It’s been almost 20 years since CJ McCoy received his diploma from Washington State. The 1998 graduate now resides in Gladstone, New Jersey, and works in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at Lehigh University, where he’s the Assistant Vice President for Economic Engagement.
That’s his full-time job. But McCoy also has a part-time gig. He’s responsible for making sure a flag gets from Point A to Point B every week, and for 14 years, the WSU alumnus and his large network of helpers have kept a perfect batting average.
McCoy coordinates the weekly travel plans of Ol’ Crimson, the Washington State flag that’s appeared on every ESPN College Gameday show since 2003. Saturday morning, the flag put on a special suit to commemorate a special occasion.
“Let’s just say the flag has a special uniform for tomorrow’s show,” McCoy said by phone Friday afternoon, hinting at what he and his associate Tom Pounds had in store.
On Saturday, the popular ESPN show arrived in Fort Worth, Texas, ahead of a game between No. 8 TCU and No. 23 West Virginia. For the 200th consecutive time, Ol’ Crimson was there, too.
Pounds, who started the movement when he waved the flag in Austin, Texas, 14 years ago, traveled from his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to mark the occasion.
The special-edition flag was crimson and bore a gray Cougar head. Gray tinge surrounded the the edges and the flag was embroidered with white letters reading “200.”
“It’s funny,” McCoy said. “We just keep going and the numbers keep creeping up on us. I remember when we hit 100 and then 150 and here we are at 200. It sort of caught me by surprise. Once we got to 100 and it was a thing that was bigger than getting Gameday to come to Pullman, we said, this is going to go on as long as it can. So we’re already talking about 250.”
As the streak builds, McCoy gets this question more and more often: “Someone asked me the other day how long it would go, and I asked how long the show would go.”
The quest for 200 hasn’t gone without its challenges.
Two years ago, the streak was in serious jeopardy when the flag got lost in transit while traveling to Tucson, Arizona. That made it an uneasy 24 hours for McCoy, but a replica flag was shipped across the country on UPS Express Critical and Ol’ Crimson made its 166th appearance on Gameday just a few hours later.
As Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State teams gained national prominence, the ESPN show traveled to Tallahassee, Florida, four times in a span of five years (2011-15). McCoy’s base of north Florida flag-wavers became uninterested after awhile, “so I had to have a woman drive from Austin all the way to Tallahassee to make that show … that was pretty unique.”
The Gameday crew ventured into the barren frontiers of North Dakota for the first time in 2013. Certainly there were no Cougars in Fargo and McCoy figured it wouldn’t be easy to persuade anyone to make the trek.
“That was a fun one because Cougs came out of the woodwork,” McCoy said. “It turned out it was a real easy one, it just surprised the show hosts. I remember (Kirk) Herbstreit saying very distinctly, ‘If the flag can make it here, it’s going to make it everywhere.’”
In 2012, Ol’ Crimson even made it onto a Navy vessel in San Diego. That’s another tale McCoy likes to share.
“That one was a little exciting because you had to have a Navy person there,” McCoy said. “Someone that was at least in the military, to register, to be able to get on the boat.”
Spokane resident Andrew Pannek, who’s waved the flag a record 13 times, had a brother who’d served time in the Marines and happened to be in San Diego the same week. On the deck of the USS San Diego, Ol’ Crimson made appearance No. 129.
“They’re all memorable in some way, shape or form,” McCoy said.
One flag was dedicated to WSU’s late president, Elson S. Floyd, and another one honored McCoy’s mother, who passed away in 2012. A white WSU flag was used up until 2012, but the Ol’ Crimson Booster Club (OCBC) decided to retire it to commend Steve Gleason’s “No White Flags” campaign, which raises money to help find a cure for Gleason’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
The heart-warming stories are endless.
“One of my distinctly favorite memories is we had a gentleman … he was in hospice care and the only thing he really wanted was a chance to wave the Cougar flag and to hold onto the Cougar flag,” McCoy said. “So we shipped one of our flags out to him, that we had in reserve, and we never got it back, but it meant a lot to his family and him, I’m sure.”
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