My beloved alma mater called me for duty last weekend.
On Saturday, I had the privilege of waving the WSU Flag in Tallahassee during ESPN’s GameDay broadcast. This was the second time I have waved it, having also received the honor when they came to Florida A&M University back in 2008. Our crew had a wonderful time on the FAMU campus that day, and I was eager to have that experience again.
I moved to Jacksonville after earning my Masters degree at Florida State in 2009, but I planned on being back in Tallahassee for the big game against Oklahoma on Saturday. I didn’t have tickets to the game, but it was a good chance to visit friends living in the area and I’m kind of a sucker for crazed football environments. And when ESPN announced they were broadcasting GameDay from the shadow of Doak Campbell Stadium, I was all set to wave the flag again.
Like many great traditions, the waving of the WSU Flag started out innocently enough. Tom Pounds, the owner of the flag, decided to make the trip to Austin, Texas to wave the flag prior to the Kansas State-Texas game. The flag was not unnoticed by WSU alumni, who at the time were trying to get GameDay to do a broadcast from Pullman. The flag went to Madison, Wisconsin two weeks later with the idea that the program would come to the WSU campus the following week.
It made perfect sense: at the time, WSU was 5-1 and ranked sixth in the nation, having won convincingly at both Colorado and Oregon (after the Ducks were on the cover of Sports Illustrated, no less) the previous month. The Cougars’ opponent that week, Oregon State, was also 5-1 and checked in at 22nd in the country. The only other two games between ranked teams that weekend (Purdue-Michigan and Auburn-LSU) featured teams and locations that had already been featured on GameDay earlier that year, and the program had recently been accused of bias due to a lack of broadcasts from the West Coast.
Additionally, it was Dad’s Weekend in Pullman, which is often referred to as the biggest weekend of the school year at Washington State. Numerous parents were in town and had swelled the population to twice its normal size, ensuring that the crowd for Saturday’s football game would be a raucous sellout. Really, the time could not have been more perfect for ESPN to come to Pullman.
Instead, ESPN decided to go to Bowling Green, Ohio for their first-ever broadcast from a MAC school.
Since that day, ESPN has shown little indication that they would ever broadcast from Pullman (though the downturn of the football team’s fortunes has not helped). In response, WSU’s fanbase has decided to bring Pullman to them, placing a flag in the background of the past 107 broadcasts through Saturday’s game.
There are actually three different WSU flags that make the trip around the country. “Ol’ Crimson” is the most famous one, but “Whitey” (a white flag with the WSU logo in crimson) is also commonly seen in the background of games. A third flag known as “Stripey” also makes the trip.
The presence of each flag in the background is entirely up to the flag-wavers. For example, I made the decision to wave only Ol’ Crimson, as I was the only confirmed volunteer who would be on-site. It turned out that I could have brought all three flags down with me, as numerous WSU alumni were waiting for me on Langford Green ready to help with the flag-waving.
One of the most common questions that flag-wavers receive is whether or not we are the same people and flags at every location. The flags are the same ones every week, but the wavers themselves are not. Each week, local alumni are sought out for flag-waving privileges. WSU has an unusually spread-out alumni base, and people tend to come out of the woodwork to wave the flag. As a result, WSU alumni have infiltrated several different locations (I say that only half-jokingly; seven of the 20 WSU alumni in Tallahassee showed up for flag-waving duty) and we rarely have a serious issue finding a flag-waver.
The flag-waving program has its own booster club, so wavers do not have to pay for the shipping costs of mailing the flags. It also makes it much simpler to ship the flag to random places around the country.
The first time I waved it, I was one of two alumni who contacted Tom Pounds directly the day ESPN announced they were coming to Tallahassee. They contacted me again for the most recent broadcast, and I volunteered to wave it even though I was weary of transporting the flag from Jacksonville. Luckily for me, WSU has a great local contact, Chris Rettkowski, the Assistant Director of Event Management for FSU athletics, also happens to be a WSU alum. When I got to Tallahassee, the flags were waiting for me in his office in Doak Campbell Stadium, which is just north of the broadcast site.
At first, many schools weren’t too keen on the WSU flag showing up on their campuses. Over the past several years, however, fans from schools across the country have come to embrace the dedication of the WSU fanbase to keeping this tradition going. Most people are eager to hear our story, as well as get pictures taken with us and even wave the flag themselves. I know I speak for many alumni when I say the hospitality is greatly appreciated.
In the times I have waved the flag, only one person (who clearly had never seen a GameDay broadcast) has ever voiced opposition to our presence. In response, fans from several different schools turned around and told the guy he didn’t know what he was talking about and that we had a place during the GameDay broadcast. Apparently, the WSU Flag seems to be the one thing that can bring FSU, UF, USF, UCF, Miami, and FAMU fans together.
As a general rule, WSU Flag-wavers stay toward the back of the crowd in order to give fans and students from the participating schools a priority view of the stage and cameras. It is their event, after all.
Every once in awhile, however, ESPN (which long ago noticed our presence) decides to give WSU a shout-out on the broadcast. They featured us in a promo a couple of years ago, and Tom Pounds himself was interviewed prior to the 2008 Apple Cup.
It happened again on Saturday, as a member of the ESPN staff asked us for our names, then moved us up to the front of the crowd in order to get a good shot of Ol’ Crimson. Seminole fans were gracious in letting us have our moment, though it helped that every single one of us either attended or is currently attending FSU.
Next Saturday, GameDay is set to be in Morgantown for the LSU-West Virginia broadcast. Will the WSU Flag make a 108th straight appearance?
Here's betting that it will.