Brian's edit: This is awesome and so is Elson Floyd.
After WSU’s final regular season home game against UCLA I wrote a FanPost detailing what it was like for us ZZU CRU members to attend the game assuming it would be my last game as a WSU student. I was wrong about that, since we got invited to the NIT and I was able to attend two more games in Beasley. After attending the NIT Quarterfinal contest against Northwestern, I once again assumed I had witnessed my last game as a WSU student and once again, I was wrong. Had I not lived the following story, I’m not sure I would have believed that it was true. WARNING: This post is pretty long, and has very little basketball content.
It all began on Friday, March 25 around 1:20 p.m. when I received a phone call from my friend Jeff asking me if I wanted to go to New York City to watch the Cougs play. I politely declined, explaining there was no way I could go to NYC on a college student’s budget when he revealed the news. The band and WSU Spirit Squad (Cheer, Crimson Girls and Butch) were flying on a charter flight out of Pullman on Monday the 28th and they had two empty seats on the flight. WSU President Elson Floyd had called Jeff, asked him if he was the guy in the front row of basketball games with the Big Head signs and then told him that he and a friend (myself) were invited to fly, for free, on the charter and stay, for free, in NYC to watch the game, also for free. Just by attending all of the basketball games and trying to provide support for our team we were offered an all expense paid trip to New York City.
I was dumbfounded and thought it was an April Fool’s joke, legitimately checking my calendar to make sure it wasn’t. After finally believing it I began a whirlwind of phone calls, emails and visits to my professors and employers in Pullman to see if I would be able to miss class Monday through Friday (or Wednesday as it turned out) to go. Thankfully everything fell into place and both Jeff and I were able to make the trip out. Of almost equal importance, we were able to swing it so all of the big head signs would be able to make the trip out to New York with us. Also, our friend Ryan loaned us a 4’x6’ Cougar flag so we could take pictures with it in the city.
We were scheduled to depart Interstate Aviation (a little ways east of the Moscow-Pullman Airport) at 10:00 PDT and arrive in Newark, NJ at 6:20 EDT with a short refueling stop in Bismarck, ND. Jeff and I got a ride out to the airport at 8:30 by our friend Brett, who graciously agreed to wake up early to give us a ride and played Empire State of Mind for us on IPod on the way to the airport. When we arrived we realized the company we would be keeping for the trip. As it turns out Jeff and I were personal guests of the WSU Office of the President and were traveling with Carmenta Floyd (President Floyd’s wife), Joan King (WSU’s Chief University Budget Officer), Mary Jenkins (Presidential Meeting and Events Manager), Cheryl Harrelson (Associate Vice President of the WSU Foundation), Daniel J. Bernardo (Dean of the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences), Bob and Fey (two older Coug alumni who basically acted like our grandparents on the trip) and Bob the Cameraman (whose last name we don’t know but he photographs all of the WSU games).
The charter flight to Newark was unbelievable, the entire plane was first class seating and we sat near Mrs. Floyd and talked with her most of the trip. Not only did the flight cater Jimmy John’s sandwiches for lunch, but they also baked us fresh cookies and gave us milk later in the flight. The highlights of the trip included all of the band kids throwing their hands in the air when the plane took off like it was a roller coaster ride and Mrs. Floyd asking the band why they had made a giant cutout head of Ted Danson. As it turns out, the only reason the band made that cutout was because his last name could make for good puns, like "Danson the night away." Mrs. Floyd was less than impressed.
We landed in Newark around 6:25 Eastern and the first thing we saw on the news was that a spitting cobra had escaped from the Bronx Zoo and was on the loose. I must have gotten 10 text messages the first day we were there asking if I had seen the cobra. From the airport we took a shuttle through the Lincoln Tunnel to New York City itself. Jeff and I had no idea where our hotel was or any of the plans, we were just told to show up to the plane and everything would be taken care of, so we were once again very pleasantly surprised when we pulled up to our hotel: The Marriott Marquis, located on Times Square, the same hotel the team was staying at. After checking into the hotel we were invited to dinner by Mrs. Floyd at Junior’s, just across the street. On the way over we ran into team bus and greeted all of the Cougs as they got off and back to the hotel. While at dinner we discussed plans for the rest of the trip and decided to go to the Today Show the following morning, so I texted Brett (guy who gave us a ride to the airport) and told him to post here for everyone to watch the show since we were planning on bringing the Big Heads as well as Butch and the cheer team/Crimson Girls.
After dinner Jeff and I met up with everyone’s favorite student manager, Neil Stover, who informed us that he saw Chris Fowler (host of ESPN’s College Gameday) in our hotel lobby. While we were planning on going up to see him Chris stepped out of the elevator where we were waiting. We pulled out the Cougar flag and he happily agreed to take a picture with us. I can happily say that after meeting him, my list of life-long goals is now half as long. With that picture out of the way the three of us and Bob the Cameraman walked around Times Square with the Cougar Flag taking tons of "Undefeated Fans" pictures. After posing for one of the pictures, a Husky fan approached us and we convinced him to take a picture with the flag as well, he even gave us a "Go Cougs" as we walked away. We stayed up far too late (three hour time zone change was brutal) for how early we had to get up the next morning, but it was definitely worth it.
