For some college football fans, it's become a Saturday tradition that rivals sleeping in late and watching cartoons in your pajamas: locating the Washington State University flag — it's known as Ol' Crimson' — waving in the background of the ESPN College GameDay set. This weekend, Ol' Crimson is scheduled to make its 200th consecutive appearance on the show when GameDay travels to Fort Worth, Texas, for No. 8 TCU vs. No. 23 West Virginia.
Here's how the tradition started, how it morphed into something bigger than the creator ever expected, and what lies ahead:
The original purpose of bringing Ol' Crimson to the GameDay set was to catch the eye of ESPN officials who make the decision on where to set up the popular show each week. Tom Pounds, a 1981 Washington State alum of Albuquerque, New Mexico, traveled to Austin, Texas, for a Texas-Kansas State game with the flag in tow for Week 6 of the 2003 college football season, hoping that the flag — plus the play of the then-No. 14 Cougars — could draw the show to Washington State's campus.
A week went by and when the flag didn't make a repeat appearance at GameDay's trip to Tallahassee, Florida (for a Florida State-Miami game), someone reached out to Pounds.
"'Hey, send me that flag, I’ll wave it in Wisconsin,'" Cameron McCoy, the current organizer of Ol' Crimson's nationwide travel for GameDay, recalls someone saying, "and we’ve been doing it ever since. That was October 18, 2003, if I’m correct. The original intent was to get GameDay to go to Pullman, Washington, but it’s certainly morphed since then.”
Early on in the streak, the Washington State website cougfan.com was the hub for organizing where the flag was sent and who would wave it. Eventually, McCoy took over full-time coordinating responsibilities from Pounds. As the popularity of the flag grew, so did the pool of potential flag-waving candidates.
"Nowadays it’s got such life of its own that it isn’t too difficult to find someone," McCoy said, "though on occasion, we’ll have some challenges."
If GameDay chooses a location that's "sort of off the beaten path," as McCoy puts it, the potential flag bearers have to be vetted to confirm they're a Cougar. "This is now a streak," McCoy says, "and a player on a streak must respect the streak."