No sell-out in Seattle?

THE DEPTH OF crimson loyalty in the Puget Sound area is apparently in some question. Word out of Pullman is that school officials are expecting something on the order of only 45,000 fans for the season opener against Idaho on Aug. 30 at Seahawks Stadium.

That's about 17,000 fewer than the 62,00 the Cougars drew in Seattle for last year's season opener against Nevada.

So why the projected drop off?

Organizers believe four unique factors helped fill the house last year: The Heisman hype surrounding Jason Gesser; the glowing pre-season outlook for the Cougars; the novelty of the brand new stadium; and the thrill of the Cougs playing their first home game in Seattle since 1976.

True facts all. And none apply to the upcoming campaign --- though with 15 starters returning, it seems a powerful argument could be made that the hopes of this club ought be as lofty as any of recent vintage.

Regardless, I think Cougar partisans can, and will, fill Seahawks Stadium again. That's because Cougar pride should be more powerful than it's ever been, courtesy of back-to-back 10-wins seasons and two Rose Bowl berths in five calendar years.

Traditionally, WSU fans have been fickle in their support because there was little consistency in the product they were being asked to invest their time, money and emotions in.

Not anymore.

And here's why:

Before, WSU would have a good team every few years. Today, WSU has a good program. A good team is one thing. A good program is quite another.

Good programs can ebb and flow, but there's a certain consistency of performance and the promise that good fortune will be theirs more times than not.

That engenders a solid -- and broad -- base of fan support.

Just look at the caliber and quantity of athletes WSU has recruited over the last few years. They have graduated the program to a higher level. Twenty wins in two seasons bears that out.

One big upshot, I believe, is that a bigger swath of the Cougar faithful are now true believers.

And true believers show up at Seahawks Stadium even if the quarterback isn't a Heisman contender. Even if the pre-season pundits are, mindlessly, failing to put the cats in their top 25s. True believers show up when the defending Pac-10 champions are taking the field for the first time under the command of long-time loyalist Bill Doba.

There's another thing going for WSU. A massive number of the school's graduates have received their diplomas within the last 30 years. Back in the 1970s --- when the ranks of living alums was a fraction of what it is today --- the Cougars played three "home" games in Seattle and drew an average of 45,000 fans.

Granted, the opponents in those three games were high-profile USC, Ohio State and USC again. But WSU was mostly struggling in those years. Nowadays, the Cougars themselves are the high-profile team with two consecutive top 10 national finishes. WSU is THE draw, not the opponent.

Moreover, you've got to figure Idaho will gobble up five- to ten-times as many tickets as did Nevada, with 900 seats sold, in last year's Seattle opener. Though I've gotta say it will be a real indictment of WSU alums in the Puget Sound area if there are that many tickets available for Idaho partisans to buy.

Kickoff will be sometime between 7 and 8 pm, the exact moment pending TV considerations.

Tickets are on sale at www.ticketmaster.com (once there, go to the search box and type Washington State). Prices range from $10 to $40. Group prices begin with groups of 100 or more people; for more information contact the WSU Ticket Office at (509) 335-9626.

Of note: a pre-game event for the entire family will begin three hours prior to kick-off in the Exhibition Center adjacent to the stadium.

So far, about 20,000 tickets have been sold. That means about 42,000 good seats remain. So prove me right, folks. Put your Cougar spirit where it matters --- in a seat. Go to the game on Aug. 30 and help send a sold-out, heartwarming message to Pullman about the breadth of statewide Cougar pride.

NOTABLE NOTES: Bill Doba will be the fourth Cougar head coach in the last 75 years to launch his crimson tenure against Idaho. The others were Mike Price (1989), Jim Sweeney (1968) and Phil Sarboe (1945). All three were victorious in their debuts.

Another Cougar head man, legendary Babe Hollingbery, debuted against a team from Idaho as well: little College of Idaho in Caldwell. In Babe's rookie campaign of 1926 the Cougars opened with a 35-0 victory over the Presbyterian liberal arts school. The clubs would play each other in each of the next six seasons. When the series ended, the Cougars were 7-0 and held a 315-12 scoring advantage. That may help explain why C of I (now called Albertson College of Idaho) prudently decided to drop its football program.


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