A Husky with a Ph.D. in Cougar athletics!

The Football Season is approaching and excitement is building. If you are coming to the UNLV game in Las Vegas be sure to check out the events page on the site or click this link Vegas Matey, Vegas! to get your tickets for the Pirates of Palouse Party at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Ticket prices go up  at the end of July and they are selling fast.

This just might be one of my favorite Guest Blog posts to date and a Pirates of the Palouse First, a Husky is our Guest Blogger! Please welcome Ann McGonigle for this fantastic post!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anne McGonigle is a University of Washington (bachelor’s) and Harvard (master’s) graduate who has had the good fortune of earning the equivalent of a Ph.D. in Cougar athletics by virtue of her long-time marriage to Cougfan.com publisher and co-founder Greg Witter.

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By Anne McGonigle

On Behalf of Cougfan.com

I knew from the moment we started dating that my future husband, and his entire family, loved Washington State. Half his non-work wardrobe had a Cougar logo on it.  I could see the gleam in his eyes when he coaxed me to the L.A. Coliseum in 1990 for what turned out to be Drew Bledsoe’s first-ever action as a Coug. Listening to him talk on the phone with his brother, cousin and sister (all Cougs) is always smile-inducing because no conversation is complete without some talk of Cougar football or basketball .

 

Now, it’s important to note that I’m a University of Washington graduate. I love the Huskies.  It’s true. Greg Witter, the executive editor and co-founder of Cougfan.com, is married to a Dawg.  Scandalous, isn’t it?

 

Through marriage, however, I’ve come to like the Cougs (even though I’m still a little miffed at how I was treated at the 1994 Apple Cup at Martin Stadium). In a show of family solidarity, though, I rushed the field at Husky Stadium in 1997 to celebrate WSU’s Rose Bowl-clinching win. In Pasadena six weeks later, I had to get in the face of a Michigan fan to tell him how obnoxious he was and that it was total B.S. for him to be sitting in our section.  When our son, Ryan, was born seven months after that, people started asking if we named him after Ryan Leaf. OK, I thought, this Cougar thing is starting to get a little weird; my husband would simply say, “If we were going to name him after a legendary Cougar quarterback, his name would be Throwin’ Samoan Witter.”

 

Little did I know at the time, but this Cougar mania was actually just beginning, because shortly thereafter, Greg, his cousin John, and good friend Jack Evans decided to start a website devoted to nothing but Cougar football.  They were going to call it Cougfan.com and write articles for it late at night after the kids were in bed.  It was a cute little hobby then.  Now it seems like a lifestyle.  Some men golf in their spare time. Others get into softball leagues or fish or play cards.  My husband does Cougfan.com.  One night he was reading our then-toddler daughter to sleep when he looked at the clocked, sprung to his feet, tucked  the baby in bed, and uttered something about Bill Doba and the Chat Room as he raced to the computer. Quiet dinners have been interrupted by phone calls from Tony Bennett and others that I’m sure you’re familiar with but I’m not. When he was little our son Ryan would be in tears when the Cougs lost, and now he writes periodic Q&As for CF.C.

When Barry Bolton joined the team to run CF.C’s day-to-operations a number of years ago, it was pretty clear this “hobby” was now officially out of control. Just how out of control?  So out of control that in 14 years of operation it’s never been profitable. All the revenue is put back into writers, editors, photographers and some marketing.

So why do it?

A few years before CF.C was launched, following consecutive Cougar losses that had him seeing red, I asked my dear hubby a similar question about his love for a team that seemed to bring as much frustration as joy. He turned that inquiry into a column. This is part of what he wrote:

“The Cougars are a microcosm of real life. They are peaks and valleys, trials and tribulations cloaked in crimson shirts and gun-metal gray helmets. Being a Cougar fan builds character. We’ve gone through heartbreaks, blowouts, revolving coaches, untimely penalties, more than our share of bad bounces and a plethora of wouldas, couldas and shouldas. We hope and we pray and we hold our breath. Sometimes the disappointment weighs on you like a bad habit … And at those fleeting moments when we’re tempted to swear them off ….”  He then recounted a series of glorious plays and moments in Cougar history.

Through Greg, I’ve met countless Cougar fans. You’re all just like him. You love, and I mean love, WSU. You love Pullman. You love The Coug. You love The Bookie. And you love those Cougs. I once asked Greg what the heck they do to the students over there because I’ve really never seen anything like this Cougar loyalty. It is incredibly unique.

And just when I thought I’d seen it all, you go out and hire Mike Leach. Through Greg, and before that through my dad who was an old high school teammate of Jim Sweeney’s, I have paid attention to what’s going on in the Cougar Nation for about 25 out of the last 40 years. When you made it to the 1998 Rose Bowl I’d thought I’d seen the ultimate. And then when you went back to Pasadena five seasons later I really thought I’d seen it all.  But this Mike Leach thing is something else altogether.  You guys look and sound like you’ve won the lottery. I half expect our son to show up at the dinner table wearing an eye patch.

When Greg came home after the attending the Leach introductory event in downtown Seattle in December, he said the atmosphere bordered on a religious tent revival.

As a Husky fan, I have to tell you this does worry me.  Not that I have anything against Paul Wulff; from what Greg tells me, Wulff did a very good job of rebuilding the foundation of the program, and he’s a great guy on top of it.

But the Leach hire strikes me as something that has the power to permanently engage all you Cougar fans and, thereby, transform the football program from an occasional winner to a consistent winner.  And by the word engage I’m not suggesting you don’t already bleed crimson, because that fact is very clear to me. I’m talking about the things that build long-term success, like buying season tickets even if you can only make one or two home games a year, donating regularly to the scholarship fund, and attending all the special dinners and events.  At the U of W, the level of alumni engagement doesn’t need to be as great because the location of the school guarantees huge corporate support and generates serious fan interest among non-graduates. WSU’s location limits that kind of easy, natural corporate and non-alumni fan support.

I saw an article on Cougfan.com a week or two ago where Bill Moos was talking about the need for Cougar fans to have “skin in the game.” That’s what Mike Leach’s presence has the power to do and do quickly: Get lots and lots of Cougars backing the team with tangible support. Leach is a celebrity. Matthew McConaughey makes references to him on the Jay Leno Show for God’s sake!. His book is a New York Times best seller. ESPN announcers talk about him.

Leach is a transformative figure.  My husband gave a speech at a Cougar event a couple of years ago. He practiced it so many times I can almost remember it by heart. He talked about critical junctures in the history of WSU sports and how important it is to recognize and seize those moments while they’re unfolding, not in hindsight.  The most critical of them came right after World War II, he said, when legendary Babe Hollingbery wanted $8,000 a year to come back and re-start the Cougar football program and WSU was willing to give him no more than $7,000. Babe didn’t return, and it doomed WSU to decades of mediocrity at a crucial time in the sports evolution.

Letting Mike Price leave for Alabama was a similarly critical juncture and WSU has been paying dearly for it ever since.

So now here comes Mike Leach. Hiring him was only the first step, however. The next step, the true critical juncture, in my view, belongs to you fans. Are you going to step into the big time and give your new coach and athletic director the support they need to transform WSU into a consistent winner? My fellow Huskies hope you’ll sit on your wallets and not take full advantage of the opportunity.  If I see a sold out CenturyLink Field on Sept. 29 that’s 90 percent crimson and 10 percent green I’ll have a good sense of which direction you’re headed.


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