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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Husky fans ‘show out’ as ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ descends on Washington

By Shane Lantz Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The cheers and screams started long before dawn Saturday at the University of Washington, as fans from all over the Pacific Northwest gathered at UW’s Red Square for ESPN’s “College GameDay” in advance of the highly anticipated matchup between No. 7 Washington and No. 8-ranked Oregon.

It was the first time in the 123-year history of the rivalry, which ESPN pundits dubbed “The Cascade Clash,” that the programs faced off while both ranked in the top 10, and was the show’s first appearance at UW since 2016.

Saturday, hundreds of fans from both sides of the rivalry braved the early morning hours to support their team and maybe make an appearance on national television.

The space behind GameDay panelists Lee Corso, Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Pat McAfee was a sea of fans and flags, with UW rooters cheering anytime standout Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was mentioned on air, and booing loudly whenever Oregon’s existence was even hinted at.

The darkness and drizzly rain didn’t seem to sap the crowd’s enthusiasm, as many fans began gathering for the show and claiming their prime spots Friday afternoon.

By 3 a.m. Saturday, UW’s social media accounts were posting photos of an already packed Red Square, filled with fans who were ready to scream themselves hoarse.

“It’s total excitement,” Husky fan James McPherson said. “It’s anxiety, it’s joy, it’s everything. It’s one of those things, I’ve been a fan since I was born, and I’ve waited my life for a game like this.”

While most of the crowd was there to support the Huskies, there were plenty of other college teams represented, with Ducks fans the most visible in their green, yellow, gray and white jerseys. While the Oregon fans were clearly in enemy territory as they walked through the sea of purple, there were no noticeable bad vibes between Huskies and Ducks supporters, who seemed delighted to be there to help cheer on UW’s rival.

Oregon fan William Miller came up from Yelm, Washington, for the event with his son, Noah. A native of Creswell, Oregon, just south of Eugene, Miller has been a Ducks fan most of his life, and was eager to soak in the energetic atmosphere. Rather than show hate to the host fans, Miller was all smiles.

“UW’s great, man,” Miller said. “UW shows out. UW has got a lot of spirit, and that is what makes the rivalry special. Both fanbases bring their hearts, man. (UW) is awesome.”

The welcome for the pair of Oregon rooters was tame early on, but Miller anticipated things might get a bit more heated as the morning crept toward kickoff.

“It’s early, you know, I’m sure as the day wanes, there’ll be a little bit more talk and a little bit more chip,” Miller said. “You know, that’s good. That’s all part of this, you know, and that’s what makes it special and fun. I like being in the enemy’s camp.”

The Husky fans in attendance cheered heavily when head coach Kalen DeBoer appeared on stage. McAfee pointed out that many of the Husky fans there had started camping out Friday afternoon, and DeBoer said he wasn’t at all surprised by their commitment.

“This is what I expected here,” DeBoer said to the roaring crowd. “I didn’t expect anything less from Husky Nation. This is why I came here. This is big-time football. It’s a great place. It’s got championship bones in the program. We’ve been there before and we’ll continue to carry on the pride and tradition.”

Minutes later, Husky fans booed when Oregon head coach Dan Lanning appeared on screen for his pregame interview. When the ESPN personalities asked their questions to Lanning, the crowd quieted. But as soon as Lanning opened his mouth to respond, the crowd peppered him with jeers, much to the delight of McAfee and the other panelists on stage.

The cheers returned later in the morning when UW student Greyson Wilhelm nailed a field goal to win a $30,000 prize. Wilhelm, a former soccer player, held up a sign that said “kicking is easy,” which prompted McAfee, a former NFL punter and kickoff specialist, to challenge him to prove it.

Wilhelm kicked the first attempt wide left to miss out on a chance at a $60,000 prize, but nailed the next kick after the crowd chanted for another chance, and was swarmed by his roommates in celebration.

Washington State fans could also be seen throughout Red Square, hoisting Ol’ Crimson with pride. The Cougars flag has been a constant presence on “College GameDay” for the past decade plus, and there were many Cougar fans present in light of the feud between Washington State and McAfee.

The feud stemmed from WSU head coach Jake Dickert’s criticism of Corso for his comments before the Cougars’ victory over Oregon State on Sept. 23.

Adam Dickenson, a 2017 WSU alum and Seattle resident, stood on the Suzzallo steps the entire morning, waving his WSU flag back and forth while surrounded by Huskies fans.

“With the Big Ten and all the conference shuffling, the Cougs are really getting the short end of the stick, and it’s unfair,” Dickenson said. “So being a Cougar alum, I really want to do everything I can to show positive school spirit and ‘College GameDay,’ I think, is the place to do that.”

The morning’s most surreal moment came when “Community” actor and Washington alum Joel McHale emerged to loud cheers while painted half gold and half purple, and then playfully mocked the people of Oregon for not being able to pump their own gas.

The climax of the event came at the end of the show when McAfee, the subject of much consternation after his harsh word for the Cougars in previous weeks, put himself into the good graces of the UW faithful by picking the Huskies to take the victory.

In all, it was a day of celebration and joy for nearly everyone in advance of one of the biggest games in program history. UW fan and 1983 grad Jerry Campo was there when “College GameDay” came to town in 2016 but thought the crowd this year was much larger.

“It’s great. A lot of people here, the place is packed,” Campo said. “They keep the energy really fun, and it’s really fun to be here. It should be a great game, should be a lot of fun, should be high-scoring, keep people interested, and ‘College GameDay’ is here, so it’s a big deal obviously.”

The region’s most faithful football fans got up early or stayed up extremely late, to show their support. Fans like McPherson, who still attends nearly every UW home game despite living in Vancouver, Washington, weren’t going to miss a day like this.

“It’s been my life,” the 48-year old McPherson said. “I tell people, I’m a big Seahawks fan, but Husky football is life.”