WALLA WALLA — Attending Washington State University football games for Walla Wallan Beth Swanson has held a special significance for the past few years.
Game days have always been special for Swanson, a 1990 graduate and the eldest of five children, all of whom attended the land-grant university tucked away in the rolling wind-swept hills of the Palouse. Her parents also attended Washington State, as did her grandparents.
Her family steeped in WSU lore, Beth Swanson was bound to be a ... Super Coug
But her father, Biff Brotherton, died from cancer in 2011 at the age of 67, meaning Cougar Football Saturdays are now a time for remembering as much as cheering.
“It’s the closest I feel to him,” Swanson said. “I feel him there. It’s the closest I feel right when I get there (Martin Stadium).
“Until he died he was always there,” she said of her father, who was a rabid Cougar fan and donor. “Even when I was in college, at first I didn’t want to sit with him, but by the end of the first quarter, I was always like, ‘Can I come sit with you?’”
Often Brotherton’s birthday, Sept. 3, would align with a Cougar football game, and that was the case for the 2011 season opener after he died in January.
“We poured a beer out on the cement (at Martin Stadium) in honor of him,” Swanson said. “It was our toast to him.”
Now Swanson, the president of the local Cougar Club, plans on passing the Cougar spirit on to her four children, all of them boys between the ages of 4 and 13.
“I’ve taken them (to Cougar games) since they were babies,” Swanson said. “Two of them went to the second Rose Bowl (WSU attended in 2003). Casey was four weeks old.
“It’s our day, they don’t get left out,” She said. “My kids are really into watching the game, we’ve taught them like my dad did.”
Swanson ran a sports marketing firm before moving to Walla Walla in 2005 when her husband, Aaron, got a job in Walla Walla with Northwestern Mutual. She’s a homemaker now — a full-time job with four boys — but keeps busy with the Cougar Club and as the founder of The Mom’s Network, a local nonprofit which supports mothers and families.
Nevertheless, Swanson tries to make it to every home game, no easy proposition with young children.
“It’s (tough) balancing children and game times, but our goal is to go to every home game,” she said. “Some portion of the family goes to every home game.”
Over the years, Swanson has accumulated an impressive collection of Cougar memorabilia, some of it “on loan” from her father, who began to pass down his collection during his 2½ battle with cancer, and some of it from years of her own fandom. She displays it proudly in her living room — or Cougar Den.
Her favorite item is a pair of framed cartoons from former Seattle Times editorial cartoonist and acclaimed comic-strip cartoonist Brian Bassett. The cartoons are displayed above newspaper photocopies from the Times when Washington State won the Rose Bowl in 1916 and knocked off the Huskies several times in the 80s. Her father bought them at a fundraiser and passed it down to Swanson before his death.
“Those were very coveted in our house, and the fact that my dad left them to me, I was like, ‘Yes!’” Swanson said. “To finally start beating the Huskies in 82 and 85, it was awesome. We dominated them in the 80s and it was a lot of fun.”
Another notable item is a photocopy of a lithograph which was a senior-class present to the 1972 football team on which her uncle, Dennis Clancy, and current WSU athletic director Bill Moos played. The lithograph is of a cougar head formed from the words “BEAT THE HUSKIES” repeated over and over.
Swanson also has a poster signed by Ryan Leaf, the infamous WSU quarterback who flamed out in the NFL and an authentic Cougar football helmet signed by fellow Walla Wallan Drew Bledsoe, another famous Cougar quarterback.
Other items in Swanson’s collection include:
A pillow made from a Cougar marching band uniform
A poster from the 1916 Rose Bowl
Tickets to the 2003 Rose Bowl in which the Cougars lost 34-14 to the Oklahoma Sooners
A photo signed by then coach Jim Walden and Athletic Director Sam Jankovich of the scoreboard after WSU beat rival University of Washington in the 1982 Apple Cup, the first held in Pullman since 1954 and one in which the Cougars shocked then No. 5 Washington, 24-20
And a 1931 Rose Bowl sweatshirt her father, who was a luxury car dealer in the Seattle area, had specially made to spite the Huskies, who had then just won the 1991 Rose Bowl.
A Father’s Legacy
To say that Biff Brotherton was a huge Cougar fan isn’t an overstatement. Brotherton, who graduated from the university with a degree in general studies in 1965, frequently donated time and money to the athletic department.
In 2000 he was honored with the university’s Weldon B. “Hoot” Gibson Distinguished Volunteer Award and he was named a WSU Laureate in 2008-09.
“All our entire life there were coaches and athletic directors in our house, and before I went to college I thought that’s how it was for everyone,” Swanson said. “It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized how good of a Cougar he was.”
After his death, the university established an award in Brotherton’s honor, the William F. “Biff” Brotherton Cougar Spirit Award.
“The award pays tribute to the memory of its namesake, ... who believed that intercollegiate athletics represent a window through which all of the University’s strengths can shine and who worked tirelessly to advance WSU and Cougar Athletics through his own generous contributions and dedicated volunteer service,” the award states.