Sometimes it seemed as if Saturday would never come.
Friday night, at a sprawling, slightly surreal Apple Cup rally at the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle, at least few of the Cougar faithful were tired of waiting.
Two men in Washington State University sweat shirts stood next to one another in a long, glacial drinks line. But a delay in grabbing a couple of coldies wasn’t the issue.
“Where are your seats for the game?”
“I think they’re near the end zone.”
“But you’ll be there.”
“Yeah, I’ll be there.”
The loud boosters bash was still going strong. But more than a few Cougs had their game faces on.
One woman’s T-shirt said it. “It’s a Cougar thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
But the big party - the REAL big party - wasn’t until the next day. And though the game wasn’t scheduled to start until 12:30, football fans of both persuasions were encamped near Husky Stadium before 9 a.m.
One woman walking with a friend noted this with a certain incredulity. Her friend set her straight. “This is an all-day deal.”
Several dozen RVs made one parking lot look like a pre-invasion buildup of some sort. “Wanna try some killer dip?” a guy in a lawn chair called out as he stood on a patch of plastic grass and stirred a black pot on a grill.
Virtually all the gashogs were adorned with flags and what-not, declaring their loyalty to WSU or the University of Washington.
One RV all but covered with purple Husky stickers and souvenirs had a cute little stuffed toy cougar in a noose hanging from an antenna.
More than one cluster of UW fans sported warm coats and shorts.
“We’re looking for a Southwind with a WSU license plate,” a gray-haired man announced in a way that suggested he believed that amount of detail was adequate. It wasn’t. His party, invited to join a tailgating party, wandered around the lot for a long time.
One woman standing outside an RV managed to work into the conversation that she was the mother of one of the Husky players.
“He’s hurt, you know,” she said.
At 9:30, just outside a main gate to the stadium, Spokane’s own Q6 news had set up this thing about the size of a Chevy Suburban that, when inflated, resembled a giant TV camera.
Someone nearby tossing a football accidentally hit a guy in the back who was holding a sign: “I Need Tickets.”
When it’s not your day, it’s not your day.
Lots of Husky fans wore sweat shirts that just said “Woof!”
In the lake next to the stadium, in a yacht named “U Dawg,” fans of both teams mingled. “God, that’s an ugly flag,” said a purple-clad fellow getting on board right next to a WSU banner near the back of the boat.
But the mixture of WSU and UW folks was hardly rare. Anyone walking around Husky Stadium in the hours before the game couldn’t have helped but notice all the scenes where someone in purple walked with some dressed in crimson and gray.
At about 10:30, three guys holding “Fear God, Judgment is Coming” signs had to get out of the way as the buses carrying the WSU players pulled up. Cougar coach Mike Price got out of the lead bus and sought out the state patrolman who had escorted the small convoy.
When Price shook the officer’s hand, a woman standing just 10 feet away said, “Look, that motorcycle cop is smiling - when’s the last time you’ve seen that?”
A small group of Cougar fans cheered the WSU players as they emerged from the buses, looking big and serious.
“Oh, now I know what’s causing that stench,” said a woman in a Huskies rain jacket.
She proceeded to describe how much she enjoys flipping off drivers in rigs sporting Cougar stickers.
A few minutes later, the UW team buses pulled up.
“DAWGS!” said several people at about the same moment.
Inside the stadium, hot chocolate in souvenir Apple Cup mugs was moving slow. “It’s early,” said a vendor with a goatee. “Wait till people get cold.”
Some of those coming through the gates talked bout the traffic they had conquered. Others headed directly for a booth offering free cards featuring Husky players.
Not far away, one old guy in purple kidded a white-haired man in WSU colors. “Cougs playing today?”
“Yeah, ” said the WSU fan. “Can’t remember who.”
Husky Stadium is famous for its great views. But on a gray Seattle day, the Apple Cup crowd still offered some first-rate people-watching.
An unscientific survey conducted by one of the entrance gates offered inconclusive evidence about which teams’ fans seemed most confident.
Inside, in a section of seats nearer to Ellensburg than to the field, a little boy had a question. “Where are the Huskies, Dad?”
The boy’s father pointed to a far end of the stadium. “Well, why don’t we go over there?” the boy asked.
It’s true. Football does teach life lessons.
One thing you don’t see on TV is the fact the teams go on an off the field about half a dozen times during warm-ups. “Heeeere come the Huskies,” the P.A. annnouncer called out.
Another thing you notice is how “Boo” and “Cougs” tend to sound alike.
In Section 33, looking from the side toward the east end zone, a fan carrying a small dog caused utterly no comment.
The section was mostly full of UW fans. But a smattering of Cougar backers kept things interesting as the sound of horns mingled with the smell of chili dogs.
“Bite it, Dawg boy!” one WSU fan yelled early in the game, producing hostile glances.
Elsewhere, a UW fan was sharing newspaper pages with WSU fans who were hesitant about sitting on the wet bench seats.
“Roses!” blurted one young man at one point in the first quarter, prompted by nothing in particular.
“No way,” said a young woman seated near him.
They were both so good-looking that it was hard to believe this was a snippet of real life and not a contrived sitcom moment.
The little dog, named Chuck, didn’t pay much attention to the game. But then, neither did the malamute down on the Huskies sideline.
“Here’s an oxymoron,” said one purple-clad fan. “Cougar intelligence.”
By that time, the dirty looks were going both ways.
Each call by the referee, each first-down measurement was greeted by polarized reactions.
Halftime was an off-the-chart crush of people trying to decide if they wanted to spend half an hour trying to get into a restroom or half an hour trying to get a hot dog.
The third quarter brought a couple of pulled-by-planes wedding proposals. “Al. Will You Marry Me? Deb.” And “Dana. Will You Marry Me? Jim.”
“That’s awesome,” said a woman in a security guard’s uniform.
One WSU fan seemed to really get under people’s skin by repeatedly referring to another spectator as “Little man with the Huskies hat.”
He was quiet when a UW player returned an interception for a touchdown. But several fans of the home team yelled in his direction.
“Dawgies!” cried a woman who couldn’t have expressed more passion if she’d tried.
Eventually, an usher posted himself near that one WSU fan.
Another WSU fan, seated just a couple of rows away, cheered lustily but never seemed in danger of inviting mob retaliation. One key might have been that he never shrieked “Die, you dirty dogs, die!”
Down on field in the game’s waming moments, various police types looked slightly nervous as they talked into their hand-held radios. “Charlie 3, be ready to be ready,” said one UW officer.
But when it was all over and the Cougar fans sprinted onto the field, the police mostly played matador and let everyone go by. As they had for days, people who pledge allegiance to the school in Pullman shouted “Cougs!” with unbridled gusto.
But this time it was different. This time there had been a happy ending.
The people in purple looked stunned. But come to think of it, so did some of the WSU fans.
“I don’t believe it,” said a young woman standing near the 50-yard line. Then she said it again, only this time she shouted., “I DON’T BELIEVE IT!”
Then she smiled a smile that said it all.
Going to the Rose Bowl.
It’s a Coug thing.
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