"If you go through the whole story, there are probably 5,000
what-ifs," says Ryan McShane. "And it's the what-ifs that kill
me. What if we hadn't stayed out so late the night before? What
if it hadn't been so hot or if the air-conditioning in my car
hadn't been on the blink?"
What if the truck owned by McShane's best friend, Jason McEndoo,
had not been in need of repair? Then Jason and his bride of four
weeks, Michelle, would have driven to the wedding
themselves--and not carpooled with McShane.
"The thing that amazes me," says McEndoo, who like McShane is a
senior starter on the Washington State offensive line, "is that
little decisions you or I make today can change your whole life."
McEndoo, an All-America candidate at left guard, sits on the
porch behind his mobile home, five miles northeast of the
Washington State campus in Pullman. Often in the past year he
has shuffled the what-ifs in his head like a deck of cards.
Change one circumstance, McEndoo knows, and he would not have to
lay this hand on the table: I am 22 years old and I am a widower.
What if the road sign that warns weary eastbound motorists on
Interstate 90 in Washington with the word TIRED? had been placed
on the western outskirts of Ellensburg (that is, before town)
instead of on its eastern outskirts? Might that have made the
"We've all been guilty of driving tired," says Sgt. Gene Dana of
the Washington State Patrol, who launched the TIRED? signs
campaign six years ago. His original idea for the signs, which
was rejected, was to have them bear an illustration of an
upside-down vehicle. Below the overturned car were the words
DON'T ROLL OVER IN YOUR SLEEP.
July 14, 1996: A '91 Ford Explorer made its way east on I-90
from Tacoma to Pullman. Three people were inside. McShane, the
Cougars' right tackle, who like McEndoo was about to begin his
redshirt junior year, was driving. McEndoo rode shotgun.
Reclining on the backseat, shielding her face from the blasts of
hot air rushing through the windows, was Michelle.
For Cougars linemen the summer of '96 had already been the
summer of love. The McEndoos, sweethearts since Jason's freshman
year at Aberdeen (Wash.) High, had wed on June 15. Now, in
Tacoma, center Cory Withrow had just married Kiersten Rose.
Michelle, a semester away from earning her degree in child
development from Washington State, had sung at the ceremony.
Jason and Ryan had been groomsmen.
Just two days before the wedding the McEndoos had chosen to
accompany McShane on the 300-mile drive to Tacoma. Seven months
earlier the universal joint on McEndoo's truck had cracked
without warning while he and Michelle were driving home for the
holidays, sending them into a terrifying, though harmless,
180-degree spin. McEndoo had gotten the U-joint replaced, but
lately he had begun having trouble with the truck again.
"So I figured, Ryan's going [to the wedding], we're going," says
the 6'5", 300-pound McEndoo. "Why not carpool?"
"I was going to fly," says McShane, who is 6'6" and 305 pounds.
"I didn't want to put the miles on my car. Plus the air
conditioning didn't work. But it was best for all of us if I
After the wedding McShane and the McEndoos attended the
reception, staying out until nearly four in the morning. At
about 2 p.m., after a celebratory brunch, they began their
five-hour return trek. The radio, rendered inaudible by the
onrushing wind, was off. Michelle unbuckled her seat belt, lay
down and closed her eyes, but not before she jabbed Jason and
pointed to his seat belt. "Put it on," she said.
McShane kicked off his sandals and set the cruise control at 70
mph. The Explorer crossed the Snoqualmie Pass and began its
descent into the Columbia River Valley. Conversation between the
linemen ended. The plan was to make one stop, in Ellensburg,
about two hours into the trip; that exit was less than two miles
away. The heat, silence and open road all induced a hypnotic
state. McShane's head fell forward. The Explorer, moving in the
lefthand lane, veered farther left, toward the median....
Since their arrival in Pullman in 1993, McEndoo and McShane had
been as close as their surnames on the Cougars' roster.
"Watching them hang out as freshmen, you would've thought they'd
grown up together," says senior defensive tackle Leon Bender.
"They were almost like brothers."
