bowl-Apple Cup, the Cougars scored 29 points on four straight possessions in the third quarter to break open a one-point game. Wright-Fair scored on runs of 51 and 41 yards and Bledsoe hit Phillip Bobo on a 44-yard touchdown that ended with the jubilant Cougars rolling in a snow bank. Other stars of the 1992 season were TE Clarence "Butch" Williams, who was named All-Pac-10 for the third year in a row, OG Bob Garman, who was selected for the East-West game, and linebacker Anthony McClanahan, a third-team All-America choice.
1993 -- The Cougars ran to a 5-2 start and looked to be a lock for a second-straight bowl invitation until a broken collarbone shelved quarterback Mike Pattinson, whose early season credits included a 400-yard passing game against Arizona State. After the Pattinson injury, the Cougars struggled offensively and finished 5-6, 3-5. More excitement was created by the Cougar "D," the second-stingiest in the Pac-10. Leading the way defensively were two heralded all-conference performers, LB Anthony McClanahan and DE DeWayne Patterson. McClanahan, a third-team All-America choice for the second straight season, led the team in tackles and Patterson recorded a school record 17 sacks. The Cougars also received outstanding defensive
performances from LB Ron Childs, LB Chris Hayes, DT Chad Eaton, DT Ray Hall
and a talented all-junior secondary of John Rushing, Singor Mobley, Greg Burns and Torey Hunter. The Cougars' best offensive weapon of 1993 was receiver Deron Pointer, whose 996 receiving yards were third best in the league. Pointer also made the all-conference team as a return specialist. Season highlights for the team included conference blowouts of Oregon State (51-6), Arizona State (44-25) and California (34-7).
1994 -- Cougar fans accustomed to high-octane offense and weak defense witnessed a dramatic reversal in 1994, the year of the "Palouse Posse" and their "Jaws" defense. This year, it was outstanding D overcoming a weak offense in an 8-4, 5-3 season that produced another bowl win. While the Cougs were last in the league in total offense, few points were needed with the defense holding opponents to 10 points or less in eight of the 12 games. The Posse, which led the league in most defensive categories, also was the second-best in the nation, allowing opponents only 229 yards per game in the regular season. The defense also had its offensive side, scoring three touchdowns on fumble recoveries, including a game-winning 71-yarder (the longest in school history) by LB Mark Fields in the Illinois opener. The linebacking corps led the way defensively, with Fields (the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and eventual first-round draft choice), Ron Childs and Chris Hayes combining for 268 tackles. The defense also recorded 42 sacks for 282 yards, with DE DeWayne Patterson contributing 13.5 by himself. Patterson, who ended his career as the school's all-time quarterback sack leader, was named All-Pac-10 and All-American. Other defensive stalwarts were tackles Chad Eaton and Don Sasa, both named all-league, and DBs John Rushing, Singor Mobley and Torey Hunter. The season ended with a 23-6 Apple Cup win at home and a 10-3 victory over Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.
1995 -- The previous season's offensive woes continued in 1995, but this time there was no Palouse Posse to save the day defensively. With weak offense and only average defense, the Cougars stumbled to a 3-8, 2-6 record. The season's high point came in week three, when the WSU defeated UCLA 24-15 – the Cougars’ third win in four years over the Bruins. A victory over Oregon State two weeks later pushed the Cougs' record to 3-2, but it was all downhill from there, as the team lost six straight to close the season. Excitement did occur in the final two weeks, however, when freshman quarterback Ryan Leaf supplanted Chad Davis at QB and resuscitated the dormant Cougar offense. In the season's next-to-last week at Stanford, Leaf came on in relief to throw for 273 yards and three touchdowns. A week later, in the first start of his career, the results were similarly impressive -- 291 yards, one touchdown pass and two
rushing touchdowns in a thriller at Husky Stadium that the UW won on a field goal in the final minute. Cougar fans saw brighter days ahead.
1996 -- The Cougars improved to 5-6, 3-5, as sophomore quarterback Ryan Leaf slowly mastered the offense. As with the year before, a late-season collapse doomed the Cougs, who lost four straight --- including a double-overtime affair in the Apple Cup -- after opening 5-2. Leaf exceeded 200 yards in passing nine times, including highs of 355 yards against San Jose State and 348 against Arizona. He also recorded 21 touchdown passes against only 12 interceptions. Leaf's favorite receivers were a pair of future NFL players, Chad Carpenter (47 catches for 623 yards and 8 TDs) and Kevin McKenzie (31 catches for 626 yards and 2 TDs). The Cougars' defensive leaders were LB James Darling, who posted 136 tackles, DT Leon Bender, who led the team in tackles for losses with 13.5, and DE Jonathan Nance, with seven quarterback sacks. The Cougars' five victims in 1996 were Temple, Oregon, San Jose State, Oregon State and California. All-conference performers were Darling, return specialist Shawn Tims, and offensive tackle Scott Sanderson, who also earned first-team All-America honors.
