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Ol’ Crimson Takes On New Meaning On Old Main Lawn

Three flags stood out from the battalion of banners and meme signs dotting the Old Main skyline this College GameDay. 

When the sun rose over Happy Valley, they were already there — waving above the ever-growing crowd in the center of campus, their crimson and grey bases standing in sharp relief to the white-clad crowd beneath them. They bore the Washington State Cougar insignia and the No. 3 in honor of the university’s football team’s late quarterback Tyler Hilinski, who took his own life in January.

The trio would seem out of place if they hadn’t flapped above the past 214 consecutive College GameDays. Together they represent the Ol’ Crimson movement — Washington State’s coordinated alumni effort to wave a Cougar flag at every College GameDay. Alumnus Tom Pounds began the tradition with his first homemade flag in October 2003, and it’s continued every fall Saturday since.

The Ol’ Crimson flags broke up a sea of white on Old Main Lawn. 

The flags have become as much a part of ESPN’s Saturday programming as the poster board signs and Home Depot sponsorships. Pounds’s original dream of bringing the program to Pullman has yet to be realized. But Ol’ Crimson has developed its own independent legacy as a vessel of school pride, connectivity, and remembrance. The organization has received extensive coverage, including its own GameDay profile segment.

“This has been a grassroots movement from day one, and if you watch Washington State at all, it’s very clear that this flag represents what it means to be a Coug,” CJ McCoy, coordinator of the ‘Ol Crimson Booster Club, said over the phone. “It’s gone well beyond the original idea of getting GameDay to go to Pullman, Washington.”

McCoy and his organization coordinate the Ol’ Crimson effort every week, shipping the flags from city to city and finding committed alumni to wave them. Donations to the booster club fund travel and shipment expenses. 

John Grunden, a Washington State alumnus who lives in Clinton, New Jersey and helped wave the flags when GameDay visited State College last year, returned to Happy Valley for a second round Saturday.

From left: Bill Rozier, John Grunden, and Eric Gonzalez waved the Ol’ Crimson flags on Old Main Lawn Saturday.

“It was almost an indescribable moment of pride for a faithful Coug,” Grunden wrote in an email. “You’re out in the middle of nowhere except for State College, same for Washington State you’re out in the middle of nowhere except for Pullman, so that’s why there’s that thread of commonality with Penn State.”

Pounds continues to make most of the flags his wavers bear, and the team introduces new flags and retires former designs every year. One retired model hangs in the ESPN cafeteria in Bristol, Connecticut.

“The GameDay staff are very gracious to us,” McCoy said. “They’ve been very clear that we’re a part of their show.”

This season, the flag has taken on new meaning as a symbol of Hilinski’s memory and the foundation created in his honor to destigmatize mental illness. McCoy said the flag will be permanently retired at the end of the season.

Grunden and his fellow flag bearers wore red and blue wristbands with “Hilinski’s Hope” and his jersey number printed on them while they stood behind the GameDay desk.

“To bring an awareness to mental health issues and suicide prevention and just being available to talk to someone if you need to talk to someone, I think that transcends what we’re doing with waving the flag,” Grunden said.

“And if people would pause and reflect about that tragedy, and if it helps them reach out when someone needs to talk to someone or needs some help, then God bless.”

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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