A first road trip early in a relationship can be a real test of whether a couple is meant to last, and it's hard to imagine a roadie more fraught with potential emotional peril than one undertaken by Kristine Johnson and her now-husband Matt in the fall of 2012.
He was the running backs coach for Whitworth College's football team, she was an exercise specialist working in physical therapy in Spokane. The road trip was to Linfield College in Oregon, where Matt would help lead the Pirates against the Northwest Conference powerhouse Wildcats.
Linfield also happens to be Kristine's alma mater, so no matter how that game seven years ago turned out, one of them was going to be disappointed. How they reacted to that disappointment would determine just how long the road trip back to Spokane would feel.
Given that they're now married, you know this story has a happy ending. Not only have they been hitched for three years now, but Whitworth has found itself a new fan in an alum from their biggest rival.
"I support them 100 percent, I love it when they win," Kristine Johnson says of her husband's team, while admitting she hasn't totally turned her back on the school where she played soccer. "It's like a win-win for me when they play Linfield. Win or lose that game, it's totally a win-win for me. It's basically just a happy game when Linfield plays Whitworth because I cheer for both sides."
Growing up in Port Orchard, Washington, Kristine says her family was pretty sporty in general, and she learned a bit about football thanks to her grandma's Seahawks season tickets. Of course, her knowledge of the game ramped up considerably after she and Matt connected online.
"I learned a heck of a lot more about football after I met my husband," Kristine says.
She also learned a lot about the tailgating culture around football because her own athletic career at Linfield kept her from seeing many games despite that school's vibrant fan base. At Whitworth, the scene is growing as the team has enjoyed remarkable success the last decade or so, including beating Linfield for the first time in 11 years in 2018.
She hits every Whitworth home game, and her in-laws will often join her and groups of players' parents in a parking lot they've dubbed "the forest" for pregame festivities. A bottle of wine, salmon, cheese and crackers might be on the menu when she's joined by friends and family; when she hits a game solo, it's more like a breakfast sandwich to-go and a "nice little coffee" to brave the November temperatures at Whitworth's Pine Bowl.
Last year the Pirates won the conference and went to the second round of the Division III playoffs, and Kristine is excited to see how the energy carries over to this year's team as they try to defend their NWC title. She knows how her husband will react either way, something she learned on that long-ago first road trip — he's a level-headed guy who keeps the games in perspective. "He gets excited and he gets disappointed, but it lasts for about 10 minutes."
This year is likely to have more good excitement than bad for the Pirates, and the Johnsons. No matter who wins the Whitworth-Linfield game.♦
The Big Story: The Pirates had a monster season in 2018. They knocked off conference powerhouse Linfield for the first time in more than a decade, won 10 games for the second time ever, won the Northwest Conference and made it to the second round of the Division III playoffs, finishing as a Top 10 team nationally. How coach Rod Sandberg and his charges handle life at the top of the NWC, and whether they can again reach the playoffs, are the big questions for 2019.
The Big Game: Linfield, duh. The Wildcats visit Spokane Nov. 9 in a game that should decide the conference championship.
- Sept. 7 at La Verne
- Sept. 21 at Chapman
- Oct. 5 vs. Willamette
- Oct. 12 at Lewis & Clark
- Oct. 19 vs. George Fox
- Oct. 26 at Puget Sound
- Nov. 2 vs. Pacific Lutheran
- Nov. 9 vs. Linfield
- Nov. 16 at Pacific (Oregon)