PULLMAN -- As the Washington State Cougars battle for the Pac-12 football championship this year, there’s one title they already hold: Best Tailgating School in the West.
Check out the RV lots near Martin Stadium and you’ll find the renowned Cougar party atmosphere in evidence during home games, something other schools in the Pac-12 simply can't match.
“You wouldn’t see this in Seattle at a Husky game,” said Casey Cochrane of Tacoma, looking around at the good-natured crowd of Cougar fans in RV Lot 1, directly across Stadium Way from Martin Stadium before last week’s game against Eastern Washington University.
“Everyone is so relaxed and nice, and you make a lot of friends over the years,” Cochrane said.
While most other schools only have game-day parking for tailgating RVers, the Cougars kick things up several notches. Parking begins on Thursday evening and ends on Sundays, creating a three-night party around home games.
Several RV owners have been regulars for decades. In the spot closest to Martin Stadium, you’ll find The Music Man, a.k.a. Del Winterfeld of Enumclaw.
“I’ve been in that spot for 25 years,” said Winterfeld, who blasts music from an elaborate sound system at his RV spot.
One of the remarkable things about WSU’s tailgaters is that everyone knows where they’re supposed to park in the eight RV lots on campus. Nobody ever tries to poach Winterfeld’s coveted spot, he said.
“Everyone knows you don’t mess with The Music Man,” he said.
RVers pay for spots through donations to the Cougar Athletic Fund, and the longest-tenured donors tend to have the spots closest to the stadium in Lot 1.
“You work your way up over the years,” said Doug Hughes of Pasco. “These lots are like mini-communities.”
In another corner of RV Lot 1, you’ll see a sign for the “College of Spectation and Inebriation,” marking one of these mini-communities. The sign looks like something you’d see on a building at WSU, and this community even has its own Facebook page.
“This (part of Lot 1) is where you want to be,” said Steve Hughes of Covington, Wash., sipping a beer near the sign.
Many of the tailgaters store their rigs in Pullman at Wheatland RV Storage, only using them for the games. They’ll drive or fly in for home games, grab their rigs, and then head to the RV parking lots for their three-night tailgating session.
Lynn Carmichael of Salinas, Calif., used to fly in for home games and then try to find lodging in Pullman or Spokane. Since 2014, he’s been staying in RV Lot 2 because it’s more convenient.
“I like to do this to help support the team,” he said, noting that the RV lots are great revenue generators for Cougar athletics.
You never know who might show up for tailgating. Coach Mike Leach has been known to hang around and chat. Former quarterback Drew Bledsoe is an occasional visitor.
And every Friday night, the WSU marching band comes through to rev up the crowd. On game days, the Cougar cheerleaders make their rounds, along with school mascot Butch.Last Saturday, the cheer squad walked through about five hours before game time as Cougar Nation started heating up. As the WSU fight song blared through sound systems, children rode around the RV lot on scooters while their parents played games of corn hole, the smell of grilled meats wafting through the air.
Through the party din, you could hear one mantra repeated over and over: “Go Cougs!”
Going Mobile question: Does any other college beat WSU in tailgating? Send your email responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.