"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 difference?
"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?"