PANORAMA - Cougar action? See the parking lot

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Linda Zerba's Coug'd-out RV reflects a parking lot full of other RVs and tailgating fans before the Washington State University football game against Montant State Saturday, Sept. 11.

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Linda Zerba points to her Cougar-stuffed RV.

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Among family, Chris Wolf (left) and his dad Steve Wolf eat on a tailgate before the game.

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Students, Haily Larsen and Colton Townsend, both from Waitsburg, tailgate with family and friends in a parking lot outside Martin Stadium.

PULLMAN - Wazzu fans have a number of reasons to be down.

The last two years - and the beginning of this one - are a good example.

But a fan needs to just look northeast of Martin Stadium on any home game Saturday to see a reason to cheer.

RVs fill the parking lots - with the fight song booming, Ol' Crimson flags waving, inflatable Butch's bobbling, grills sizzling.

RVs, filled with fans, happy to be in town, happy to see the Cougs - win or lose.

Tailgaters come from across the state, and Pullman never lacks Walla Walla representation at these Cougar football weekends.

"We're here though good times and bad," said 1972 alumna and Athena resident Linda Zerba, tailgating with a half-dozen friends and family before the Sept. 11 squeaker against Montana State University.

Zerba's group arrived at the parking lot at 5 p.m. on Thursday - about the minute it opened, she said.

Zerba, a season ticket holder, has made the trek from Athena in her Coug'd-out RV for about 20 years, she said. It started when her children were students at Washington State University, and now - long after they've graduated - she keeps coming back.

Sometimes, the trip has included bowl games and 10-win seasons.

Not lately.

But that doesn't matter.

"We come for the camaraderie," Zerba said. "It's friendly. We've been coming for 20 years. We still believe in the Cougs."

Zerba was covered in crimson - from her "It's Never Too Early To Tailgate" T-shirt to Cougar jewelry, including a diamond-and-gold Cougar logo necklace, a gift from her husband - an Oregon State Beaver.

It was custom-made in Walla Walla, she said.

Many tailgaters keep life in Pullman alive, well after their graduation.

Wendy and Brian Richards, who graduated in the early 1990s, met and married at WSU.

And the beautiful September weekend on the Palouse brought a chance to connect with old friends.

Wendy, a member of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, was enjoying the day with her sorority sisters.

"I love it," she said. "We all came together to reconnect."

The Richards lives in Waitsburg, while friend Kim Reber lives in Spokane and Jill Russo lives in Snohomish.

"We've been friends since we were 18 or 19 years old," Reber said.

The Richards' group of 10 gathered about three hours before kickoff.

While Wendy and her friends caught up, Brian reflected on the Cougs.

"Pullman's a unique place," he said. "For such a small town, it's great to see so many people come from far away to support the Cougs.

"Cougar fans are special. They're fully committed to the team. Even when it's bad, they still show up."

Team support has a history of following winners, and fans can be fickle.

But the tailgaters who keep coming to town are loyal, Brian Richards said.

"A lot of support goes with winning, and it's been a tough few years," he said. "But we're die-hards."

Another set of die-hards makes the trip from the Pomeroy area.

Brooke Wolf is a Pomeroy native and WSU graduate. She now lives in Pullman and works for the university, but even familiarity doesn't keep her away from Martin Stadium on game days.

And her family makes the trip from Pomeroy and Walla Walla to join her.

Her group of about a dozen included Cougs - and future Cougs - young and old.

"It's a great time for the whole family to come together," Wolf said. "We come every home game, even in the freezing cold.

"It's a mini family reunion."

Although the group wasn't camping Sept. 11, they were gathered around a food-laden table in a parking lot not far from the stadium and at the heart of campus. Having a local resident helps solve the "where to stay" problem.

Some of the group also makes the trips for basketball season, she said.

Wolf's uncle Doug Fitzsimmons, a 1973 alumnus, took his twin 5-year-old grandsons to meet Butch, WSU's mascot, before the game that morning.

Fitzsimmons has been tailgating for about 10 years, he said.

"It's a good chance to meet with family and friends, and go to a Coug game," he said, while lunching on fried chicken and spaghetti. "It's a good chance to visit about football and other things."

Fitzsimmons will be on the sidelines through good and bad.

"We're Cougar fans," he said. "We'll always come to support the team."

As Pac-10 play opens this weekend against USC, the Cougs will be facing yet another tough season.

That won't keep the season ticket holders away.

"It's wonderful to see old friends and meet new people and share experiences," Wendy Richards said.

"It's a beautiful day for Cougar football," Reber agreed.

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