Jeff McQuarrie was living an American dream—pulling down a cool six figures while his wealthy customers pulled in salmon at an exclusive Alaskan fishing resort.
Yet it wasn’t his dream. So, early last year, he tossed a 14-year tenure as president of Sportsman’s Cove Lodge to spend two years and his life’s savings crafting Legends of the Palouse, a film about the history and heart of Washington State University football.
McQuarrie (’98 Comm.) plans to have the final version wrapped up and on sale for this gridiron season. He hopes to sell at least 5,000 copies of the film in DVD format.
“I don’t know too many Cougar alums who aren’t crazy about the football team,” says McQuarrie, who has been a fan since he was a boy in western Washington.
In Legends of the Palouse McQuarrie seeks to answer the question, “What is this love affair we have with our school?” The film tells its story via scores of interviews with people both famous and forgotten, footage of past games, and dramatic reenactments of key moments from the program’s 111-year history. The result, the Olympia filmmaker promises, will be a lively documentary film “plug full of inspirational stories,” stylishly edited, and set to music from rising Northwest bands.
“It’s great to have someone raise an awareness of the deep athletic heritage of WSU,” says Rueben Mayes (’90 Gen. St., ’00 M.B.A.), a star running back in the 1980s who went on to a celebrated NFL career before returning to work for the University.
“I think it’s a way to preserve the legacy,” says the film’s narrator, George Hollingbery (’76 Ed.), grandson of legendary Cougar coach Orin “Babe” Hollingbery and son of player Don Hollingbery. A high school teacher in Lacey, Hollingbery marvels at the tales McQuarrie has recorded.
“I’m still blown away with the stuff I didn’t know. And I know Cougar history—I thought I did,” he says. “It’s a story of human character and indelible human spirit. It’s not just a story about football.”
McQuarrie grew up among Husky fans, but his interest always pointed inland, because Pullman was a place where underdogs often excelled.
“Maybe it’s because I see myself as that type of person,” says McQuarrie, who thrived at marketing despite shyness so profound that as a boy he paid his kid brother an extra dime to buy 10-cent candy bars.
“Nothing comes easy to us,” says McQuarrie, who attended WSU in the mid-1980s but finished his degree through correspondence courses seven years ago. “We have to earn everything we get. So when we do [succeed], it’s a huge deal to us.”
Now 41, McQuarrie still had to overcome nervousness to interview many of his boyhood football heroes, including Mayes and quarterback Jack Thompson, after whom McQuarrie named his own son.
Many people helped McQuarrie along the way, including assistant Diane Estep, wife Julie, and several WSU staffers and alums.
One of his biggest breaks came when he teamed up with George Hollingbery, who happens to attend the same church as he. Hollingbery not only lent his voice to the project but did some filming and helped open doors for McQuarrie.
At the outset, McQuarrie says, “We didn’t even know if anybody would talk to us. We underestimated the Cougar love. Cougars help each other.”
For example, early on, Keith Jackson, ABC’s “Voice of College Football,” agreed to come to McQuarrie’s home for an interview. His participation lent the project a legitimacy that helped land other interviews.
“Do you think if I was from USC, …someone like [Jackson] would come to my house?” McQuarrie says.
“I’m very excited about it. I was glad I got to be a small part of it,” says NFL stalwart Rob Tobeck (’94 Phys. Ed.), starting center for the Seattle Seahawks. “I think it’s one heck of a project.”
Tobeck and fellow standouts Drew Bledsoe, Erik Coleman, Mark Fields, Steve Gleason, Mark Rypien, Marcus Trufant, and Cory Withrow are among about 70 former WSU players who sat for interviews. Plenty of non-alums, including Pro Football Hall of Famers Bob Griese and Larry Csonka, also share stories tied to Cougar Nation.
McQuarrie’s interviews with so many stars reinforced a belief that many big-time athletes have strong work ethics, sharp minds, and generous hearts. Many share the filmmaker’s deep Christian faith.
“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to make this, …to show that all these guys on ESPN…beating their girlfriends and doing steroids, isn’t typical.”
McQuarrie’s work also confirmed that the ability of athletes to reach the highest levels is more about passion than pocketbooks. The filmmaker can relate. He had long pondered leaving his high-paying job running the fishing lodge, which he brought from bankruptcy to having a waiting list of clients willing to pay $1,000 a day. He had money but craved a meaningful challenge.
“After five or six years of this tug-of-war of what my heart wanted to do and what my pocketbook wanted to do, my heart won out,” says McQuarrie, who saved up to make the leap. “I didn’t have the courage to jump out of the boat, so to speak, until I was 40.”
McQuarrie is uncertain what his own future holds, but he hopes his work on Legends of the Palouse will enable him to stay in filming rather than fishing.
“I’m just hopeful that something good will come of this. My wife keeps telling me it will. She keeps telling me, ‘Don’t quit.'”
The one thing McQuarrie won’t reveal is how much he spent making the film—though he jokes that it’s enough to make some question his sanity.
“I’m never going to get my money out of this. There’s no way,” he says. “It’s the price you pay to follow your dreams.”
Video excerpts from Legends of the Palouse (requires Flash)
An exclusive from the film about WSU football greats Junior Tupuola and Rod Retherford.
Trailer for Legends of the Palouse