Blinded by loyalty? No way!

HAVING ATTENDED both of WSU's last two Rose Bowl contests, I have to admit that I'm downright flummoxed by the bashing Cougar fans are taking for their alleged lack of attendance in Pasadena last week.

I looked around everytime Oklahoma scored a TD and concluded that about one-third of the stadium was filled with Sooner fans.

While true that a conspciuous section of one endzone was largely unoccupied, the ratio of Cougar to Sooner fans last week appeared at least on par with -- and perhaps even greater than -- the Cougar-Wolverine split in 1998.

I've talked with a good dozen other Cougar partisans who were at both games and all agreed that the WSU contingent was stout.

Yet Rose Bowl officials are casting stones at WSU for that empty endzone, which helped produce the smallest Rose Bowl turnout (just shy of 87,000) since 1944.

And now the Seattle Times' Blaine Newnham proclaims that Oklahoma had more fans at the game than WSU.


Blaine, you're a great guy and mighty fine columnist, but you can't be serious.

Can you?

I may view the world through crimson-colored glasses, but I know I'm not losing my eyesight. There definitely were more Cougar fans on hand than Sooner loyalists.

Still, there's no getting around the fact demand for tickets was far less than it should have been on Planet Coug --- a circumstance confirmed outside the stadium last Wednesday when one "scalper" was overheard offering his tickets for $5 apiece rather than the $600 that was commanded in 1998.

What happened, it seems, was an unfortunate convergence of flesh eaters.

For one, WSU's new prioroity points system for dolling out tickets was flawed. It set aside too many seats for the people at the top of the pecking order and then, by the time those folks decided how many spots they wanted, those at the bottom of the list had already purchased tickets via Oklahoma's website or decided to bag any hopes of going altogether. Friends who went the Oklahoma route confirmed that there were Cougars scattered all throughout the Sooner sections of the stadium.

Second, Mike Price's departure to Alabama, coupled with the pain and stain of that horrific give-away in the Apple Cup, dampened the enthusiasm of fence-sitting Cougars. You hate to acknowledge that not all crimson blood runs deep, but there's no getting around it.

Third, hard as it seems plausible for a school making only its fourth appearance in The Granddaddy, the Rose Bowl may have been viewed as "old hat" for other fence sitters and therefore not worth the investment in time and money. In 1998 there was 67 years' worth of pent-up demand, turning even casual partisans into suddenly rabid disciples of the Church of the Holy Puma.

And fourth, as far as interest in the game among football fans generally, the bloom was way off this Rose. There was no national championship at stake as there was for Michigan when they faced the Cougars in 1998, and there was no marquee match-up of star players this time around like there was when Heisman-winning Wolverine defensive back Charles Woodson faced off against No. 3 Heisman vote-getter Ryan Leaf.

Regardless of the reasons behind that one empty section in the endzone, the Cougar horde in Pasadena was still large and and the pre-game mood bouyant and pride-filled.

For me, there was no better symbol of the depth of Cougar loyalty than Dan Lynch, the WSU All-American guard from the early 1980s. He and his pregnant wife journeyed to Pasadena all the way from their home in Prague. For the geographically challenged among us, it's in the Czech Republic. In other words, a helluva long way from the San Gabriel Mountains.

"We only make it to the states every few years," Lynch said before the game. "But the Rose Bowl is something special no matter how frequently we're in it. I'd walk barefoot in the snow for a 100 miles to cheer on the Cougars in this one."

For a guy who has gone down in Apple Cup lore for once commenting that there are four stages in life --- you're born, you play the Huskies, you get married, and you die --- it sounded all the world like age has made him even wiser.

"In retrospect, I think I should have added that you have a child, go to the Rose Bowl, have another child, go to another Rose Bowl, and so on."

Back in the 80s, he added, "Pasadena was such an elusive dream for us. Now some people are taking it for granted. Can you believe it? That's disappointing on one hand, but it's also really great when you look at it in the broader context of what it means for the stature of the program."

With that, he ran off to grab his wife a bottle of water, quipping as he turned up field, "See you back here next year -- same time, same place."

Despite what Rose Bowl administrators or misguided columnists may say, Cougar Spirit is alive and well, folks, whether you're in Pullman or Prague.

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