Last Monday, as news of ESPN’s flagship college football program: ‘College Gameday’ coming to Louisville was trickling in, one of the first thoughts that went through my mind was ‘how do we get the Washington State University flags here!?’ I didn’t want to be the fanbase that ended the streak, but I had no idea of the logistics of how it all works. Why and how were there WSU Cougars flags at every single Gameday broadcast? It was always one of those little details that I knew existed, but was oblivious to the tradition. I think I tweeted something along the lines of ‘we can’t screw this up!’
Tuesday, as Gameday fever had hit Louisville harder than Hand, Foot and Mouth disease had hit Tallahassee, I woke up to a direct message in my Twitter inbox:
“Do you want to help with the WSU flags? e-mail this guy.”
This is one of those things that you just don’t turn down. Still unaware of how it all worked…it only took about 30 minutes and I was involved in the ‘Gameday 181, 9/17/2016’ WSU Alumni e-mail thread. The flags are shipped to a regional alum, and a small group of either fellow alum or people with family ties to WSU travel to the Gameday site and get to the set early to get the flags on poles and in the view of cameras. I met Allison at Starbucks across from Jim Patterson Stadium at 5:45am. Her husband Craig, and Randy (WSU alum and current UK Med School student) had gotten to the site with the crimson flag an hour before, and after we were joined by Tyler (WSU grad and Brandeis Law alum), Madison (UofL Student whose parents were WSU alumni), and Kat (UofL student whose grandparents were WSU alumni) we set off across Denny Crum Overpass to set up the other flag.
The ESPN crew is well-aware of the tradition, and after we had taken a guess as to our location behind Corso’s camera…an ESPN tech came and repositioned us to get us both in prime view of the set cameras as well as the flyover camera. Apparently NOT aware of the tradition at all (forgivable for the most part) were the already-inebriated students in line for the pit who, upon seeing Tyler’s Drew Bledsoe jersey and a giant grey Wazzou flag chimed in with the requisite ‘WSU? They Suck! Bledsoe sucks! Get that flag out of here you suck!” Louisville fans are so great, and so welcoming, and generally hospitable…but I can kind of understand those not in-the-know feeling like their turf was being encroached upon. It’s OK; we have a ways to go to get some deep-rooted traditions ourselves. I’d say, however, that 90 percent of those in attendance at the Gameday set knew of the flags and their streak. They were a selfie magnet for the most part.
When Washington State beat then-#16 Arizona State in Pullman in 2002, they were 8-1 with a date with #15 Oregon looming. Oregon dropped its contest with USC before beating Stanford…and the fans in Pullman were ready for WSU/Oregon to be the Gameday feature. ESPN Chose #2 Miami at Tennessee, and Tom Pounds, the founder of the idea of the flags…decided ‘well, if they aren’t coming to us, we will go to them!’ According to Allison, it was spotty in 2003 and 2004, but as more people took notice of the flags in the camera shots, it became a phenomenon. Now, as the title of the e-mail implied, Louisville was the 181-st consecutive Gameday where a Wazzou flag was billowing in the distance on camera.
Once the 7am Sportscenter began, it was a constant repetition of a sea of signs being raised, boos raining down on coverage of Alabama/Ole Miss from ‘The Grove,’ and chants of ‘A-C-C, A-C-C!” When it was declared over the air that ‘The party so far is in Louisville!’ the crowds at both Gameday and Red Rage Tailgate went nuts; rightfully so. So much of this has happened so fast. I was recalling my time as a student to the WSU folks and coming into UofL in 2003, I can vividly remember Conference USA. My senior year was the Orange Bowl year. I saw the 2004 team, arguably the BEST UofL football (until now…) play and end up 11-1 with a victory over Boise State in the Liberty Bowl. That team was disrespected and was a victim of its conference affiliation. I was a season ticket holder through the…the…that one coach…years and can remember 27-2 to open 2008. I also remember Charlie Strong’s tears, and the promise and the vision of surpassing what Petrino 1.0 had done. The look on Florida Fans’ faces as we walked down Bourbon Street after the Sugar Bowl is forever burned into my memory, and Teddy…what can I say about Teddy that hasn’t been said? Teddy is also why we have Lamar, our single-named quarterback who week-by-week is solidifying himself as the best player in the country on Saturday. Since I was a student…this program has undergone TWO stadium renovations/expansions, and now is about to put shovels in dirt for a third which will make it the most badass college football venue in the country. We went from ‘man your scrappy team is pretty good’ to College Gameday and Lee Corso putting on a Louie head for his official pick just before the team dump trucked Florida State 63-20 on national television in an all-time #BEATEMDOWN. Louisville looked like Florida State’s Daddy. Louisville took Florida State’s brand new Optimus Prime action figure on its birthday and threw it in a pond. Louisville showed up to Florida State’s wedding in a Lamborghini and left with the bride. Bobby took a sports car, spray painted #8 on the side, and did donuts in Florida State’s momma’s yard. It was so bad they backed the semi in before the third quarter was over and the garnet and gold was spilling out of the visitors’ section faster than the spread of toxic algae.
My morning was cut short by news from That Boy’s Good that we were being handed guest passes backstage to Gameday. We got back there a little late for a tour, but it was neat regardless…PLUS the lanyard is a great souvenir for a fantastic day. TBG and I have landed in some awesome situations over the last few months, and this one might have taken the cake; looking up at the set with Reece, Desmond, Lee, and Herbie broadcasting a show I’ve watched for years thinking ‘when will Louisville get this chance?’ and then seeing the sea of red behind them and realizing that ‘we’ve arrived’ is closer than we all may think.
I don’t ‘know’ football. I mean…I can recall players and schools and games and plays, but I can’t point out pulling guards and dragging tight ends, or when the nickel shifts into coverage…I might be able to identify it if you point it out…but I never played a down of football. I don’t even know if I got that terminology right…I’m freewheeling here! However, I love it, and I love watching it, but I won’t try to break down the game like Mark and Dave and the TCZ crew can because I can’t. I know what I saw yesterday, with the Ali family, and the Red Chrome helmets, and the pageantry behind Gameday and the ABC broadcast, and Lamar…hoooboy Lamar. But also the defense…Clemons and Kelsey and Hearns. Chuckie Williams almost housing a pick-six. Brandon Radcliff running like a grown ass man. James Quick’s knees. Alexander returning one for a score and ALMOST getting a second. We are good, and we need to savor this year…because Lamar is phenomenal and the rest of the team feeds off of him. We all need to sit back and enjoy this and just dance like Keith Kelsey’s grandpa, because the rest of 2016 is going to be so much fun, you all.
Washington State might have a really neat obscure tradition, and it was a blast to be a part of it…2016 may start some traditions (on the field and off…come back soon, Gameday!) for Louisville football that some fan at some school in the future gets fired up to be a part of when ESPN rolls the Home Depot RV into town.
Let’s have a freaking blast, Louisville. Go Cards.