Brothers, not twins. McEndoo, an in-state stud from Cosmopolis,
had been coach Mike Price's top recruit that year, rejecting
offers from Nebraska and Notre Dame. "Jason's a real student of
the game," says offensive coordinator John McDonell. "If he
comes in to see me, it's usually about football. Ryan's more
easygoing. He'll just check in to say hi."
McShane, from Lafayette, Calif., is nicknamed Chop, an
abbreviation of what teammates only half kiddingly refer to as
his best move, the chop block. During their first week on
campus, McEndoo returned to the dorm room he shared with McShane
with a shiner on his left eye, the remnants of a
fraternity-party scuffle. Chop led a parade of players back to
the frat house. (Price dispersed the rabble before a brawl
erupted.) More often, though, their antics were harmless, such
as the time McEndoo and McShane borrowed an assistant coach's
snow shovels, then buried his car.
It was McEndoo, also drowsy, who first noticed the danger--"I
remember yelling, 'What's going on!'" he says--and lunged toward
the steering wheel.
"I jerked it, cranked it hard to get back on the road, and I way
overcompensated," says McShane, who was not wearing a seat belt.
"The car was kind of on two wheels, jerking along. Then it
When a car starts to roll, passengers not wearing seat belts
become projectiles. "After the first roll I went through the
sunroof, and Michelle flew out the back window," says McShane.
"We both flew 20 feet, and I landed on top of her. We were
tangled up in a barbed-wire fence. I don't know for sure, but I
probably broke her legs. Michelle probably saved my life, me
falling on her."
Michelle's admonition before she drifted off to sleep, her last
words, probably saved her husband's life too. He unbuckled, then
crawled out of the wreckage, unharmed except for abrasions on
his right arm. He searched for Michelle and saw her crumpled
body, blood trickling out of one ear.
"Jason and I looked each other right in the eyes," says McShane.
"Neither one of us said a thing."
Michelle died at the scene, of massive head and neck injuries.
Sergeant Dana was dispatched to the hospital to interview the
two survivors. In the emergency room he found two men lying side
by side on gurneys, holding hands. One of them was silent,
dazed; the other, hysterical. "You could tell they were very
close," says Dana. "The one guy's apologizing like crazy."
The final words on the accident were contained in Police Traffic
Collision Report No. 96-007740. The driver, McShane, had imbibed
no alcohol that day--he had refused a mimosa offered him at the
brunch. No laws were deemed to have been violated, and no
charges would be filed.
At the hospital McShane, badly cut by the barbed-wire fence and
suffering from a hematoma on his right hip, made two vows to
McDonell, who along with Price and offensive line coach Lawrence
Livingston had driven to the hospital after learning of the
crash. McShane said that he would attend Michelle's funeral and
that he would be on the field for the opening day of practice.
McEndoo, too, tried to put on a brave front. At six the next
morning he knocked on Price's hotel-room door. "He didn't even
say, 'Good morning,'" recalls Price. "It was just 'Let's go see
how Ryan's doing.'"
McShane did attend Michelle's funeral. Wheelchair-bound, he sat
beside the front pew of the church. As the service ended, he
asked to be wheeled to Michelle's closed casket. He placed his
forehead on her coffin and cried, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm
When practice commenced on Aug. 10, McShane was there in full
pads. McEndoo checked in two days later. "Looking back at the
situation they had to return to," says Price, "I can't imagine
how they did it."
McEndoo considered taking a year off. But how much of your
life's fabric can be unraveled before there is no pattern left?
Michelle had been the only girl he'd ever dated; football was
his one other passion. "I needed structure in my life," says
McEndoo. "Sitting at home for a year wasn't going to do me any
His first practice ended when he dissolved into tears. After
being beaten in a one-on-one drill, McEndoo chucked his helmet,
walked to a chain-link fence bordering the field and cried. "I
was the first one to the fence," says McShane. "I put my hand on
his shoulder and asked, 'All right, buddy?' Then I thought, Do
you say that? Does he want you here?"
