And so, on August 15, 1998 -- five years ago today -- with teen genius Dustin Cho as our technological guide, Jack Evans, John Witter and I officially launched Cougfan.com.
And what a wild, unforgettable ride it's been.
We started out with 12 readers that first day, offering up an ode to the '97 team and a preview of the '98 club.
The Cougars started the year 3-0. And then the bottom fell out.
What ensued was 2 1/2 seasons of some of the most dreadful, heartbreaking football the crimson faithful had been subjected to since the late 60s. But we persevered.
And, like the Cougars themselves, we've come a long, long way.
Back then, we considered it fast if we could post an article within a few hours of its being written. Today, we post stories minutes after they're completed.
An off-the-charts day of readership in those early times would be 200 hits -- hits, mind you, not unique readers. This past year, with the likes of a Rose Bowl race, Mike Price's departure and subsequent fall from destiny, it wasn't uncommon to breach 100,000 individual readers in a single day. Even in the off-season, you loyalists come out each day by the thousands. We salute you.
IN 1998, OUR ONE and only message board was a continuous scroll of commentary, with each new message, in it's entirety, simply piled on top of the previous one. YakiCoug, Larry Coug and Rabid Cat gave us the cautious blessing to chuck that format, so we did and new voices started to blossom. Today we offer nine different boards featuring state-of-the-art capabilities, and some of the most entertaining posters this side Farrah Fawcett's in '76.
As 1998 unfolded, we were dumbfounded to find that recruiting stories had a cult-like following. So we started to run more of them. And readership grew. And pretty soon some of the daily newspapers across the state were quoting us.
In fact, one paper which shall remain nameless, was freely borrowing our material but not giving us attribution. When we called them on it, the response from an editor was that Web sites aren't legitimate so they don't need to be afforded the same courtesies as regular media.
Fan sites are mainstream nowadays, but in the 90s they were viewed largely as fringe endeavors, at best. So much so, that the man we consider one of the worst-ever influences on Washington State athletics --- Rick Dickson --- saw us as competition for the official school site and, therefore, were to be given no access to players, coaches or information.
Thankfully, it wasn't an edict that Mike Price or Bill Doba felt constrained to follow. Mike's door was always open. And Bill proudly served as our first-ever Chat Room guest, albeit in a roundabout way --- he wasn't computer literate at the time, so I read the questions to him over the phone and then typed in his responses. He chuckled when informed that one fan had just called him "Da Bomb."
When I met Jim Sterk for the first time, the earnest AD was quick to tell me CF.C had been a daily read for him when he was going through the interview process for his new job and pledged to lend whatever support possible to help us spread the Cougar gospel. Take that, Rick Dickson!
THE MOST PROPHETIC story we ever ran came midway through that 1998 season, when John Witter penned a column about a little known freshman quarterback. The headline tells it all: Hope has a name: It's spelled G-E-S-S-E-R. Not in our wildest dreams did we envision that the fleet-footed kid from Hawaii would guide our beloved cats to two Top 10 finishes, a 20-5 record over his last two campaigns and earn himself a seventh-place showing in Heisman Trophy balloting.
A close runner-up in the prophetic category was our story announcing that a lightly recruited lineman from tiny Anacortes, Wash., had committed verbally to play at WSU. We quoted the Anacortes High athletic director, who told us Rien Long may be raw and largely unknown, but he had the potential to be a first-team All-American. We thought the projection quaint.
THE FUNNIEST thing on our little journey occured a little more than two years ago when Graham Siderius, an all-world prep kicker from Reno, was debating whether to become a Cougar or Wisconsin Badger. During Christmas break he and his folks drove to Pullman for a final look. On the second day in town, Graham was sold, so he booted up a laptop and announced right here on CF.C that he would be calling Mike Price within the hour to make his verbal commitment.
That same day, Coach Price, who had just given wife Joyce a computer, was logging onto the Internet to show her the joys of surfing. Their first stop? Why CF.C, of course.
And what to Mike's wondering eyes should appear but a front-page story announcing Graham's plans to call Price that afternoon to make his commitment. As Mike finished reading the story, the phone rings. It's Siderius. "Coach," he says, "I'm calling to give you my verbal commitment." To which Mike responded, "I already know. I just read it on Cougfan."
We've also had some less joyous moments. Like the time we reported that star back Dwayne Wright had finally secured a qualifying score on the SAT. We had talked with an assistant coach at his high school who told us proof-positive that the kid was now academically free to head to Pullman. WRONG!
But for the Mother of Egg on Your Face cases, we travel to August 2000. Three weeks before the 2000 season opener against Stanford, an earnest student correspondent we had hired noted in one of his dispatches that the Cougars were practicing fake field goals. He pretty much diagrammed exactly what the Cougars were doing and which players were doing what.
To make a long story short, our usual editing team was on vacation and the information went live for the world to see. So you can imagine my surprise when a serene hike through the wilds of North-Central Washington was interrupted by a ringing cell phone with a flabbergasted Mike Price on the other end saying you've just cost the Cougars a guaranteed seven points against the Card.
WHEN CF.C WAS launched we posted a mission statement saying we wanted the site to be a cyber-world version of a neighborhood pub, where the Cougar Nation could gather to exult in our shared passion.
We think we've achieved that. And on a personal level, it has spawned great friendships with some legendary old Cougars, like Chuck Morrell, the two-way star from the late 50s, and 1930's great Johnny Bley, who recently passed away. And through his pithy columns for CF.C, long-time friend Paul Sorensen, ousted by Dickson as WSU's radio color commentator, has been able to remain close to the program and become an even closer friend.
Most heartwarming have been the messages we've received over the years from the parents of players. Dave Minnich's mom, for instance, once told us CF.C was her window on Dave's world. Scott Lunde's mom actually thanked us for helping Scott earn his scholarship last season by raising his profile in our various stories. And the omnipresent "CougMaw," Gail Gleason, has been a thought-provoking voice of reason on the message boards for years.
Speaking of moms. The braintrust (I use the word loosely) here at CF.C would be nowhere without the indulgences of our spouses. All of us have families and honest-to-goodness careers unrelated to sports or WSU. CF.C is a late-night, early morning, weekend-dominating labor of love shoe-horned between everything else. We couldn't do it without their support.
So while it might be appropriate to say happy anniversary to everyone connected to CF.C --- loyal fans, dedicated staff and patient family members --- it seems only fitting to instead offer up the battle cry that kept us going through the dark days of 1998-2000 and fired us up during the glory of 2001-2003: ONWARD CRIMSON SOLDIERS!!!
CF.C turns five
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