Cougar Fans Swamp Santa Monica
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) _ Here at Pullman-by-the-Sea, crimson and gray are the dominant colors, along with the blue of the Pacific Ocean and the green of palm trees.
Washington State’s football team and thousands of supporters are having the time of their lives as the Cougars prepare for their first Rose Bowl in 67 years.
From Rodeo Drive to Santa Monica Pier, the Cougars and their faithful are determined to party like its 1999, even if the game will be in 1998.
``I wish this part could last 10 years,″ Shawn McWashington, a wide receiver said as he drank up the noise and bustle of the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood.
The team held its final practice Tuesday in preparation for Thursday’s game against top-ranked Michigan. Tuesday was also the kickoff of a series of big parties and rallies that will lead up to the game, including a New Year’s Eve bash on the pier.
On Monday, the Cougars toured Universal Studios Hollywood. They took a spin on the new Jurassic Park ride, which depicts an era only slightly older than their last Rose Bowl appearance, in 1931.
Quarterback Ryan Leaf has taken to wearing cool sunglasses, and shirts that say ``Heisman″ or ``Lakers.″ He seems to spend most of his time talking into microphones, although he did get a chat with the Rose Bowl queen at the Hard Rock Cafe.
``I do enjoy talking to the media,″ he said. ``I am a broadcast major.″
But that enjoyment does not extend to revealing if he will return to WSU next season.
Lineman Cory Withrow pronounced the burgers and fries at the Hard Rock excellent. ``I want to see if I can get in the kitchen and get another burger,″ said Withrow, a member of the self-proclaimed ``Fat Five″ offensive line.
Some players from the Los Angeles area have taken teammates on tours of their old neighborhoods.
The Santa Monica Promenade, several blocks of closed-off streets with restaurants, movie theaters and shopping, is awash in Cougar colors.
Many businesses sport WSU pennants, although none of the many street performers has yet broken into ``Fight, fight, fight for Washington State.″ Unfortunately, there are mimes.
Many people are eating in outdoor cafes, a sight not often seen in Pullman, a remote town of 24,000, in late December.
Besides the 80-degree temperatures, Santa Monica also is different from Pullman in that there are no lentil fields nearby, although you can probably pay $24.99 for a plate of them at some restaurants along Ocean Drive.
The Cougars are staying at the posh Loew’s Santa Monica Beach Hotel, where spectacular picture windows showcase the Pacific and the pier. One night some players were throwing a football around in the pool. The hotel also has an excellent weight room, and a gift shop where you can purchase Cougar jerseys for $100.
Autograph seekers are everywhere.
The Cougars quickly sold all 35,000 of their ticket allotment, and could have sold thousands more. Rose Bowl officials said scalpers are getting up to $900 for the $75 ticket, the highest price in game history.
Coach Mike Price, reveling in all the attention paid to a program he calls the ``Rodney Dangerfield″ of college football, has given his players nearly free rein.
He calls it a reward for going 10-1 and being ranked No. 8 in the nation. The Cougars have a midnight curfew.
``From the start we talked about having fun down here,″ said offensive lineman Jason McEndoo. ``This is what WSU is all about.″
Nearly all WSU practices were open to the public, and hundreds of fans and former players came by to shake hands and mingle with the Rose Bowl magic. They included Jack Thompson, Brian Kelly, Chuck Morrell and Basil Kimbrew.
Former player Myron Davis, a member of the 1931 team, showed up at one practice to root the boys on.
``This is the top of the mountain,″ said former assistant coach Ray Carolin, who is now out of college football and lives in Huntington Beach.
Michigan, meanwhile, has closed its practices and is serious about protecting its No. 1 ranking in the nation and 11-0 record.
``We didn’t come out here to have fun,″ coach Lloyd Carr said.