“I grew up rooting for the Cougars in the ’50s, and I’ve never switched my allegiance,” said Schreck, who graduated from WSU in 1966 and has bought season tickets for the past 20 years. “There’s a hard-core bunch of us that – win, lose or draw – we support Washington State University.”
But diehards aside, enthusiasm is on the rise among more casual Cougar fans this fall, with a $65 million stadium renovation and highly anticipated new approach by new coach Mike Leach, Schreck said.
“A lot of us have been hard-core Cougars for 50 years, but now there’s a lot of new interest, which is nice,” he said.
The Cougars played their first sold-out home game since 2007 on Saturday afternoon. The day marked the first time in 50 years that the team had played a sold-out home opener.
“It’s great to see a packed house and all the enthusiasm,” Schreck said.
The game came down to one last nail-biting play to preserve the Cougars’ 24-20 lead over the Eastern Washington University Eagles.
For many Cougar fans, like WSU alumnus Roger Hastings, the game highlighted concerns that the team has a lot of work to do, leaving spectators cautious about making predictions for this year.
“I’m going to take it one game at a time and just see what the heck happens and hope for the best,” Hastings said. “When we’re winning, things change. It’s been rough for the last six or seven years but everybody seems to be hanging in there and hoping for the best.”
But regardless of whether the team wins or loses, many fans say the viewing experience feels different this season.
Eric Patterson, from Richland, bought his first season tickets for Cougar football this year.
“I got them because my daughter was coming here this year, and I’m pretty excited about the new coach,” Patterson said.
He’d only been to a handful of games before. He wasn’t thrilled about the stadium before the renovations.
But now, he rates it a B-plus or A-minus compared with other Pac-12 stadiums. Patterson expects to continue buying season tickets.
“There are better stadiums out there,” Patterson said. Even so, he said, the upgraded venue is the right size for Pullman.
“I think we’ll bring in more people and hopefully more TV,” Patterson said. “That’s where it’s going to help out the school a lot, by bringing in the media and bringing revenue into Pullman.”
As with many new facilities, the new portion of the stadium still needs some final touches. Athletics department staff said new elevators experienced some problems and the building still needs some paint work.
Patterson pointed to one thing the university could improve for the fan experience.
“There’s not a lot of parking around here,” Patterson said. He found a spot south of the stadium near the new Olympia Avenue dorms, but it cost $20 and was a bit longer of a walk than he wanted.