On Tuesday morning we awoke at 5:45 local time, or 2:45 Pullman time to get ready for the Today Show. We left the hotel at 6:15 with Mrs. Floyd, Bob and Fey, and Bob the Cameraman, the Big Head signs and our newly made "HI MOM, Go Cougs!" sign, which pretty much covered the only two things one would ever need to say if they got on TV. I saw Brett did a great job letting you all know about the Today Show and there are screenshots of it up in his thread, but we luckily were able to get everyone and all of the signs on air at one point or another. The Klay and Neil heads in particular got some great face time. The Rockefeller Center was pretty cool, but they wouldn’t let Butch (or Chip, the Colorado mascot) inside the area where they filmed the show for security reasons. Butch made the best of the situation and wandered around waving the Coug flag and taking tons of pictures with random people and tour groups.
The rest of our day wasn’t particularly exciting from a fan post point of view. From the time the Today Show ended (about 8 a.m.) until we headed over to the Alumni Association Pre-game function (about 4:30 p.m.) Jeff and I did all the typical New York touristy things. We did Radio City Music Hall, Top of The Rock Viewing Observatory, Grand Central Station, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, ate New York style pizza, walked Wall Street (NY Stock Exchange, Trinity Church, etc), saw Ground Zero, Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Bull Statue, the Guggenheim Museum and walked most of the length of Central Park. We ran into a decent number, I think 7, Cougs along the way and took at least one picture with the Coug flag at every location.
After walking an incredibly long distance and being afraid of getting shot, knifed or attacked by an escaped spitting cobra for most of the day, we finally made it back to our hotel for a much needed 10 minute break, and to pick up our game tickets. From there we went down to the lobby to leave when we ran into Mr. Bernardo who said he was walking down too, he was just waiting for Bill Moos. Naturally, we weren’t going to pass up an opportunity to meet Bill, so we waited for him as well. Bill came down and we waited for a few other people, and then started on the 15 block walk from Times Square to the Stout Public House. Bill walked with Jeff and me for the majority of the trip while we asked him a ridiculous amount of questions. During the walk he explained to us his idea for the West end zone football complex (which sounds awesome by the way) and told us that our new scoreboard in Beasley will indeed be a four-sided, center-hung scoreboard.
The pregame event at Stout was a lot of fun, we ran into almost all of the Cougs we had seen in the city previously and the band and cheer squad were there for a while as well. We met up with Ken, or SDCoug as he is known on another popular WSU message board, who usually sits in front of our area of the student section during the season and promised him he could hold the Marcus Capers head during the basketball game. He also made a point of introducing us to all of his friends as "The Presidents of the ZZU Cru." Bill Moos gave a speech talking about how important the NIT could be for the program and why he wanted to host some early round games, he certainly fired up the crowd, had he told us all to go jump off a bridge after that speech I’m sure most of us would have done it.
We left Stout and headed out to Madison Square Garden for the game about an hour before tip-off, which is by far the nicest thing about having assigned seats as opposed to general admission seats like the student section. The outside of MSG is very impressive, the inside? Not so much. It wasn’t exactly run down, but it was old and uses the same ugly teal and purplish color scheme that the Spokane Arena uses. Our seats were in Section 55, Row G, Seats 1 and 2, which basically means we were across from the Coug bench about 10 rows up or so from the floor. I won’t get into the details of the game, since I’m sure you all know what happened, except to say that it was even worse to be watching in person, especially because losing meant we had to fly out Wednesday morning as opposed to Friday morning. Not really wanting to leave, we stayed for the second half of the double header, donning black shirts and cheering for Colorado to beat Alabama, even holding up the "Buffalo Wild Wings" sign at a few junctures of the game, though I doubt that it made it onto air.
Wednesday morning we went out souvenir shopping early so we could make it back to the hotel for our bus to leave at 9:30. We took another charter out of Newark, this time with the team as well, so Jeff and I got to sit with some of the student managers, Ben Johnson and Ben Loewen, Abe Lodwick and Charlie Enquist for the flight back, which was definitely a fun experience. There were no fresh baked cookies on the flight back, but we also didn’t have to stop in North Dakota, so I would still call that a win. Despite the bad weather we were able to land in Pullman and the busses from the airport dropped us off with the team at 4:45 p.m., signaling the end of our trip, one that had started merely 56 hours earlier.
Being back in Pullman, I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am to WSU for having us come along for the trip, this will unquestionably go down as one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do in my entire life. Also, as a campus tour guide here it makes for a pretty sweet story to tell prospective Cougs. Sure, I would have loved for the Cougs to have made the NCAA Tournament, but making the semis of the NIT and going on a free trip to New York City was unbelievable as well. Hopefully Klay and Casto will come back and we can make the big dance next year. As always, Go Cougs!