The Cougs have wanted this moment for more than 15 years. This could be an all-time weekend in Pullman.
ESPN’s College GameDay is in Pullman, Wash., for the first time ever. That’s just the start of why this rules so much.
The annual Saturday morning road show is considered an honor for any campus, one Washington State fans have wanted for a long time. Of 65 Power 5 schools, all but these had a longer wait than WSU:
The now 11 P5 schools from which GameDay has not broadcast a show, ranked in order of odds on who I think will be the next first-timer to host a show.
— Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) October 15, 2018
Washington State getting GameDay is extra special, because the school’s fans have built up a consistent presence on the show over 15 years.
For 216 straight weeks of normal GameDay episodes, someone’s shown up behind the set to wave at least one giant Washington State flag, no matter how far away from Pullman. In recent years, a gray flag has appeared alongside it.
(The streak doesn’t include little GameDay shows before title games or season-opening shows inside stadiums on Thursday nights, though the flag’s shown up at some of those, too. It’s actually appeared at more than 216 shows.)
The big flag is called Ol’ Crimson. Its presence is the result of years of work by Washington State fans who have networked to make sure someone always has a flag at the site of the show.
The streak started in Austin in 2003, at a Kansas State-Texas game. It continues with a “flag kit” getting shipped every week via UPS from a central coordinator to Cougars fans all over the map.
Flag coordinator C.J. McCoy explained the process to SB Nation:
The kit has both flags, poles for them, and instructions on how to run through the entire flag-waving operation. Ol’ Crimson gets free shipping from UPS, and McCoy “quarterbacks” the distribution of the flag each week.
The recipient is always a WSU alum, but the three-hour show length means 500 or 600 people have waved a WSU flag at GameDay at some time or another, McCoy estimates.
“Really, the big piece there is validating that whoever is taking the lead understands what they’re doing, which usually means they’ve done it before, and that they are a Cougar alum and this actually means something to them,” McCoy says.
Ol’ Crimson offers to pay expenses for anyone who has to travel to put the flags in the air. Nobody’s ever taken it.
“It’s not why they do it,” McCoy says.
Some flag-wavers stay for the game. Others just go home
It so happens that this weekend is the 15th anniversary of the start of the streak. Washington State and Oregon are 5-1 and battling for control of the Pac-12 North. The timing couldn’t possibly have been more perfect for the show to hit Pullman.
ESPN’s noticed. Some key personalities have wanted this trip for a while.
Before the 2018 season started, I asked Kirk Herbstreit where he’d most like to take GameDay that the show hadn’t already visited:
“The big one would be Washington State, just because they’ve had this flag traveling around for years,” he said. “They were one of the first flags we ever — now we have thousands of flags and signs — but they were one of the first flags we ever had. To be a random Washington State flag, out behind us; their team wasn’t even playing at the GameDay that we might be at, and that thing traveled around the country, and it still travels around the country for years.”
Producer Chris Fallica a few years ago:
— Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) January 13, 2015
And ESPN public relations director Keri Potts even before that:
— Keri Potts (@MsPotts_ATL) September 17, 2011
The network made a commercial about the flag tradition:
When Herbstreit made the announcement the Saturday before, it was easy to see his excitement, matched by all the responses:
THIS IS NOT A DRILL
FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER … PULLMAN, WE’RE COMING TO YOUR CITY! pic.twitter.com/G7VToavDPG
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 14, 2018
Any college campus is going to be amped up for its first GameDay appearance. But Washington State will create a hell of a scene.
The university of this …
… and this …
Flights to Vegas weren’t prepared for WSU fans. Many ran out of alcohol — and fast. http://t.co/25zDdVt0
— CougCenter (@CougCenter) September 14, 2012
… and this …
WSU Cougs do it again in Auburn: “Your fans drank us completely out of beer.” http://t.co/7oFbKfh1mJ
— CougCenter (@CougCenter) August 31, 2013
… and this …
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 22, 2017
… is going to be as fun as possible. GameDay might never have seen a party like Pullman’s.
When I say it’s going to be a party, I mean it’s going to be a party. Liquor and weed stores expect all-time sales.
SB Nation called several of them to get a sense of the business climate in the days leading up to the ESPN show’s appearance on campus. The consensus was that, yes, business is going to be booming this weekend even more than usual.
At Valhalla, a usual home football weekend lifts business six times above usual numbers, Roxanne Trocino, the bar’s GM, told me. But there’s no parallel for what GameDay should bring.
“Normally, we consider Apple Cup to be the one ‘blow you out of the water, just order like crazy, do everything you can to be prepared, all hands on deck, all the time,’” she said. “But this one is even more so.”
Cougs are making a pilgrimage home in apparently big numbers:
WSU leaders are working as team to make this all work. Several guests from hotel are staying with us at @WSUPullman President’s Residence to help provide rooms for @CollegeGameDay. I’m sure many in #CougFamily are working to help Cougs find housing too. #GoCougs https://t.co/HwpBdP4vCC
— Noel Schulz (@WSU_Noel_Schulz) October 17, 2018
I can’t wait to see how many Cougs (and some Ducks, of course) fill the area behind the stage. Sure, it’ll be dark for the first hour, but from about 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., it’ll be a sea of crimson. That’s going to be beautiful.
I know people who are driving to Pullman solely for GameDay. They don’t even have tickets to the game, and they’re OK with that. The ‘Ol Crimson tradition has been so ingrained in all of us, it feels like we just climbed Everest. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and the crowd may threaten GameDay’s record.
The Pullman City Council made an EMERGENCY DECLARATION, something that’s never happened (obviously) in the history of the show.
The City of Pullman has declared an emergency to help deal with the massive crowd expected for this weekend’s historic ESPN College Gameday visit to Washington State University. City council approved the emergency declaration on Tuesday night. The vote allows Pullman Transit buses to help move fans around campus on Saturday.
WSU needs extra buses for its park and ride locations as Gameday is expected to bring in additional fans who will not be attending the sold out football game. WSU officials asked the city for some buses after being unable to find private bus services to accommodate the massive crowd. Longtime Gameday producer and program “historian” Chris “The Bear” Fallica says causing an emergency declaration is a first for the show.
The stage is in a cool spot, right outside Martin Stadium.
— WSU Cougars (@WSUCougars) October 18, 2018
Just based off that second photo, we can get a pretty decent idea of where the stage is going (if any intrepid students want to get closer and send us a picture, no objection) and it looks like there will actually be more room than we previously thought.
When the school told us what corner they would be on, we assumed it would be in roughly the same spot the Pac-12 set up before the game against the Utah Utes. This is a very, very good move on everyone’s part; the production gets flat ground to work with while also providing quite a bit more room for what’s expected to be an absolutely massive crowd.
The flag tradition started as an attempt to woo the popular show to Pullman. But you should still expect to see it at other GameDays going forward.
And on Saturday, you’ll probably see a lot of flags from other schools waving, too. That won’t be due to an invasion. The Ol’ Crimson crew’s had a plan for this day for years.
“When they go there,” flag coordinator McCoy told me last year, “I think it will be a very, very exciting show filled with crimson flags everywhere and probably some surprise for all of those shows that have hosted us over the past 14, 15 years here. So we’re looking forward to that happening.”