It was better than Christmas, more festive than New Year’s, bigger than all the holidays put together.
Like a long-awaited homecoming, Washington State University’s triumph over archrival University of Washington sent Cougar fans into a frenzy.
They’re returning to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1931.
“Isn’t this the greatest day in the history of the world?” Tony Talotti gushed after watching the Apple Cup at Finnerty’s Red Lion, a Spokane sports bar.
“I can’t explain how happy I am. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
“We’re going to Pasadena!” one woman screamed, slamming her beer glass on the table. “We’re going! Are you coming with us?”
“We’ve been waiting for so long,” explained Patricia Burke, a 1979 WSU graduate. “Our Husky friends made us feel like dog poop all this time.”
It was standing-room only at Finnerty’s and other Eastern Washington bars boasting big-screen TVs. Burke’s friends showed up at 9 a.m. to reserve their tables. Most places were jammed long before kickoff.
WSU fans grew louder as the game went on. Each completed pass drew an explosion of cheers.
Leading the faithful at Double Dan’s Sport Bar on West Broadway was Hubert Langenhorst, CPA.
A slender guy. Polite. But Saturday, he shot to his feet, pointing skyward, time after time.
“And that’s another … COUGAR FIRST DOWN!” he yelled.
Everyone else in the packed pub followed along.
When all was won, the maestro led them again: “Rose-BOWL! Rose-BOWL! Rose-BOWL!”
There were 50 reservations for tables at Dan’s. The most ever. “This is what does my heart good,” beamed owner Dan Jeremiah Jr. “Packed and everyone yelling and screaming and having a victory.”
At Finnerty’s, a dozen people left their seats to dance a conga line after each Cougar touchdown.
“Go Cougs, go!” they raved. “We’re on a roll! Got a lot of heart! Got a lot of soul!”
Talotti, a 1991 WSU graduate who works for a travel agency, had already booked his flight to Pasadena six months ago. Others had tickets on hold.
There weren’t many Husky fans in evidence. Just a few, like Diana Risken, who showed up in a bright yellow turtleneck and purple sweater.
“I hate Cougars,” she said during the game. “If the Huskies win, it’ll be disappointing for Spokane. But I’ll be standing here in all my glory.”
In another corner of the bar stood Rick Weigand of Spokane in his UW sweat shirt.
“I’m a big Husky fan,” the 1981 graduate said. “I add atmosphere to this place.”
“None of which is any good,” interjected his friend Gale Coston, a 1980 WSU graduate.
Victory tasted especially good to the staff at Stadium Sports in Spokane.
They had boxes and boxes of blank T-shirts piled high in a Valley warehouse. Their destiny? The paws of the Cougs.
“We’ve got about 4,000 shirts,” owner Kert Carlson said.
The game won, he and his seven employees prepared to print them with snazzy Cougar logos. These official Rose Bowl shirts will likely make them a mint.
It could have cost them one. Royalties had to be paid up front - $2,000. If the Cougs lost, the shirts would have to be shipped back.
Instead, the concrete building filled with the sounds of compressors. Huge, steely spiders were fired up, reading to press 300 shirts an hour.
“They’re gonna look sharp,” employee Rick Benson said.
In Pullman, patrons of the Sports Page Tavern watched the game with a mix of loyalty and superstition.
If anyone knows what it means to “Coug it,” these people do.
They know all too well that “Couging it” means tearing defeat from the hands of victory, even if the announcers on ABC-TV didn’t seem to know that.
Anytime an announcer mentioned the Rose Bowl it brought a cry of foul from Chris McDonald, a “fifth-year senior” from Yakima and one of the few WSU students who hadn’t left town for Thanksgiving at home or a seat at Husky Stadium.
“Stop saying that - stop saying that,” McDonald told the TV.
When it finally became clear that the Cougs were Rose Bowl bound, bartender Frank Martz flipped on a recording of the WSU fight song. Hardly anyone knew the words, but they clapped along.
“We Couged it!” shouted Young, using the term in its new, redefined form.
On the streets of Pullman, which had been nearly empty during the game, small groups of celebrants suddenly appeared. They were shouting.
Cars up and down Grand Avenue honked into the evening.
It sounded like the whole town just got married.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Virginia de Leon, Eric Sorensen and Ward Sanderson Staff writers