(A comment by 92Coug in the recap article following WSU's recent loss to UW in Seattle received a significant amount of response from CougCenter readers. Opinions varied, but were widely positive from what I could tell. I initially began writing a reply directly to the comment, but found my thoughts were extending beyond what I felt was fair as a reply.)
Mostly, I think the comment serves as an interesting jumping off point in investigating how we, as Cougar fans, identify with a usually-losing athletic identity (see: Chicago Cubs). As I understood it, much of the responding discourse focused on a few core themes: Camaraderie, Loyalty, Patience, and Expectation. These themes frame how we identify ourselves as WSU fans, but they are viewed as rare and often fragile virtues, which could easily be lost if WSU becomes perennially successful. (There was also a superb reference to Austin Powers, which stands alone.)
Once a Coug, Always a Coug
The phrase "Once a Coug, Always a Coug" rings true to most anyone that spends a part of their life on the rolling hills of Pullman. It's something we take incredible pride in. I've heard it compared to the patriotism one feels for their country. There are superlative quotes abound in Crimson lore of the sense of community felt by students (and alumni) of WSU.
One of the most beautiful ways this sentiment is realized is through story-telling between generational gaps. This was apparent in the reminiscent retelling of favorite memories in the previously-referenced comments thread. Sharing memories from different vantage points, all about a common passion, is a powerful literary device. It builds camaraderie, which in turn builds upon the already existing identification with the school.
Much is made of the unflappable loyalty of Cougar fans. Of course we're biased, but there is certainly a sense of loyalty amongst us all. As fans - at least the fans that frequent a blog like CougCenter - most of us are possibly loyal to a fault. Maybe it's because we haven't been "spoiled" by repeat visits to top-tier bowl games or Sweet Sixteens. Maybe it's because the Cougars haven't won the Rose Bowl in almost 100 years (take that, Brown!) or any bowl in 10 years. Maybe it's because the Cougar Football team is coming off a series of five seasons with a cumulative record of 11-49. Or it could even be the dreadful trend the men's basketball program is following since their last NCAA Tournament appearance just five years ago.
Whichever way you slice it, there have been copious opportunities for any and all fans to wipe our hands clean and say, "Screw it. This isn't worth it." But we don't. We dig in for the long haul. That is a powerful expression of loyalty.
Loyalty is driven by patience. We are patient when we're told that a program needs to undergo a rebuilding process. We're patient as we watch our teams flounder, trusting that the leadership in place will "right the ship," ultimately delivering us to a higher level of success. We're patient in believing that hard-working, dedicated, and respectful people should get rewarded. It's only fair. (Spoiler: sometimes life isn't fair.)
"I'll take fifty percent efficiency to get one hundred percent loyalty." -Samuel Goldwyn (not a Cougar)
However, being patient and loyal is not the same as being accepting. Yes, Cougar fans have a history of supporting programs with lesser resources and talent. There is something admirable to be learned by sticking with programs through the lowest of lows. Winning seasons do have a "better taste" after withstanding years and years of poor performance. But I think the mentality of accepting failure because everyone worked hard and tried their best is misguided.
You can fill a Cougar team with a bunch of highly respectable, lovely people and I will root for them because they represent my alma mater. I will be delighted and proud to say that they are model student-athletes and fine citizens. But at the end of the day, what is the most influential ingredient in the creation of that improved taste? Winning. I will always be proud to be a Coug, but I refuse to let that pride make content with losing.
Expecting more is not a bad thing. It will not strip us of the qualities from which we develop our pride in the first place.
There seems to be a prevailing sense of fear that a perennially successful program will lose the ability to produce figures we can identify as "True Cougs." Repeated success will not diminish the camaraderie built by Cougars everywhere over pitchers at The Coug or walks up Terrell Mall. Winning consistently will not repudiate the generational story-telling or spoil the eagerness of driving across the state for a weekend in Pullman.
We will never become snobby or pretentious because that would be an undeniably un-Coug thing to do.
If anything, winning will just create more opportunities to make more memories and create more passion for the Palouse than ever before; passion that carries the same foundation in loyalty, camaraderie, and community. How could that possibly be a bad thing?