The first thing to go was the purple paper bone taped to the door. The one that said “Go Huskies.”
Kathi Goertzen, KOMO-TV news anchor, covered it with a 12-by-18-inch magnetic Cougar emblem.
From there, she and Bob Robertson - he of the Cougar tie and Cougar radio voice - converted Husky weatherman Steve Pool’s office into a Wazzu shrine.
They hung a Cougar banner, draped a Washington State University blanket on a chair, strung blinking Cougar lights on the bulletin board and lay crimson and gray pompons by the computer, all while associate producer Della Kostelnik barked in protest.
“It’s kind of progressed,” said Goertzen, a 1980 graduate who last year had Butch the Cougar walk onto the set during one of Pool’s forecasts.
“It started out with just words and now it’s become a one-upmanship situation.”
This particular prank was only one of the more public, having been videotaped for the evening broadcast. All across this town, Washington State and University of Washington fans are going at it, to use the irresistible metaphor, like cats and dogs.
For Cougar fans, vastly outnumbered and in the peak of a 9-1 season, it’s a rare moment of bliss. For Husky fans, losers of two straight games in a year they were touted to be the nation’s best - ouch!
All this may change soon after 12:30 p.m., kickoff time for today’s Apple Cup. But word has been circulating all week that some Husky fans wouldn’t mind seeing the Cougars win and go on to the Rose Bowl, now that UW’s chances are shot.
Tim Pavish, the executive at Elgin DDB advertising agency in Seattle who orchestrated the 1996 “If the Whole World Graduated from WSU …” fund-raising campaign, reports hearing this from six or seven Husky fans.
“They’re bigger people than me,” he said, “because I don’t think I’d ever want the Huskies to win.”
Ordinarily, Cougar faithful can be pretty low-key on this side of the state. It’s not a bad idea, given their numbers. WSU traditionally draws more than half its students from west of the Cascades and has more than 25,000 alumni in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. But UW has more than 150,000 alumni in the same three counties, outnumbering Cougars six to one.
“I’m surrounded by the Dawgs,” said West Sider Joe Erak, a veteran booster who figures he’s missed only a half-dozen home games since he graduated in 1947.
Over the years, he’s endured purple-and-gold pennants in his telephone company office and, after one Apple Cup loss in the ‘70s, a “Poor Cougars” banner across the front of his house.
He’s kept a low profile over the decades, but figures that will end today, even if he is sitting at the game with a Husky “friend.”
Barbara, his wife, “says she’s going to tape my mouth shut,” he said. “That’ll be tough. I’ll talk through my ears if I have to.”
Being heard - and seen - is fast becoming part of the West Side Cougar lifestyle. Steve Simpson, who played defensive back for the Cougars in 1967, was showing off his team picture Friday. “This is the first year I’ve brought this out and actually admitted to being a Cougar,” he said.
“At the Bellevue Club, everybody’s a Husky, so I want to be noticed,” said Jennifer Georges, Class of ‘71, as she included a WSU T-shirt in her $83.62 purchase at the WSU West store.
Fans like her have helped set sales records at the store, which has been taking in up to $10,000 a day this week.
It’s a sweet feeling after so much hardship. Georges recalled the smarting references to “that cow college,” the years of losing seasons, even the 1970 Stanford game at Joe Albi Stadium. The 63-16 loss included a touchdown run by Eric Cross, who was tackled by a frustrated Cougar fan in the end zone.
“Hardest hit I got all day,” Cross said afterward.
A WSU win today would make things sweeter - Georges paid $125 for a ticket - but the home life could suffer. Her husband is a Husky.
It’s just one of many mismatches that can happen here. Jeff Perini, a sales associate at WSU West, had two Seattle police officers launch into their schools’ fight songs in the middle of the store the other day. One was a Husky; the other a Coug.
“And they were screaming at the top of their lungs,” Perini said. “They were standing here hooting and hollering. I said, ‘You guys are partners? You ever have any gunplay back at the station?”’
Trash talk has been everywhere. One sports radio host had to cut off the jokes after a caller passed off a particularly obnoxious barb about Cougars and sheep.
The hostilities have even spread to the well-ordered confines of the Harbor Square Athletic Club in Edmonds. Trading barbs Friday were Nancy Gustafson, sister of U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt and one of the 34 WSU graduates in her family, and Darlene Taylor, UW Class of ‘57.
Pointing to Taylor’s Husky sweater, Gustafson opened with a straight shot to the clothes.
“This is a woman that looks very ugly today,” she said none too quietly. Taylor took the high road, sort of, acknowledging this could be the Cougars’ year. “The way I look at it, Nancy, we’ve been on top for so many years,” she said.
“Do you know what the Husky got on the SAT test?” asked Gustafson. “Drool.”
If things keep going the way they are over at KOMO-TV, the anchor desk happy talk may have to be redefined.
After Goertzen swamped Pool with paraphernalia, she said, “What I forgot to put in there was some roses” - a reference to the bowl that WSU just might go to for the first time in 67 years. “Don’t smell them yet,” said Pool.
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