Qwest game tracking toward 50,000 fans

CAN THE 1,000th football game in Washington State history -- and the sixth at Qwest Field -- crack the 50,000 mark? That's the question on the mind of Dan Meyers, WSU's director of ticket sales. He says attendance for the Cougars' annual Gridiron Classic in Seattle this Saturday is tracking well ahead of last year's game. And he thinks the crimson faithful could spin the turnstiles to 50k or more.

As of this morning, sales for the Cougar-San Diego State game totaled more than 36,000 seats -- about 5,500 ahead of the WSU-Baylor game at the same point in time. That game wound up at 41,358.

"Considering we've been moving nearly 1,000 tickets per day in the last week, we certainly expect that number to increase during game week," Meyer said. "Ultimately, with nice weather expected on Saturday and hopefully a good effort in game-day walk-up, we'll reach our goal of 50,000."

A win over the weekend at Wisconsin would have turned talk of the San Diego State contest toward 60,000. Nonetheless, 50,000 or more is within reach, Meyer said.

As history goes, filling 50,000 seats for this annual affair is not unprecedented. In fact, it's the norm. The Cougars drew 63,588 to their inaugural Qwest contest, against Nevada, in 2002. Idaho the following year was at 50,113. Against Colorado in 2003, attendance was 56,188. Grambling in 2004 was 51,486.

Then there was the Baylor game last season. Depending on who you ask, the drop off was due to lackluster opposition; a bad date (i.e. the game would work better on Labor Day Weekend); and/or disappointment with the Cougs' lack of post-season play.

"Hell's bells," says Rich Howard, a long-time WSU season-ticketholder. "The Cougs are coming to Seattle, the sun will be out with temps in the 70s. There's nothing more fun than a lot of Cougars in one place. Any self-respecting Coug living in the I-5 corridor better have a good excuse for not attending."

Kickoff is at 4 pm.

Tickets can be purchased through TicketMaster outlets (206-628-0888), ticketmaster.com, or the Qwest Field Box Office.

Fans concerned with traffic and parking will have a unique option to consider, notes Meyer. Sound Transit is running round-trip trains to Seattle just for the game. Departure points are Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, Tukwila, Everett and Edmonds. For complete details, click to http://www.soundtransit.org/x6122.xml .

SINCE ITS INCEPTION, WSU's annual game in Seattle has evolved into a week-long celebration of the broader university. Dozens of university events will take place this week in Seattle, ranging from business school power breakfast to the diversity luncheon, the spirit rally at Westlake Center to the concert at Benaroya Hall. For a complete list of events, head to wsu.edu/seattle.

The football game is the capstone to a week-long, community outreach effort in the school's single-biggest market for alums and future students.

* 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 Glenn Osterhout of the King County board.

* An Air Force fly over and Navy Seal parachute team will be part of the pre-game festivities.

* The Washington Beef Producers, who have put considerable advertising into the game, are the official sponsors of the Gridiron Classic.

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