Will the real crimson please stand up?

THERE WILL BE one crimson from now on. Bill Moos delivered that message a month ago when talking about the uniform makeover that Nike is helping shepherd in at Washington State. The idea of "one crimson" -- as opposed to the shades of red that for years have variously adorned jerseys, helmets, end zones, center courts and the like -- is music to the ears. But one question begs.

What, exactly, is crimson?

At the risk of revealing a long-standing Witter family quirk, the color of Washington State's uniforms -- in every sport, but especially football -- has been a preoccupation for at least the last 40 years.

No joke.

Since 1970, when Jim Sweeney trotted out the Cougs in bright red with black and white stripes, we've lamented the lack of pantone discipline down Pullman way.


So serious is this issue among us, that ...

  • Uncle George, a retired dentist but lifetime artist, spent weeks mixing colors until he found what he considered true crimson for use in an oil painting of his childhood hero, Mel Hein. Moreover, every new athletic director at Wazzu has received a letter from him that, in addition to pointing out that WSU retired the wrong number for Hein (7 vs. 8), notes the Cougars' colors are crimson and gray, NOT RED and gray.

  • Brother Steve stumbled across a nifty Cougar-head garden decoration at Home Depot one day, but wouldn't put it in the yard until he found crimson paint to cover up the original red that the decoration came in.

  • When Cougfan.com columnist Ryan Leaf presented me with an autographed litho of the quarterbacks of Quarterback U, it took six months of searching frame stores to find a mat that passed the crimson-hued muster.

  • Cougfan.com joined the Scout.com network years ago and one of the first questions we asked was how many shades of red the system offered for coloring our masthead. If we can't go deep, we won't go at all, we said. What you see on the site today is far from perfect but it's a passable compromise.


    A common refrain at family gatherings isn't Merry Christmas or Happy Thanksgiving. It's "When are they going to start wearing crimson?"

    If I had the proverbial dollar for every time my dad wondered aloud why the Cougs are wearing red I'd be able to foot the bill myself to make things right.

    News that the Cougar football team is coming out with a new look -- to be unveiled in Spokane the evening of April 11 -- and that all WSU teams will be wearing the exact same color borders on winning the lottery.

    We think.

    The fact Bill Moos is talking about "one crimson" suggests he's wearing the same colored glasses we are. More encouraging, he's told people that he thinks crimson is the color you find when you get a cut on your hand.


    As long as the cut is a deep one, that sounds like a fair assessment.

    But therein lies the heart of the issue: Crimson is hard to pin down. I suppose, like the difference between pornography and art, you know it when you see it. But everyone's definition can be just a little different.

    The pantone -- 201 -- that WSU has used for the last few years is, from this viewing stand, red and not crimson. It's a deep red, which is good, but it's not crimson. In fact, consider this bit of intelligence gathering: Temple University's official colors are cherry and white, and their pantone is also 201. I don't know about you, but to have Cougar players running around in cherry is tantamount to high treason.

    "If you look at Harvard's uniforms, I think you're getting much closer to crimson than either WSU's or Alabama's, but still a shade light," says George Witter, the Mel Hein artist. "If you crossed the Harvard color with Texas A&M's maroon, I think you'd have crimson."

    APRIL COOK IN 2009

    Looking at examples closer to home, this question was posed to three other members of the family:

    Going back as long as you can remember, what was the truest example of crimson that you can remember on a WSU uniform?

    "From the 1960s, the Bert Clark home football jerseys -- and the numerals on the road jerseys -- were crimson. That was the last time a WSU football team wore what I believe is true crimson," says 82-year-old Stan Witter, George's younger brother. "Those were beautiful uniforms. Classy."

    "I've always thought the George Raveling road basketball uniforms in the Steve Puidokas era were crimson," says John Witter, George's son and Cougfan.com's managing editor emeritus. "It's not as dark as some members of the family prefer, but that's because there was no obvious hint of blue in the dye, which I think is right on. Having said that, I must admit that the Cougar women's team today, under June Daugherty, has road uniforms that are darker and very sharp."

    "The best example of real crimson is found in the Gray W sweaters that are given to varsity lettermen when they graduate," says Steve Witter. "I think there was a time in the Jim Walden era in the 1980s when the football uniforms were close to crimson, but for me, the Gray W sweaters are the standard bearer."

    The countdown to the 7 p.m. uniform unveiling on April 11 at the Davenport Hotel is on. You can bet the family phones will be ringing and the emails flying. The hope is that a new refrain will now populate family gatherings: "They finally got it right!"




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