One of college football’s craziest, zaniest, most cherished traditions involves the simple waving of a flag, and the tradition would never have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for one former softball player.
College GameDay has been a college football institution since the mid-80s. The show has gone through its share of analysts, hosts, and reporters, but some things remain constant - the showcasing of rabid fandom; the highlighting of some of the sport's most electric environments; and Ol’ Crimson, the Washington State University flag.
Keep a close eye on the show any fall Saturday and you’re sure to spot the white cougar on a field of crimson, billowing in the wind or being waved back and forth by a dedicated soul. Ol' Crimson's first appearance came in the fall of 2003 – some Cougar fans (the cougar being the Washington State mascot) brought their school’s flag to the show, hoping it might help play a role in getting GameDay to broadcast from their home stadium in Pullman, Washington.
A group of Cougar fans had gotten together in an online forum, “CougFan”, and were using the site as the jumping-off point for the new flag-waving campaign. The tradition was only a few weeks old when GameDay announced they were headed to Bowling Green, Ohio. The CougFan network – and the internet as a whole – wasn’t as developed back in the day, so longtime Washington State fan John Bley placed a call to his daughter.
Amanda Bley was a member of the Detroit Titans softball team at the time; just roughly an hour and a half away from Bowling Green, she was given the instruction to be the token flag bearer for the weekend.
“I grabbed Kari [Messina, then the Titans first baseman] who is 6’1” and our friend and first baseman Tim Poley, also well over 6’, and [we] hit the road,” Amanda says. “I didn’t know what we were doing, but if it involved waving a flag on TV, I figured it would be good to bring tall people.”
The trio headed to Bowling Green and set up shop. While her height-blessed compatriots waved the flag, Amanda stayed on the phone with her father, making sure the group was fulfilling their task.
“Dad reported we were [being seen on television] but asked if we could get closer,” Amanda shares. “Kari being Kari, [she] took the flag down, we formed a line around the flag, and we headed into the crowd. Picture ancient warriors operating a battering ram!”
Now a civil attorney and back in Washington state, Amanda says that the tradition has stuck with her, even though she has not had an opportunity to participate since then. “I’ve had judges recognize my last name and ask me if I’m related to John Bley with ‘the flag waving thing’,” Amanda says.
The waving of Ol’ Crimson should reach its two hundredth consecutive GameDay appearance during the 2017 college football season.