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The birth of a WSU Cougar fan

For his entry in the Hyundai Fanthropology Sweepstakes finals, CougCenter reader Lars Johnson expands on his original contest entry to tell us just what it means to him to be such a crazy fan of the Cougs and college football.

Lars Johnson (fourth from the left) with his friends.
Lars Johnson (fourth from the left) with his friends.

What does it mean to be a WSU Cougar to you?

Being a WSU Cougar (Coug) is not just a gameday hobby; being a Coug is a full-time lifestyle and attitude. It is a bond with Cougs forged by similar experiences and passion built in the hamlet of Pullman, Wash. Unlike other programs with large national followings or located in major cities where there are bunch of fans who root for the local team because they are the local team, Cougs are different. I would estimate 80 percent of the Coug Nation fan base went to school at WSU or married into the Coug Family. This unique kind of kinship and experiences a remote college town provides are a lifelong bond to WSU and the Cougs.

This means that when a Coug greets a fellow Coug with a "Go Cougs," I would argue it means more than any other fan statement around the country. A random Alabama fan in NY could see a fellow fan and yell "Roll Tide." For those two fans, it is likely that one or both may not ever have been to Tuscaloosa, and their shared memory will be of a big game they saw on TV or at a stadium. But when another Coug says "Go Cougs," you see an instant flash of connection, shared memories, and experiences in Pullman - and invariably a glint in the eye and a smirk will cross both faces. This connection is kind of like having your life pass before in a split second and is one of the greatest connections you can have. I would argue this kind of connection can only be created in the unique environment of Pullman and WSU.

If you attend WSU, it becomes a part of you. "Once a Coug, Always a Coug" is more than a catchy slogan - it truly embodies Coug Nation in all we do.

This unique bond with WSU means that our Coug Pride is not just contained to the sporting fields and teams; but really makes all Cougs yearn to represent WSU to the best of their abilities in every aspect of their life. The spirit, pride, and passion we have for the Cougs and WSU can not help but be expressed in our work performance and how we treat people on a daily basis.

Understand that for Cougs, wins and losses do not dictate the level of passion we have for our school - this gets to the heart of what it means to be a Coug - it is a bond and passion greater than sports scores, face painting, or even songs and chanting. Being a Coug is definitely a lifestyle and attitude that makes us who we are.

So how did you become a Coug Fan?

Definitely Cougar blood in the Family. I am the 13th Coug in my family and 11th member of the same fraternity at WSU. My dad was a Coug alumnus and mom went to USC, so while we were a big Coug family, it is not exactly 100 percent Cougdom all the time. Unlike other Cougs who grew up in the greater Seattle area (the largest metro area in the state of Washington and home to our biggest rival), I was born and raised a Coug in the husky crazed suburb of Bellevue. Growing up as the only WSU fan in my elementary school, middle school, and definitely outnumbered in high school, I learned what kind of passion and conviction it took to be a Coug at an early age. There was definitely an anti-Coug bias in my city growing up to the point that my high school counselor told me with my 3.9 GPA that I shouldn't go to WSU because "you could do better." This kind of blatant anti-Coug bias in my hometown actually steeled my resolve to go to WSU.

The best birthday present I ever received was a trip to the 1994 Alamo Bowl with my Dad. That was the game that convinced me that Coug Nation is the best fanbase on earth - the amount of passion and excitement all of Coug Nation showed for a second tier bowl game showed me all I needed to know about what it means to be a Coug. Singing the fight song on the Riverwalk after the game with 3,000 other Coug fans was the best gift a 13 year old could ever receive. Looking back now, that experience really gets to the heart of what being a Coug is all about - we as Cougs don't need outside validation or national exposure to shape what we think of WSU and being a Coug. There were 5,000 brothers and sisters down in the heart of Texas who could care less about anything else but celebrating being a Coug with other Cougs.

When was your first time in Pullman and what did you think about it?

I will never forget the first time I went over to WSU as a 10 year old and was convinced even at that age that WSU was like Disneyland. It was the first time I had seen so many people all wearing Coug gear, much like at the Magic Kingdom where everyone wears Mickey Mouse gear in the parks, but not so much outside in the "real world." To this day, I refer to WSU as The Happiest Place on Earth. One summer I was an orientation counselor at WSU and decided to spread the idea to new incoming students. I made WSU Mickey Mouse hats for the other counselors with the WSU logo in the ears, which went over pretty well!

