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WHERE I COME FROM: How we became die-hard Coug fans

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This is the first of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 11.

Jeff Nusser: I imagine my story starts out like a lot of other Cougs. I grew up in Western Washington, was a Husky fan -- my dad had football season tickets until this past year -- and since my college financing options were limited, I was faced with the choice of going to UW or WSU. After being taken on what amounted to a recruiting trip to Pullman by one of my teachers, I was hooked -- I just flat-out loved the idea of going to school in a college town.

That said, there's a big difference between choosing a school and becoming the kind of crazy fan who will devote insane amounts of hours to writing about a school's sports teams. You know when I first knew I was going to love this place? When I learned the fight song during orientation. Seriously. I got goosebumps singing it with the other incoming freshman at the end of the second day.

Brian (cougfan): I also grew up in Western Washington, but in a family that was all Cougs. My dad's entire side of the family went to Washington State, so we had deep roots there. One of my first memories was watching the "Snow Bowl" with the family and watching Philip Bobo slide into the snow banks in a game that looked like the best thing in the world to a 7 year old.

Being a Seattle sports fan conditioned me for life as a Coug. I found out I was accepted to WSU while watching the Cougs battle undefeated Stanford on the hardcourt in 2004. One minute I was celebrating what looked like a sure win over the No.1 Cardinal; the next I was wondering what happened as Matt Lottich had his prayer answered while falling out of bounds. I knew then that I was in for a rough time as a Coug, but a time that I would love every minute of.

Jeff: Funny thing about that Snow Bowl -- I was heartbroken as a Husky fan. Now I own it as a Coug. Is that legal?

Craig (Dancing Football): You paid thousands of dollars in tuition and interest on student loans to "own" that game, Jeff. So own away!

My story is similar to Nuss. I grew up in Yakima rooting for the Huskies because they were the team on television. I never formed any real strong bond with their teams and I don't really have any lasting memories from any particular game. They were the "local" team so I felt the need to give them my allegiance.

When it came to applying to college I had two criteria: the school had to be in-state and the school had to have major college athletics. Needless to say, I only sent applications to two schools.

Contrary to a common myth in Husky circles, I did get into the University of Washington (so did my WSU-grad girlfriend). I chose WSU because of the scholarships and because my two best friends were headed there. The biggest allure for me to UW was living in Seattle, because I "never would live there otherwise" and I wanted to
experience life in a big city. Turns out I made an excellent choice. Pullman was a perfect college experience and I moved to Seattle right after college anyway.

Now it's seven years later and I'm one of those crazy fans that Jeff mentioned, spending hours of my life each week on my beloved Cougs.

Brian: With Pullman being so isolated, and being a true college town, it seems like it's easy to become a die-hard fan without even realizing it. The sense of community created by living in Pullman and attending WSU translates directly into fandom. Where else does it seem normal to camp out all night for basketball and football games, braving temperatures well below freezing?

The fact that there's nothing else to do in Pullman besides drink and go to football games almost breeds die-hard fans. The town shuts down on Cougar Football Saturdays -- and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Jeff: I think that's the thing that people from more metropolitan areas have a hard time understanding. They can't for the life of them fathom why someone would enjoy being there. And on its surface, they're sort of right -- I mean, Pullman isn't as big or diverse as any other city in the Pac-10.

But as Paul Wulff has continually sold to recruits, that's the charm. With nothing else around, everyone is stuck there together -- something commuters at UW will never understand. And, by the way, you can actually walk the streets at 2 a.m. without worrying about getting stabbed.

Grady, you're actually from a WSU hotbed -- how did your fandom form?

Grady: No doubt I was in the right place -- Spokane. But I also had the fortune of being there at the right time. My family moved around a lot when I was a kid, before we finally settled in the Lilac City. When your first college football experience is in Pullman, and the year is 1997, it's hard not to get hooked.

I thought at the time I was seeing a juggernaut -- we went to the 77-7 routing of the Lousiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. It was like someone had turned the skill level down to junior varsity on NCAA Football for the XBox (plug!) and was beating up on the opposition just for fun. However, I was also hooked on the atmosphere (one of the reasons I'm falling for the Sounders now), and the joy of the pilgrimage to the middle of nowhere just to support your team. Everyone else there was in the same boat.

Of course, being a Coug fan is a series of ups and downs. And the high of the '97 regular season was followed by the sting of the fact there should still be two seconds left in the 1998 Rose Bowl. It was then that I truly 'got it'. Not only were WSU the underdogs, but the odds were stacked against us too. Not all college programs were created equal. It made me want to root harder for the Cougs to succeed. It also made me hate Lloyd Carr. But I digress.

My Coug fandom leveled off for a few years before I spurned Oregon and Washington to come to Pullman in 2003. I chose Wazzu because, among many reasons, it felt like home. I can't help but think driving down there with my dad on a few random Saturdays had something to do with that. I was a staunch Gonzaga basketball fan at the time. But Dick Bennett made me fall in love with defense -- and college basketball for that matter -- and by the time the Zags came to town for the first time in my college career I came dressed in crimson, rooting against GU and for the Cougs. The Cougs lost that year, but they put up a better fight than they had put up against Zags in years. I didn't matter; I was a Coug fan. I never looked back.

Jeff: I suppose we all have those moments that we look back on and realize that was "it" for us. So we throw it out to you guys: How did you become a died in the wool, bleeding crimson Coug?