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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tailgate tradition resumes in Pullman as Washington State season kicks off

Kenneth Huddleston spins Larisa Estrada as they dance while tailgating before Washington State  faced New Mexico State on Saturday night in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

The Cougar football tradition for the Millers, Janzings and Ridgways is pretty well set.

The Millers – Mike and Kay – haul the motor home from Walla Walla, usually on Thursday as they did this past week, in advance of Washington State’s season opener against New Mexico State.

Bob and Cathi Janzing make the drive from Kent, Washington, to join them as soon as they are able. Cliff and Debbie Ridgway have the longest drive, from Whidbey Island north of Seattle.

Some years they deal with snowstorms. Another year, a deer hit them on the drive home (“When you get hit on the side, that means they hit you,” Bob Janzing said). Raising children created its own logistical complications, sometimes setting up a tripleheader of football games: high school on Friday, Cougars on Saturday, Seahawks on Sunday.

“It’s really difficult to be a Cougar fan,” Kay Miller said, referring to the travel as well as the ever-moving target that is the kickoff time.

But for nearly three decades they’ve made it work, and their optimism about the football team might have never been higher.

“We’re Cougs,” Debbie Ridgway said. “You have to be optimistic.”

Washington State is coming off its first 11-win season and is 28-11 since 2016, the best three-year span since the Cougars went 30-8 from 2001-03. Between those stretches, the Cougars lost almost two-thirds of their games, going 50-95 from 2004-15.

Friends Bob Taylor and Cindy Valeri were there for about all of them. Taylor graduated in 1979, Valeri the next year. They continued a warm-weather tradition of getting ice cream from Ferdinand’s before the game.

“We’ve seen the bad times,” Taylor said.

“We sat through them, for sure,” Valeri added.

The past few years, though, the tailgating has certainly increased, they said, especially last year with Gardner Minshew at quarterback.

Cammi and Shane Johnson became season ticket holders in 2011 when they started at WSU’s pharmacy school, the same year Mike Leach became head coach. They tailgated Saturday across from the stadium, with their 5-month-old son as well as their 2-year-old, who Cammi said has been talking about football for months now.

The late start wasn’t going to deter them from bringing the whole family to the season opener. Cammi said their 2-year-old stayed up until 10 the previous two nights in preparation.

Both Johnsons are optimistic about the season. Compared to when Cammi was a student in Pullman – during a stretch when the Cougars went 9-40 – the current run of four straight winning seasons, something the program hadn’t done since 1933-36, is certainly memorable.

“I’m always optimistic,” Cammi said. “Anything is better than when I was an undergrad.”

On the other side of the parking lot, the Millers, Janzings and Ridgways enjoyed the shade of the neighboring RV as they shared stories of earlier seasons. Combined, the three families have 10 grown children, nine of whom graduated from WSU.

With spouses and children of their own, the families rarely all attend games together. But they find room in the stands when their families can join them.

“It’s a dream come true,” Cathi Janzing said of the Cougar tradition in her family. “What more could you ask for?”