The other thing that stuck with me about my first trip to Pullman was the close connection the student body seemed to have and the outgoing nature of the students there, with many of the students randomly coming up to me as a 10 year old and giving me a high five and saying "Go Cougs." This was to a random family and a young kid visiting campus! I could only imagine what it would be like to be part of such an outgoing and accepting community.

Having gone to WSU and traveling back for almost all home games since I graduated in 2005, I am even more convinced WSU is similar to Disneyland than when I was 10. Every drive from Seattle to Pullman (300 miles one way), I get that excited anticipation that comes when you get ready for vacation, a first date, or a trip to a theme park. The feeling only grows the closer you get to The Happiest Place on Earth. Out of nowhere, almost like an oasis, Pullman just appears in the rolling wheat fields, only revealing itself after you take the exit and crest a western hill. Certainly magical.

What are some of the ways that you show your Cougar Pride?

Here's what you need to know about my take on Cougar Pride: It is a lifestyle and mindset that permeates everything you do. This is not just a game day event hobby. This is my life and how I represent the best university in the country in every interaction and choices I make on a daily basis:

  • The passion in my family was reaffirmed daily with a family rule that there was to be no purple nor yellow clothing in the house at any time, a rule I follow to this day.
  • This offseason I created a 100-clue Cougar Football Crossword to celebrate the history and passion of cougar football, creating the crossword clues myself. You can see it here.
  • Having season tickets since I graduated in 2005 with 16 other fraternity brothers (for one of the worst stretches of cougar football in the modern era), and having only missed maybe 4 home games since 1999.
  • My closet is 80% - 90% full of crimson and grey clothing (logoed apparel for non work and crimson and grey dress shirts for the workplace).
  • Décor in my house is mostly cougar related.
  • I hum the cougar fight song in the shower every morning to start the day right.
  • Additionally, I have only owned either crimson or grey (silver) cars.
  • I do not eat anything purple or yellow on principle.
  • In my fraternity, I gave everyone who moved in to the house 1 week to get rid of any purple or yellow clothing they might have brought to Pullman. It was especially fun for those unfortunate graduates of high schools whose colors were purple and yellow.
  • Professionally, I buy crimson and grey file folders and when I buy colored paperclips I remove all of the purple and yellow clips.
  • I refuse to use yellow note pads.
  • Leach related fandom:
  1. After the Paul Wulff firing, I wrote a three-page thesis on how Bill Moos should handle firing an alumnus coach and hire a "superstar" coach.
  2. For the season, I created crimson and grey eyepatches with the Coug logo on the patch for all our season ticket holders.
  3. I also made laminated playcards of the Air Raid offense for all the season ticket holders so we could better follow the Leach offense
  4. My mom bought me a toy pirate ship for Christmas 2011 in honor of Mike Leach's love of pirates.

Favorite Memories of WSU?

  • One of my favorite memories was at the end of my freshman year when they were redoing the turf at Martin Stadium. My buddies and I went into the stadium and carried a 10 ft by 10 ft piece of the turf back to the dorm and cut into pieces of the turf with a swiss army knife. We then sold them to dads moving their kids out of the dorm. I still have a piece of that turf framed in my house. [Editor's note: This might be the thing that impresses me most. OmniTurf!]
  • Going to basketball games in the Paul Graham era when I was one of 500 people in the building. Because of sparse attendance, you could have a direct conversation with the opposing players when they were at the free throw line. One player at an exhibition game actually stopped his free throw when I was heckling him, turned to me in the first row of the stands pointed at me; and said "Really? Really?" That is when you know you are impacting the game as a fan.

Thoughts on the rivalry with Washington?

My perspective might be different than a lot of Cougar Nation. For me, it is unadulterated hate. I only refer to that school as the Community College at Montlake. I refuse to go to Apple Cup games at that cesspool of a stadium on Lake Washington, primarily because I cannot contain my hatred of the Huskies during that week. I hear a lot of chatter out there that the Huskies actually hate Oregon more than WSU and that some people wonder why we as Cougars root against UW in every game of every sport. I feel we don't need to explain why we hate the Huskies -- you either get it or you don't and we don't need to apologize for those feelings. Other Cougs understand that passion and connection, and that's all who need to. I think this rivalry is one of the things that makes us Cougs - having a rival is a ton of fun. For me, I channel all my stress and negative thoughts in all areas of my life toward the Huskies.

Like I have stated throughout being a Coug is a lifestyle - GO COUGS!

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