For lifelong Coug, waving flag is destiny

ONE WILL BE WEARING all crimson, the other all purple. One is the son of a WSU legend, and once played for the Cougs himself. The other is a former Husky football player and track star. On Saturday, John Bley and Brian Garrett -- self-proclaimed "grumpy old men on steroids" -- will be leading the group that plants Ol' Crimson on ESPN's College Gameday for the 139th consecutive time.

"Together, we're a quarter-ton of old offensive linemen," jokes Bley, a Seattle attorney and one of the chief organizers of Ol' Crimson's rise to national fame over the last decade.

Garrett is one of his close friends.

When Gameday picked the Washington-Oregon game as the backdrop for this weekend's broadcast, it made perfect sense for the lifelong Coug and long-time Husky to team up, Bley said. One will be carrying on a college football tradition, the other symbolically welcoming that tradition to his alma mater.

For Bley, 56, waving the flag Saturday will be destiny fulfilled.

Even though he's raised thousands of dollars over the years to get the flag where it needs to be each week, and even though he convinced his daughter Amanda to drive from Detroit to Bowling Green in October 2003 to hoist Ol' Crimson for Week 2 of the Gameday streak, he's never been one of the wavers.

"I've taken Ol' Crimson to WSU to display in a booth and have been interviewed with it, but no, I've never waved the flag -- I'm a little bit mesmerized by the idea," he says.

But he adds, "I'm focused more, though, on the unique circumstances of this case."

The unique circumstances to which he refers is the effort by KJR Radio personality Dave Mahler encouraging UW fans to destroy Ol' Crimson on Saturday.

"I can't imagine anyone wanting to attack two old guys clad in crimson and purple, but you never know," Bley says.

There will be other Cougs helping wave and protect the flag, he noted. And Chris Fowler, host of Gameday, tweeted late Monday that ESPN will provide security if that's what is needed to keep Ol' Crimson in the air.

HOLLINGBERY AND THE ELDER BLEY, 1935

WHILE BLEY GRADUATED FROM Pacific Lutheran, where he was co-captain of Frosty Westering's first national title team in 1980, his roots make him as crimson as they come. He was a walk on freshman linebacker at WSU under Jackie Sherrill in 1976, but more notably, both of his parents were WSU graduates and never lost the crimson spirit. His dad, Johnny Bley, was one of the great linemen of the Babe Hollingbery Era.

"He was so good that he probably ranks today among the two or three greatest names not in the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame," notes Cougfan.com co-founder (and Ol' Crimson Booster Club vice president) John Witter. "An unfortunate oversight of history."

Grantland Rice chose Bley for the Walter Camp All-West Coast first team. Bley also was the starting right tackle in the East-West Shrine Game.

"Today, such honors are great but not necessarily head turning," Witter says. "In the 1930s, being picked All-Coast was effectively being named second-team All-American, and being selected for the Shrine Game was tantamount to being a baseball All-Star and NFL Pro Bowler wrapped into one."

John Bley says his dad was proud of his individual accomplishments but more gratified by the power of the team working together toward a common goal.

The same holds true for Ol' Crimson, Bley says.

"This incredible tradition was made possible by Cougar spirit and the hundreds of people who have volunteered to help. This is a team effort that tells you a lot about the Cougar way."

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