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Monday, December 9, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU Cougar fans blaze trail to Sun Bowl

Diego Favela, 5, cheers with his sister Angela, standing behind him, during the 19th annual Hyundai Sun Bowl Fan Fiesta on Friday  at Judson F. Williams Convention Center in El Paso, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Diego Favela, 5, cheers with his sister Angela, standing behind him, during the 19th annual Hyundai Sun Bowl Fan Fiesta on Friday at Judson F. Williams Convention Center in El Paso, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

EL PASO, Texas – To the Washington State University fans who didn’t want to go out of their way for a bowl game: Meet the McLain family of Priest River, Idaho.

Four days ago, Drew and Julianne gathered their three children and pointed the car toward El Paso and Saturday’s Hyundai Sun Bowl.

Until a 20-car pileup in Colorado sent them on a 200-mile detour.

On they drove, just ahead of the snowstorms. They stopped to appreciate the Carlsbad Caverns, the Petroglyph National Monument and the Arches – and not just the golden ones.

The McLains drove for over a thousand miles, leaving 10-year-old Mathias, 8-year-old Marjorie and 6-year-old Mason to their electronic devices. “Thank goodness for technology,” Drew McLain said.

They arrived in El Paso just in time to join thousands of others for a very Cougar Christmas at the El Paso Convention Center. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything,” said McLain, WSU class of 2001, who’s originally from Ritzville but now is the police chief in Priest River.

“It was definitely worth the trip,” McLain said.

Other Cougar fans agreed. They came from Pullman, but also from Portland and Puyallup, embracing the notion that Christmas Day and football road trips aren’t mutually exclusive. Friday’s event was a marriage of Cougars and castanets, with mariachi bands and flamenco dancers providing the backdrop.

Later, as kids romped on the inflatables, Cougar fans seized the moment in a battle of the bands against the outnumbered fans from the University of Miami.

Like the McLains, they had plenty of motivation. Three months ago, longtime fan John Ailport was in a mood while driving home to Puyallup after the Cougars lost their season opener to Portland State.

“I was like every other fan. I wanted to hang everybody,” Ailport said. Looking back, he calls it “the best thing that could have happened – they really got their stuff together after that.”

For others, a Cougar Sun Bowl is serendipitous. Patrick Bohn grew up in Yakima and graduated from WSU a dozen years ago before moving to Lubbock, Texas.

“I’ve never been to a bowl game,” said Bohn, who brought his wife, Emma, and planned to meet up with old friends while their two kids played.

Meanwhile, the Herrmans family of Leander, Texas, had a dream fulfilled when they got the news the Cougars would be in El Paso. In 2008, they served as a host family for German exchange student Moritz Christ, who gave American football a try.

Christ only made the junior varsity at Leander High, but his competitive fire was stoked. Back home in Germany, Christ sent hundreds of emails and videos back to the United States, and he eventually earned a full ride as a lineman at Washington State.

“Now it’s his senior year, and we wouldn’t miss it,” Gigi Herrmans said.

The ultimate marriage of family and football might just be the Northcroft family. Back in Seattle, George and Gloria raised son Marty as a Husky, but said they recognized their error even before he left to play for the Cougars in the 1990s.

Now, Northcroft heads the marketing department for the WSU athletic department, and he brought his wife and two sons.

“Now we’re all die-hard Cougar fans,” George said.

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