Hindered by a severe ankle sprain just two weeks old, it seemed unlikely he would be able to stand on the sidelines for an entire game, much less lead the Cougars to victory. But this wasn’t just any game; this was for a Rose Bowl berth. And this wasn’t just any quarterback; this was Jason Gesser.
“It was heroic,” teammate Ike Brown said. “He was not going to let us lose.”
So when the clock zeroed out today at the Rose Bowl with the scoreboard reading 48-27 in the Cougar’s favor and Gesser hobbled off his field of dreams with rose in mouth, a majority of the Cougar Nation probably was thinking the same thing WSU coach Mike Price would put to words moments later.
“Jason Gesser is the Most Valuable Player in the history of football at Washington State,” Price said.
And, yes, Gesser’s career passing numbers and winning percentage can adequately support Price’s statement, but mere statistics come no where near telling the true tale of the Hurlin’ Hawaiian.
Take today, for example. The stat sheet will show Gesser hit 15 of his 24 passes for 247 yards, throwing a pair of touchdowns and interceptions - - average numbers that inaccurately describe a performance that was the stuff of legends.
“He is the toughest guy in college football,” UCLA cornerback Ricky Manning told the Los Angeles Times following the game. “As bad as he was limping, it's unbelievable what he did. Washington State is lucky to have a leader like him."
Too bad Manning doesn’t have access to a Heisman ballot. But grain silo banner be damned, with Gesser it’s never been about the Heisman, it’s always been about the Rose Bowl. That's why he's the only Cougar in history to be named team captain three consecutive years; that's why he stood behind center yesterday when most other "leaders" would've been in street clothes.
It wasn’t so much that he led the Cougs to victory with essentially one leg, wearing a bulky brace, in obvious pain, and with an awkward gait. No, it was the will and determination that seemed to be a visible aura around Gesser, enveloping his teammates like smog over Los Angeles, and awoke the echoes of by-gone eras, calling forth names like Unitas, Tittle, and Baugh.
And like those legendary quarterbacks, Gesser’s mere presence - - no matter his physical plights - - instills a faith in teammates, coaches, and fans alike, that championships aren’t just foolish daydreams, but concrete destinations. Gesser played yesterday not because his ribs felt great or his ankle was miraculously healed. He played because he has the heart of a champion.