1997 -- Rose Bowl! The Cougars' 67-year championship drought ended with a glorious march through the Pac-10 that ended with a trip to Pasadena and a New Year's date with No. 1 Michigan. Generations of frustration were washed way by a 10-1, 7-1 regular season that saw the Cougs put up 30 or more points eight times, including 77 against SW Louisiana and 63 against Cal. Junior QB Ryan Leaf enjoyed the greatest passing season in Pac-10 history with 3,968 yards and 34 TDs. Leaf spread the wealth to his "Fab Five" receiving corps of Kevin McKenzie, Chris Jackson, Shawn Tims, Shawn McWashington and Nian Taylor, who combined for 201 catches and 31 TDs. Far from a one-dimensional offense, the Cougs kept the defenses honest with RB Michael Black, who rush for 1,181 yards and 11 TDs. On the defensive side, big seasons were turned in by LBs Steve Gleason and Brandon Moore, (195 combined tackles), DBs Duane Stewart, Ray Jackson and Lamont Thompson and a tenacious front four of Dorian Boose, Leon Bender, Gary Holmes and Shane Doyle. WSU led the league in total offense (502.2 yards per game) and finished second (by less than one yard per game) in total defense (330.4 yards per game).
The Cougars clinched their Rose Bowl berth with a nail-biting 41-35 Apple Cup victory in Husky Stadium that saw the crimson faithful pour onto the field afterward for an impromptu celebration that lasted an hour. The Rose Bowl, against national championship-minded Michigan, was itself was a thriller. And controversial too. Trailing by five, the Cougs drove to the Wolverine 16-yard-line with two seconds remaining. Out of timeouts, WSU attempted to spike the ball to set up a last play, but officials ruled that time expired before the spike. Michigan won the game, 21-16, and the national championship. WSU finished 10-2, and No. 9 in the nation.
Leaf, who turned pro after the season, walked away with All-Pac-10 and All-America honors. Bender also was named first-team all-league and second-team All-America, while second-team all-Pac-10 honors went to Black, Stewart, Boose, P Jeff Banks and OG Jason McEndoo. Pro draftees were Leaf (2nd overall pick), Bender, Boose and McEndoo. Free agent signees were Black, Doyle, Stewart, McWashington, Moore, McKenzie, Chris Jackson, Ray Jackson and C Cory Withrow. Coach Mike Price, for his part, also received Pac-10 Conference and numerous national coach of the year awards.
1998 -- The Rose Bowl glow was extinguished -- quickly and emphatically -- in a 3-8, 0-8 season that ended with eight straight losses. Heavy graduation losses took their toll, particularly at quarterback, where Cougar signal-callers combined for 25 interceptions. Just how bad was 1998? One game -- a 24-14 loss at Cal -- aptly summarized this Murphy's Law of a season: Cal won by scoring touchdowns on a 10-yard fumble return, a 76-yard interception return and a 26-yard interception return. The Bears' also had a 42-yard field goal that was set up by another interception -- one of six Cougar turnovers on the day. The season's three victories came against Illinois (20-13), Boise State (33-21) and Idaho (24-16). One of the season's few individual highlights was a school-record 97-yard touchdown pass from Steve Birnbaum to Nian Taylor against Idaho. No pass play in school history had previously exceeded 87 yards.
1999 – It was another awful season, but the Cougars ended it – and the millennium -- with a hard-fought 22-14 road victory over WAC champion Hawaii. The Cougs were led by redshirt freshman QB Jason Gesser, whose first game as a starter came in his hometown of Honolulu. The season's biggest star was another youngster, true-freshman RB Deon Burnett, who ran for a WSU frosh record 974 yards, sixth best in the league. For the year, Burnett rambled for 12 TDs and an 81.2- yards-per-game average. The Cougars ended the season 3-9, 1-7. Mid-season victims were Cal (31-7) and Louisiana-Lafayette (44-0). A fourth victory slipped away -- or, in the eyes of instant replay -- was stolen away when Arizona’s Bobby Wade was awarded a TD on the game's last play. While replays showed the cross country Hail Mary pass incomplete, officials saw it the other way and the Wildcats won by six. The season's defensive leaders were DB Billy Newman, who led the team with 105 tackles, and senior linebacker Steve Gleason, a star from the Rose Bowl team, who had 98 stops despite missing the last two games with injuries.
NEXT IN THE SERIES: A look back at the decade that gave us some of the most storied names in Cougar football: Torgeson, Roffler, Svare, Barker, Washington, Newman, Ellingsen, Steiger, Morrell, Lincoln, Cogdill and so many more. The 1950s are coming soon, so stay tuned.