Mike Johnson conjured up the perfect college metaphor.
Shopping for Cougar paraphernalia during an undefeated season, he said, is like finding beer in a Pullman supermarket after a snowstorm.
Johnson and his wife, Liz, learned as much Friday as they tried to outfit themselves at the WSU-Pullman student bookstore for today’s Washington State University football game at Arizona State.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “They’re sold out of hats. It used to be you could take for granted that you could get what you wanted.”
The Cougar spirit is feverish and fans are piling on the clothes. And hats. And key rings.
Exact figures are hard to come by, but the increased sales are obvious, said Mari Eastman, a clerk at the Pullman Bookie.
“When the Cougars do well, we do well,” she said. “It’s amazing how it can affect us.”
During the mid-October homecoming, it was fleece jackets, in spite of the warm weather. Last weekend, which wasn’t too cold, it was other jackets.
Items in the Pullman store sell out before Eastman even gets a chance to send them to outlets in Spokane, Tri-Cities and Vancouver.
The Cougars’ 7-0 record has been both a boon and a nightmare for the WSU athletic department, which has just launched its own line of authentic Cougar sports gear - Pawthentics.
“We’ve had to increase our staff. We had to start bringing people in daily to ship out merchandise after we beat Oregon,” said Wendle Neal, director of merchandising for Pawthentics.
The line includes everything from the same type of jersey quarterback Ryan Leaf wears to the belt coach Mike Price sports, complete with a buckle bearing the Cougar logo.
People also can buy Cougar footballs, helmet decals and hooded warm-up sweatshirts. The gear spans all sports and all types of team clothing. All proceeds are donated to the student athletic scholarship fund.
“We’re going through severe growing pains,” Neal added, explaining that two people come in daily just to ship packages. He and his assistant Brian Rose (“as in Rose Bowl,” he said) were able to handle the orders alone, until recently.
“It’s picked up with the winning,” Neal said.
Though items are selling quickly at WSU, sales haven’t exactly surged in Spokane. Retailers say it’s because Cougar fans are loyal, regardless of how their team is doing.
“I really don’t see them buying any more or less because the Cougar fan is a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool fan,” said Curt Kinghorn, manager of Sport Town in downtown Spokane. “But the animation and excitement … they’re pretty proud right now.”
Some retailers say sales might boom if the Cougars remain undefeated going into the Nov. 22 Apple Cup, the annual face-off with the University of Washington Huskies.
“I think everybody’s holding their breath this weekend, it’s their last tough game before the Dawgs,” said Robert Stone, assistant manager at Kimmel Athletic.
The Pullman store’s Eastman said people are even working up the nerve to mention the previously unmentionable.
“We’re hoping for Rose Bowl apparel,” she said. “But we aren’t saying that too loudly because we don’t want to jinx them. But that would be great.”
The sheer range of stuff, from Cougar mailboxes to a $325 wall clock, is ever-expanding.
“You can show your spirit in lots of different ways,” WSU-Spokane bookstore manager Annette Simons said. “There’s always stuff people ask for that we don’t have.
“There’s stuff that wasn’t here even a year ago,” said Runell Gallina, 33, of Colton as she shopped in the Pullman Bookie with her sister, Raven Young, 32, of Mercer Island.
This family is so serious about Cougar gear that Young’s collection includes a 45 rpm record of the Cougar fight song from the jukebox of Pullman’s Sports Page tavern.
But finding something new to buy wasn’t tough: They grabbed three ceramic house numbers ($6 each), a ceramic Cougar logo ($10) and a frame to hold the whole outfit ($14).
Mike Johnson, he of the beer metaphor - and a Cougar fan so serious his license plate reads COUGUP - wasn’t so lucky. He settled Friday for a fitted hat with a Cougar logo ($16).
“We were going to buy more,” he said, “but all the stuff we wanted was sold out.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: COLOR PHOTO
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WAZZUWARES, IN CRIMSON AND GRAY, OF COURSE Sure, you can buy nearly any item you want with a Washington State University Cougar logo, but you’re aiming pretty high if you want an espresso cup and saucer. Unless you look on the sale table in the Pullman campus bookstore. If you hurry, you’ll find a whole set, covered with paw prints, for $4. Here’s an extremely partial list of other WSU wares to be had in this season of the Cougars: Refrigerator magnets, $3-$6 Telephone, $32 Baby bottle, $3.75 Two dozen different kinds of Cougar note cards and stationery Stuffed cougar, $20 Smaller, beanbag cougar, $5 Child’s cheerleader outfit, $34 “Game face” tattoos, $2.25 Crimson and gray sports paint (“paints 10 full faces”), $4 Crimson and gray “Go Girl!” nail polish, $5 per color. Too many key chains to count Wazzuopoly, a board game based on Monopoly, $25 Checkers, $20 Christmas stocking, $21 Newspaper delivery tube, $25 Oak brick (bookend?) engraved with Bryan Hall clock tower, $31. Water bubbler, $300 Dog, not Dawg, collar, $8