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Anatomy of a Perfect Pullman Saturday

College GameDay Saturday in Pullman was an incredible experience. Relive it with one attendee.

ESPN College GameDay Pullman WSU

I buy two season tickets every year for Washington State football. One is obviously for myself, but the other is a bit of a wild card. I take my girlfriend to one game a season (she is an alum, but can only handle the drive across the state once per fall). I take my Dad sometimes and I take my sister sometimes. The second ticket is just for someone else to go, because I love the experience of Cougar Football Saturday and I like to share it.

About a month ago, I made plans with one of my best friends to join me for the WSU vs. Oregon game. He had spent some time across the country and hadn’t been to Pullman for eight years, so he was excited for the prospect.

Then a couple weeks ago, after the Cougs took down Utah, it started to look possible that ESPN College GameDay could come to Pullman on October 20th. I only had lodging for Saturday, so I found (miraculously) a room at the Motel 6 in Moscow for Friday just in case. I texted my friend about the possibility. He was stoked.

As Oregon beat UW in overtime, my friend texted me asking how likely it would be for GameDay to come to Pullman. I said 30 percent. Later, I said 50 percent. Then, it happened.

Our traveling party of two became three as another friend found himself with a ticket to the game but no ride or place to stay. We had both. The more the merrier. I told them, “I want every Coug who wants to experience this to have the chance.”

The Moscow Pregame

After a long week of waiting, we rolled into the Palouse and settled into our Motel 6 at about 10 p.m. on Friday night—just about 5.5 hours before we had decided to wake up the next day. We cracked some beers—the plan was just one at first. Then we turned the TV on, and found WSU volleyball trailing in the fifth set to No. 14 USC.

WSU came back and won. We were hyped, in a quiet manner of course because we knew there was a sick child in the room next to us. After that, we went for another beer. Then another, then another.

It wasn’t a totally irresponsible evening. By about 12:45 a.m. we decided to hit the hay, with the promise of no more than 2 hours and 45 minutes of sleep. By the time the alarm went off, our actual sleep times ranged from 45 minutes to maybe 90 minutes.

No matter. It was time for College GameDay, and after shaking off the initial cobwebs, the adrenaline began to pump. We stopped at the gas station for giant coffees and other mixers. Then, inspired by Gabe Storment’s excellent hype video, we blared Andrew W.K. all the way to the A-Lot in Pullman.

The College GameDay Experience

After mixing up some beverages and attaching my flag to my newly-purchased 11-foot portable flag pole, we started heading towards Stadium Way. One of my friends had brought some headlamps, not knowing how dark it would actually be in the GameDay crowd. We saw Martin Stadium, lit up like the game itself was going on. Then we turned the corner and saw the GameDay lights and heard the crowd noise. Those headlamps would not be necessary.

It didn’t take long to run into some friends, and then we found Michael Preston, his wife, my sister, and her boyfriend. We settled in a spot about 10 yards in front of the band. I stood, jaw agape, taking in the scene around me.

College GameDay Pullman
My sister and I, experiencing a surreal moment.

It was a surreal feeling, and when Rece Davis came out with his now-famous “Holy shit” followed by a crowd chant of the same two words, I thought it was perfectly fitting. Being on a GameDay set, surrounded by Cougs, did not feel like real life. I think I am still trying to fully comprehend it.

The show itself was at times exactly how others had described, except with a lot more energy. It was hard to hear what the crew was saying, and we just cheered when others would cheer and boo when others would boo. We had a keen eye on that moving camera, and would wave and shout whenever it went by—I’m pretty sure we were on TV at about an hour and 20 minutes into the broadcast (of course I’ve already watched it).

What did surprise me is the crowd would quiet down for the videos—including the heart-wrenching story of Tyler from Purdue, which was followed in the next segment by the much lighter Popcorn Guy spot. We all watched and reacted to those together, and we shut up when Drew Bledsoe was on the small stage (except for a few boos when he heaped praise on Justin Herbert).

