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Cougars’ crimson and gray will all look alike now

So now it’s “Win the day for Pantone Matching System 19-1543 TC and 14-1159 TC?”

Damn, that screws up the rhyme in the fight song.

In the color-by-numbers nitty-gritty of athletic apparel, those are the digits that identify the new crimson and the new gray – well, one of the new grays – in which Washington State athletes will be swaddled in the coming years, the first peek coming Monday night at what the school called an introduction of a “department-wide brand and identity program.”

Oh, let’s be real: it was a fashion show.

But this is where we are in college athletics. Hiring a new coach? Better win the press conference.

Better win the fashion show, too.

By all accounts, the Cougars did just that during the 45-minute exhibition at the Davenport Hotel. Now, the only people there who weren’t Cougs were the four reps from Nike and they designed the duds, so there weren’t going to be a lot of wannabe Mr. Blackwells suggesting that the athlete models looked like centerfolds from the Farmer’s Almanac.

Not that they did.

But naturally the Wazzu family is going to love the new crimson and gray. Cougs of all ages bought up scads of the old stuff even when it was  “Chinese red and silver,” as athletic director Bill Moos said.

It was Moos looking around – in locker stalls and the Bookie, at billboards and business cards – that got him to thinking that the entire department was an ongoing episode of “What Not to Wear.”

“Our colors, our fonts, various uniforms, our letterhead – we were all over the charts,” he complained. “I played (football) for Jim Sweeney in the ’70s and we looked more like Georgia than Washington State.”

So he asked his Nike pals who helped him turn the Oregon Ducks into the fashionistas of college athletics in the previous decade to handle a makeover for the Cougs, though frankly it’s just as retro as it is cutting edge.

The new typography – a custom typeface dubbed “Cougar Bold” – is distinctive for serifs on certain characters that borrow from the visual structure of the cougar-head WSU logo, which turns 75 this year.

And the colors? Well, they’re straight from Moos’ mind’s eye.

“I knew the crimson,” he said. “It was the one from the ‘Cardiac Kids’ (the 1965 football team). The gray was darker then, too – the helmet color and everything.”

So if you were at all partial to the silver helmets, the gray ones are going to require some getting used to – as will the third football jersey, a gray top with crimson numerals that were difficult for old eyes to make out from just a few feet away, never mind from the top of Martin Stadium.

Another reason to put those plans for an upper deck on hold, if the current empty seats aren’t reason enough.

Actually, the dark steel gray top, set off against darker “anthracite gray” pants, was identified by Nike’s Todd Van Horne as a “bowl game” uniform, and the guess here is Cougar fans could get used to tie-dyed tops, paisley numbers and madras pants if it meant getting to so much as the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Besides, this makeover isn’t for the fans, even if they’re the ones buying the replica apparel – and be sure to make room in your budget for a new Wazzu wardrobe.

This is for the 17-year-old recruit deciding on a school.

“Our generation is all about style,” admitted football safety Tyree Toomer. “We like to call it ‘swagger.’ We like to look good on the field. If you’re wearing something you think you look good in, you want to show off.”

Well, some of them do.

“We don’t look our best in the jerseys like some of the corners,” said defensive lineman Anthony Laurenzi. “It’s not very flattering on our bodies.”

“Heck, two plays in, we’re all sweaty and dirty anyhow. We’re out there bumping bellies with other big guys.”

But Toomer is already matching up components in his head (“gray top, same gray pants and either the crimson or gray helmet”) and women’s baskeball player Rosie Tarnowski noted players “are always talking about other team’s uniforms compared to ours.”

When it was suggested to Toomer that his Cougars forebears might not have cared less about style, he laughed and said, “They didn’t know any better.”

Still, it’s easy to take issue with Moos’ notion that “it’s hard to build a program until you establish your identity.” Pretty sure USC and Ohio State managed to carve out an identity without a color palette and a uniform typeface.

The new garb looks good.

But it would look even better in the end zone.