On Oct. 18, 2003, ESPN GameDay was in Madison, Wisc., for a Wisconsin-Purdue game. A Washington State University flag appeared out of the crowd. That was Game 1 of a very impressive streak. Saturday on OU’s South Oval, the WSU flag will appear in the GameDay crowd for the 127th straight show.
And this time, it’s not far from its home office. And no, I don’t mean Pullman, Wash.
Cameron McCoy, WSU class of 1998 and now director of corporate engagement at OU, on the job five years, has become the official organizer of Washington State’s flag distribution tradition.
My old friend, Tim Hartley, is a 1983 WSU grad. We worked together at the Norman Transcript in the 1980s, and Tim now works for Devon Energy. He alerted me to McCoy.
“I had my 15 seconds of fame when Chris Fowler called me out by name on the show the last time the flags were in town,” Hartley said of the 2008 OU-Texas Tech game. Hartley said McCoy was on the other Cougar flag that day “but in a travesty of justice, remained nameless. So, give CJ McCoug his due. It’s a lot of work to operate a national flag distribution operation. And he’s doing it right here in our city, for the love of the Cougs.”
I corresponded with McCoy, and he gave me the lowdown on the WSU flag tradition.
“What started as a simple showing of school pride and spirit quickly turned in to a campaign to get ESPN to come to WSU back in 2003 when the football team was highly ranked,” McCoy said. “Now, it is a true showing of school pride and spirit. This is an organized grass-roots effort by the alums and fans of Washington State University.”
The original organizer, Tom Pounds of Albuquerque, N.M., WSU class of 1981, built a network of almost 200 WSU alums and fans around the nation. Most live within 50 miles of the cities where the show is broadcast but some travel well over 200 miles to get to the show. People are being added to the list constantly.
Pounds stepped aside in 2009 to work on a Master’s degree, but McCoy and Pounds still talk regularly. “In fact, Tom still handcrafts the flags and helps with supplies and other occasional coordination,” McCoy said. ““I am privileged to handle the week to week ‘branding’ and some of the creative changes.
“Once they announce the show location, I work to find a lead waver. Assuming I find one and a team to help, I ask the previous waver to ship the flag set to the new lead waver. There are some times they come back to me, but preference is always to ship directly using our FedEx or UPS account. No sense in double shipping.”
McCoy said his group traditionally has used three flags continuously: a 5×7 nylon burgundy/crimson flag with a white WSU Cougar logo called “Ol’ Crimson;” a 3×5 nylon commercially made WSU flag which was donated by the student bookstore in 2003 called “Stripey” (since retired) and a 5×7 nylon white flag with a crimson logo named “Whitey.”
Whitey was retired in 2012 and donated to Coug Steve Gleason’s “Team Gleason” charity for a fundraising item as part of the “#NoWhiteFlags” tagline the organization uses, symbolically never giving up.
A new gray flag with crimson logo replaced the white flag in Dallas on Sept. 1. In addition, a new version of “Stripey,” a gift from an anonymous waver in 2011, makes an occasional appearance on the show.
In addition to the nylon flags, a cloth flag is sent with the flag-kit for signatures of the flag-wavers and autographs from ESPN personalities and WSU sports figures. Signature flags are retired every year. One nylon flag was retired after 2007. The original 2003 and 2004 flags are hanging on trophy walls at WSU.
Back in 2003, a non-profit corporation, the Ol’ Crimson Booster Club, was created to collect donations and distribute funds for this effort. The OCBC will pay reasonable travel expenses for the flag-wavers when they must travel long distances. The OCBC also pays for all shipping costs associated with getting the flag-kit from one location to the next.
A manual was written back in 2003 to inform the flag-wavers what to do and how to do it, during the show. Many flag-wavers have done multiple shows over the years. The all-time leader is Andrew Pannek of Spokane, Wash., with 13 shows to his credit.