Then there were the times when we were absolutely deafening—like after the fireworks went off and “Back Home” kicked up. Whenever UW was mentioned, the cascade of boos drowned out the audio of the broadcast. I received texts from people saying they couldn’t hear anything that was being said about the Huskies. Pretty good.

At some point early in the third hour, I was kinda losing it from the lack of sleep and the prolonged standing. For minutes at a time, I would just watch my own flag as I waved it back and forth. It was soothing and it was also my way of trying to appreciate the special moment I was in, to absorb it.

College GameDay Pullman
Cuddling with one of many WSU flags around me.

Soon, the picks came, and we all eagerly anticipated Lee Corso’s headgear choice. It seemed there were more games to pick than usual, and some around me were growing impatient. Finally, the WSU vs. Oregon graphic appeared, and we all raised our voices in celebration.

When Corso slid that Butch T. Cougar head down onto his own, it was a joyous and raucous moment. I was so happy that tears arrived (this was going to happen again). I hugged my friend, told him I was glad he was there with me. I hugged my sister, and told her I was glad she could be here for this. Just a few months earlier, she had undergone back surgery. If not for that, enduring the more than four hours of standing up for College GameDay would have been impossible.

As we headed back to the car, I was trying my best not to skip as I walked. I stopped for a picture next to the GameDay bus, and my friends and I couldn’t stop talking about how the experience exceeded all expectations. Who knew standing around for four hours to watch a TV show taping could leave such an indelible mark?

The Coug and a Little Tailgatin’

When we got back to our car, we decided it was a good time for a sit and finally put the camping chairs that we had brought to the GameDay set to good use. We sat around in the parking lot, enjoying the sun and cracking a few beers. We even tried this watermelon Natty offering, which we had bought as a joke the night before in a gas station. It wasn’t completely awful, but it was very sweet. It gave us a laugh, but no one reached for another. I still have two of those joke beverages in my cooler.

It felt like much of Pullman and its temporary inhabitants were trying to nap. I was still coming off the adrenaline high and that wasn’t happening. So we had a nice chill down and enjoyed some delicious elk pepperoni from our neighbors.

Soon, we decided to traverse the campus on the way to The Coug. This was an essential piece because of my friend’s long Pullman absence. Strangely, I hadn’t stepped foot in The Coug all season, so I was excited for the prospect.

We expected a big line and a long wait, but it wasn’t bad at all. We had a few pitchers and enjoyed the scene. We met someone with mug No. 64. We saw a couple Orange Bowl reps in their 1970s-style blazers come in and sign the wall, then we headed out for food and the tailgate.

I saw more friends, and their kids, as we went to the Cub for lunch. The excellence of the day kept piling on, a surplus of good feelings. One friend was fading, so we let him nap in the car as we headed up to Lot 5 for a little tailgatin’. On the way I saw Britton Ransford, our former star recruiting writer. Day made even better.

When I arrived in Lot 5, my sister was there, but I made a beeline for PJ Kendall. He is not a small human, but I picked him up as I hugged him. PJ duped us into thinking he wasn’t going to make it to Pullman for GameDay. He duped us well. Day taken to another level.

Then I saw Brian Anderson and Brian Floyd—who I can tell you despite writing with him on this blog and at SB Nation over the past nine years or so, I can count on a few fingers how many times I’ve seen him in person. The “good day” chart kept rising on that Y-axis.

For the next few hours, I introduced my friend to all the people that I typically see and spend time with in Pullman. We had a beer share, as I am wont to do at the tailgate. Baxter’s beer was glorious. Soon it was closing in on the start of the game (time flies when you are having fun and running on 90 minutes of sleep).

We headed back to the car to wake our napping friend. He was ready and refreshed. I grabbed a Busch Light (Yes, a Busch Light), to have on the short walk to the stadium. Truthfully, it was all I could handle to drink quickly after a string of hazy IPAs, sours, and barleywines. I found out the next day I had never actually checked in to Busch Light on my Untappd beer app, of which I’ve checked in nearly 5000 unique beers. I suppose it was due, I’ve had one or two (hundred) Busch Lights in my lifetime. It also would have been wrong for this day to not include at least one can of Pullman Water.

