Can Cougar fans deliver on Sept. 8?

THE QUESTION POSED by WSU's ticketing office in a recent email was provocative: Can the Cougs own Seattle? Interpret the query as you may, but for the most competitive among us it reads this way: Can WSU's attendance approach the UW's, in the Dawgs' backyard, on Sept. 8? Circle the date. The UW tees it up at Husky Stadium around lunch time while WSU kicks off at 4 p.m. at Qwest Field.

"The Dawgs are in their hometown, against the so-called darlings of the NCAA, Boise State," says long-time WSU season ticketholder Rich Howard of Redmond. "And Boise fans can fly to Seattle in less than 90 minutes.

"This isn't whether the Cougs can beat their 2006 Qwest attendance. It's whether we can make a sizeable statement in the Huskies' home town on the same day," he says. "If they get 70,000 fans and we have 40,000, I'd say the crimson crowd has let down its team."

This will be the sixth year Washington State has played a home game in Seattle. And while early ticket sales for the Gridiron Classic -– WSU vs. San Diego State -- are running ahead of last year's WSU-Baylor game, the longer trend line is going in the wrong direction.

The Cougars drew 63,588 to their inaugural Qwest contest, against Nevada, in 2002. Attendance has declined steadily since then.

Last year there were 41,358 at the Baylor game. While that represents more than the average Martin Stadium crowd, it marked the lowest turnout in the Cougars' Qwest series.

Depending on who you ask, the drop is attributed to one or more of the following: lackluster opposition; a bad date (i.e. the game would work better on Labor Day Weekend); and disappointment with the overall won-loss record.

Now, however, comes a unique challenge.

How much hometown thunder can the Cougs steal from the Huskies?

The Dawgs sold an average of 57,000 tickets per home game last season. Add the Boise State factor into the mix on Sept. 8 and you're probably looking at 65,000 or 70,000 in the stands.

"Do I think Cougar fans will turn out in numbers approaching the UW-Boise State game?" asks Glenn Osterhout of the King County Cougar Club board of directors.

"All factors say it's unlikely, but you never know. I can tell you that the Cougar Nation is very capable of making some big-time noise. And by that, I'm envisioning at least 50,000 Cougars in the stands and hopefully upwards of 55,000."

He points to the recent past for optimism.

The Cougars faced similarly tough odds a few years ago in the Space Needle's Apple Cup challenge. And the result, as Cougar fans will never forget, was that the top of the city's iconic landmark was painted crimson.

"Look at the Capitol One national mascot challenge last season –- Butch won the whole thing, facing off week after week against schools with larger alumni numbers. Cougar fans are unwavering in their loyalty and nothing brings them out like a challenge," Osterhout adds.

CHALLENGES ASIDE, OSTERHOUT notes that WSU's annual game in Seattle is much bigger than just several hours on a Saturday. It's the centerpiece around which dozens of university-related meetings and events are held in the area in the days leading up to the game.

"Since 2002, the Seattle football game has anchored an action-packed four days in Seattle designed to showcase the university's world-class achievements and spread Cougar Pride throughout the Puget Sound region," he says.

He's not exaggerating. There's the College of Education Advisory Board meeting; WSU in concert at Benaroya Hall; the WSU Power Breakfast; the Future Cougars of Color luncheon; a Boarding of Regents meeting; and much more.

"Cougar Week in Seattle has been a great addition to the university's calendar. It's a public relations home run. But the only way to ensure that this tradition continues is for fans to come out in support of the centerpiece event -— the football game," he says.

"Let's fill up Qwest -– contact your friends and get them moving. The kickoff time isn't set yet, but it looks like late afternoon, which will be perfect for families because the kids' soccer games are done and it'll still be light out when the game's over.

**NOTE: Kickoff time is now set -- with a 4 p.m. kickoff for the Cougar Gridiron Classic.

"If you can't go, buy 10 or 20 of the $7 tickets and donate them to the Boys and Girls Club or YMCA. There's nothing like Cougar Pride and there's nothing better than watching Michael Bumpus and Brandon Gibson work their magic."


Notable Notes:
  • The King County Cougar Club will be pushing the "Wear Your Crimson" campaign for the game. "We want a sea of red in the seats," says Osterhout.
  • Students tickets -– approximately 5,600 -- for the annual Seattle game have sold out in each of the last three years.

  • As of July 2, 13,215 tickets had been sold to the WSU-San Diego State game -– 1,100 more than at the same point last year for the Baylor game.

  • Details aren't final, but expect an Air Force fly over and an Army parachute team to be part of the pre-game festivities.

  • Barring a earthquake or tidal wave, will be firing up the BBQ in the North parking lot before the game -– and you're invited!

    **NOTE: Kickoff for the Cougar Gridiron Classic is at 4 p.m.

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