For many members of the 1962 and 1963 Cougar football teams, it was their first time back to the Washington State University campus in a half century.
And the upgrades they saw to the facilities were eye-opening.
“Their bottom jaw was on the ground,” Blain Eliot, a tackle on both teams, said with a laugh as he remembered the reaction of his teammates when they saw the changes to Martin Stadium.
As impressive as the facilities were, the most memorable moment of the teams’ 50th reunion during the second week of August occurred 30 miles south of campus.
“Most players might say the highlight was going down to Lewiston and having a conversation with Coach Leach,” said Dean Kalahar, captain of the 1963 team.
It was a conversation that took place on a practice field in Lewiston, Idaho, where the 2013 edition of the Cougars were conducting fall camp.
After a talk that lasted about 15 minutes, Leach stepped away to address his players, and he asked the members of the ’62 and ’63 teams to join him.
As he talked, Leach pointed to the group of 30 men behind him, who wore the Cougar uniform a half century before.
“I wanted them to meet those guys and reinforce to our players that they are a part of Cougar history,” Leach said. “These guys help build what they enjoy.”
“He (Leach) introduced us to the team and he did it in such a great way because he’s really focusing on friendships and teammates,” said Eliot.
“Teammates,” re-enforced Eliot about what Leach said. “It was an emotional, great talk. It was so much fun to see.”
The moment particularly struck home for Kalahar.
“It was like looking at myself 50 years ago,” he said of seeing the current members of the Cougar Football team.
And it reminded him of the opportunities presented to him a half century ago.
“We grew up in a time when most of us came from low-income families; we might not have otherwise been able to afford to go to college,” he said. “For most people who get a scholarship it is a life-changing experience for the better.
“That was true in my case, I grew up in a single-parent home.” he explained. “Getting a scholarship was everything to me.”
After meeting the 2013 team and taking in what Leach said, Eliot had an idea that he shared with his teammates during the bus ride back to Pullman.
“I was sky high after seeing everything that was going on,” he said.
“I said, ‘I don’t know about you guys but I am so impressed with what the Washington State Athletic Department has done to improve facilities,” Eliot recalled saying. “‘We see a team that makes us feel good to be Cougars and we got to help them out.’
“I suggested a 100 percent vote to join the Cougar Athletic Fund.”
Everyone agreed immediately.
“We saw it as a great opportunity to make a commitment to join the Cougar Athletic Fund,” said Kalahar. “When you look at these 30 guys and what they accomplished because of their athletic scholarship, every one of them had a great career.
“When I look at the student-athletes on the 2013 team I know they are going to take advantage of the opportunity and contribute to society, and it’s going to be because of the college experience,” Kalahar added.
“Now the Athletic Department can say the 1962 and ‘63 teams are in 100 percent,” said Eliot. “I think we set a good ground work for the next football team reunion and reunions of other sports.”
Through the bond made during their experience in Lewiston, the teammates from the 1962 and 1963 teams have become teammates with Leach and the 2013 team.
“They will always be a part of Cougar history,” Leach said. “I wanted to illustrate to our players the importance of this time together and the impact it will have on their lives.”
For the ’62 and ’63 teams, it’s an impact that has lasted a half-century and continues to this day.
“We’re still teammates,” said Eliot. “It lasts for a lifetime.”