It wasn’t tough to figure out who they were rooting for.
Six of the loudest guys at West End Pub & Grill in Tacoma sat at the same table. Most wore crimson and gray. They cheered each time Washington State scored a basket and winced when Winthrop, the Cougars’ first-round opponent, answered. They timed trips to the bathroom to coincide with time-outs and commercial breaks.
"You’re talking to some lifelong Cougars fans," said Gig Harbor’s Derik Sandstrom, who graduated from WSU in 1985. The 45-year-old relished in the recalling how he golfed with coach Tony Bennett. Still, he admits, "the Sweet 16 would be an accomplishment."
The Washington State game was the first Sandstrom watched Thursday. No so for John Burton, the 52-year-old Tacoma man who sat across the table.
Burton, who attended WSU from 1973-76, had been watching games all day.
The reason that made the Cougs a laughingstock for decades – but not lately – is why he fell in love with the program.
"I always wanted underdogs to win," he said, "and there’s no bigger underdogs than the Cougs."
Most of the tables were already packed – and the ones that stood empty were reserved for those soon to arrive.
John Doiron sat at the bar drinking a beer. The 37-year-old Tacoma man said he’s rooting for Washington State because it’s a good school and the Cougs are a local team. It was the first game he had watched Thursday.
"I’m not really a big college basketball fan," he said, "but I’ll come out and watch a game like this."