Or did McEndoo want to be there? "I'd never go to position
meetings," he says. "Then after practice I'd sit at my locker
for half an hour and not say a word." Then he'd head home. To
the unused wedding gifts, to the closet of clothing that he
"I didn't know how to talk to him," says McShane. "If we were in
a group, it was all right, but if it was the two of us, I'd get
Says McEndoo, "Our friendship went from a 10 to a minus-10."
McEndoo began seeing Jim Bauman, the Cougars' sports
psychologist. Some days he and Bauman would spend four hours
talking. McEndoo began taking an antidepressant, discovered a
Web site for widowers, where he would lose himself for hours,
and checked out a book from the campus library, Grieving by
Therese Rando. The book would remain in his possession for the
next year. "Occasionally I'd go to the library and pay my
overdue fines," he says.
McEndoo ordered script-letter M's for the uniforms of his fellow
linemen and quarterback Ryan Leaf, though, he says, "I began to
think of myself more as a widower than as a football player."
Still, he thought he was ready for the Aug. 31 opener at
Colorado. He was wrong. Washington State's offense gained an
anemic 168 total yards and allowed three sacks in a 37-19 loss.
On the Cougars' final play McEndoo was responsible for allowing
Leaf to be sacked. "I didn't even try to stop him," McEndoo says
of the defender who beat him. "I unbuckled my chin strap and
walked toward the sideline. I don't mean after the play. During
Although Washington State won the next week at Temple, McEndoo
had yet to rejoin the team in spirit. Leaf recalls what he saw
as he walked the sideline after throwing the game-winning TD
pass. "There's Jason," says Leaf, "alone at the end of the
bench. He's got his face buried in his hands. His shoulder pads
are just heaving up and down."
The next week Bauman met with the offensive linemen. Weekday
position meetings last 30 minutes; this one went an hour and a
half. The starters--McEndoo, McShane, Withrow, tight end David
Knuff, left tackle Scott Sanderson and right guard Bryan
Chiu--were there, as were McDonell and Livingston.
"Jason understands that he's been isolating himself," Bauman
said in opening the meeting, "but he needs you guys to treat him
the way you did before."
The players began to open up. Sanderson argued that it was up to
McEndoo to end his self-imposed exile. Knuff said that it was
time to stop acting as if nothing had happened. Even McEndoo
took his turn. "I want to be part of this unit again," he said.
"I want to be yelled at when I screw up!"
McShane, who felt emotionally ambushed, had heard enough. He
stormed toward the door. Bauman, the only man in the room who'd
never played on an offensive line, blocked him. "Get the hell
out of my way!" McShane said, tears streaming down his cheeks.
Bauman stood his ground. "We're not leaving until we have this
resolved," he said.
Finally everyone was dismissed except McEndoo and McShane. It
had always been about the two of them anyway. "I don't know what
you want from me," McShane said. "I love you, buddy, but I don't
know how to do any of this."
"I lost my wife," McEndoo replied. "I don't want to lose my best
There is no better balm than time. Last October, McEndoo met
someone special, Ruth Padgett, who at the time was a senior at
Washington State. "She is the single biggest reason that I've
been able to get through this," he says.
Last November, Knuff and McShane were driving to the store when
Knuff announced it was time for McShane to get behind the wheel
again. McShane drove the VW no more than 50 yards before
stopping. "He had to get out," says Knuff. McShane still prefers
to avoid driving.
Next month the Cougars will travel to Seattle to play
Washington. One tradition of the game is that the visiting team
buses the 288 miles to the other school, which would require
McShane to revisit the accident site. "I won't drive that
highway," he says. "I'll only go if I can fly. I'll pay my own
On the anniversary of the crash McShane sent flowers to
Michelle's parents. He also phoned McEndoo, and they talked
about where the year had taken them. They decided to room
together during preseason practice, for road games and on the
nights before home games this season.
On Aug. 30, a hot summer day, the Cougars opened the season with
a 37-34 home win over UCLA. This time the line did not yield a
sack and McEndoo remained on the field until the clock read
0:00. Up in the press box sportscasters discussed more trivial
what-ifs, such as, what if UCLA had kicked a field goal on
fourth-and-goal? On the turf below, two friends sprinted toward
each other and shared a hug.