A few weeks ago, I was asked why most fans keep rooting, keep showing up, despite having little chance of winning it all in college football. Despite weekly upsets, only a few teams have a legitimate chance to win the national title; it's not a sport where parity rules the day. The answer to the question isn't a difficult one, though, and doesn't need to be overthought. It's also what makes college football special.
Odds are you have some deep connection to Washington State. It's not a school people generally end up landing on as a passerby, a fan trying to choose a college football team. That's a broad assumption that doesn't hold true for everyone, but Cougar fandom, like the drive to Pullman, is a bit out of the way, and takes a bit of work.
That deep connection is usually calling Pullman home at some point in your life, whether it was two years, four or five years, or ... look, some people really like college and want to stay a while. The time spent at Washington State breeds the connection, which goes hand-in-hand with the football fandom.
Think back to your first experiences in Pullman. You probably went to orientation and learned the fight song. You also probably showed up on campus and streamed into Martin Stadium a few weekends later. It's what people do on Saturdays; a football game that doubles as a social event. A large chunk of the stadium is reserved for students, too: another testament to the out of the way nature of Pullman and fandom. It's accessible if you're already there. If you spend your fall Saturdays in the stadium as a student, chances are you'll be back later in life to do the same if you have the means, too.
Over time, Cougar Football Saturdays become ritual, habits that just won't go away. Football is what you do on a fall weekend, whether it's making a trek across campus, across the state, or to a local bar to find the game on TV. And on about seven weekends each fall, fans from across the state will make the pilgrimage to Pullman. They'll crest the hill after spending hours driving through barren scenery and find home in the form of the Washington State campus.
There's a reason college football fandom is special, and sticks with you no matter where you go. College years are formative ones, a time where to experiment, make mistakes, and figure out what the hell you are. It's a time that's typically looked back on fondly, despite the hard work and stress and introduction to adult life. You're on your own, away from home, and free to become an adult in whatever way you so choose.
Football is ingrained in that from the start at many campuses across the country. It becomes a connection to the school and, later, a connection back to happier times. No matter the stress or difficulty of life, fall Saturdays are a chance to press pause and rediscover that connection.
For years, CougCenter has been that connection for me. After graduation, it gave me something to do, somewhere to talk Cougar football and basketball, which turned into covering the team and making the trip back to Pullman as a member of the media. And when I moved across the country, it became an outlet, a place to talk football, to vent, to share in the highs and lows of fandom with a community that felt the same way many times.
The community of Washington State fans is a special one. You've seen this when walking through an airport with Wazzu apparel on. A "Go Cougs" out of nowhere, no matter where you are, isn't a surprise anymore. I've heard it in D.C., Hawaii and all points in between. It's still surreal to me that people know my name because I've had a byline at CougCenter, too. The community serves as an artificial home, a place where Washington State fans can kick their shoes off, set aside the distractions of the world, and bond over a common interest.
The different touchpoints back to Pullman and Washington State become more apparent the further you get from college, both in time and distance. I spent the last four years across the country — in the other Washington, because I can only live in places with Washington in their names. It was a place to live, but home was still in the northwest. And each Saturday from September to November, I was able to find that slice of home through Cougar football.
The pull of home also becomes irresistible over time. It draws you back, and you start looking for ways to make it work, to give in to that pull. Maybe that's finding tickets and a way to get to Pullman on a Saturday. Maybe it's packing up and moving back across the country, to set down roots and find a home where family and friends are, and where you don't have to stay up until 2 a.m. to watch Cougar football.
If you're traveling back to Pullman this weekend, you know the feeling of coming home. That trip over the hill and down into campus is a special one, and one that brings back a flood of memories every time. Those memories are why we show up, and why we're all part of a community of Coug fans.
Welcome home, and welcome back to college football season. Please don't lose to an FCS team this year.