First-hand account: Cougs behind enemy lines

SEATTLE – My heart was starting to pound a little bit. It was dark outside and the vehicle was being surrounded by enemy forces. The windows were foggy and covered in rain droplets, adding to the uncertainty of what all waited outside. We sat there, right on the border of the action for a good 20 minutes waiting for the order to begin our incursion into hostile territory.

And then it was go time. The effort to put Ol' Crimson on ESPN's College GameDay for the 139th consecutive time was underway.

The door opened, camera lights flooded in and the boos of the line of Husky fans standing just feet away poured over us.

John Bley, one of the founders of the Ol' Crimson Booster Club and the organizer of today's flying, stepped out, pulled Ol' Crimson with him and started marching into Red Square with me and the rest of the troops falling in behind him.

I really didn't know what to expect from the Husky fans. Would they throw stuff at us? Would someone try to grab the flag? Would Softy Mahler light himself on fire in protest?

The answers were no, no and no. The Husky fans were great. Sure, they booed at first, but mostly they seemed OK with us continuing the 10-year-old flag tradition.

Three minutes later, though, my heart really began to pound when Mr. Bley handed the flag to me.

I was flying Ol' Crimson on national television.

My dad said I had the same serious look on my face as the first time I pitched in a Mustang League baseball game. Part of it was the setting. The other part was just the fact I WAS FLYING OL' CRIMSON!

Seven years ago, as a second grader, I discovered College GameDay at the crack of dawn one Saturday. I used to wake up long before anyone else in the house on weekends and would head up to the attic to watch cartoons. Just as I was really starting to follow sports, I stumbled onto GameDay. And soon I discovered that the Cougar flag flew there every single Saturday.

The idea of being one of the wavers never occurred to me. Not even this week. I asked my dad if we could attend GameDay since it was being held so close to our house. He said we could. The next day he asked if I wanted to be one of the flag wavers.

For a kid brainwashed by my dad, aunt and uncle to live and breathe just two colors, crimson and gray, the idea of hoisting Ol' Crimson was a dream.

So there I was this morning, wearing a Cougar sweatshirt and shorts, sitting in a stretch limo SUV with 20 other Cougar fans taking the flag into what shaped up to be the most hostile situation the flag had ever been in.

After we pulled onto the UW campus, a police officer told us a side route had been blocked off for us to get down to Red Square. He then said he was a Cougar grad, class of 1994. That was a good sign in my eyes -- even the police were on our side!

I had no idea how cool our entrance onto the scene was until my dad showed me a text from my aunt who was watching on TV. "OMG," she said. "This is awesome." After getting home late that morning, I realized what she was talking about when I watched THIS YOUTUBE CLIP from the broadcast (be sure to crank the sound). It's spectacular, and helps explain why Cougar spirit is something special.
Ryan Witter is a high school freshman from Seattle and lifelong Cougar fan whose dad co-founded two months after he was born.

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