We headed into the stadium and Pullman was awake and alive once again. People were excited and I could see that the student section was already packed to the brim 30 minutes before game time.

The Game

As soon as I got to my seat, I knew that the crowd was going to be on at least the level of the 2017 USC game. That was fully realized on Oregon’s first offensive snap, when both students and alums alike brought noise that Martin Stadium has rarely seen. The Ducks were rattled. The tone was set.

The next 30 football minutes were a string of high-fives, hugs, and looks of disbelief. The Cougs had dominated in improbable fashion. The yardage totals on the video ribbon board were a constant supply of amusement.

At some point in the second quarter, I got a message from my freshman-year dorm roommate. He was sitting four rows behind me. We made plans to meet at his tailgate at halftime.

We floated to the RV Lot at halftime. I gave anyone and everyone a high-five, constantly shouting “What is happening?!?” Nobody expected that first half. It made the halftime beers just a little better, and I saw even more Cougs I hadn’t seen in years. Everyone was in a good mood. Everyone was celebrating.

I must admit, we were a little late in getting back to our seats. By that time, the Ducks had already scored. The next quarter and a half brought worry, as Oregon came within a touchdown.

Travell Harris’s incredible 37-yard catch, where he stole the ball from the Oregon defender, was a giant relief. As was his 4th-down conversion soon after. Gardner Minshew II’s touchdown pass to Dezmon Patmon brought a release of emotion, and one of the loudest roars I’ve ever heard in Pullman.

I hugged everyone within range, then fell to my seat with my head in my hands, tears arriving once again as the overwhelming feeling of combined joy in the stadium went through me. There was still a little work to be done for the Cougs to pull out the win, but I had an out-of-character confidence that the Patmon touchdown was the final dagger from which Oregon would not recover.

Minutes later, Minshew took knees as the clock ran out. A stranger appeared next to us with a half-gallon of Black Velvet. We had some celebratory pulls. The clock hit zero. We had more. I saw PJ making his way up the stairs to leave the stadium. I shoved people out the way to stop him. I gave him a big hug once again. I told him I’d come visit him in Germany. I might!

Normally I’d be one of the people leading the charge onto the field after a big win, but this time my friend and I just stood and soaked in the moment. We exchanged hugs repeatedly. I stood with teary eyes and a cracking voice as we let out a steady stream of exclamations of disbelief and thankfulness that we were there for all of it.

Washington State fans rush the field Oregon
Cougs rushing the field. If you look real closely you can find my sister.

My two best friends and I sent our traditional “Go Cougs!” texts that we do after every Wazzu win. This time, one stood right next to me, the other was stuck on the other side of the country for a work thing. I wished he was there too.

Eventually we made it onto the field after the crowd began clearing. I’m glad we did.

The Aftermath

Before joining my friends back at my old roommate’s tailgate for postgame festivities, I had to stop by the “B-Lot” to finally connect with Jeff Nusser and his wife, along with Kyle Sherwood and many others. You’ll never see a happier group of people. The dancing, the singing. It was such a cool moment.

Eventually my friends and I made it to Valhalla, where we had a few drinks and I met a Coug that had traveled all the way from South Carolina for GameDay. I then saw one of my ZZU CRU friends from back in the day, maybe the biggest Cougar fan I know, and we discussed where this day ranked alongside our kids being born. It was not a conversation our kids need to ever hear.

Shortly after, my body was telling me to tap out, and we headed to our hotel room for some late-night pizza. We had forgotten to eat dinner among all the emotion of impromptu reunions and the Cougar win.

After my friends fell asleep, the highlights of the game came on Pac-12 Network. I re-lived all the big plays, and the pandemonium. As I turned out the light and put my head on the pillow with a grin on my face, I knew I had just experienced a Perfect Pullman Saturday, and I did so with one of my best friends and tens of thousands of other Cougs. It doesn’t get much better than that.