Losers Walk: a timeless tradition returns
Tradition isn’t planned. It doesn’t happen in the form of a scheduled event and if done right, it’ll emerge from thin air.
With the return of a tradition aging more than 100 years — the Battle of the Palouse — another tradition will return with this weekend’s festivities.
Yet ASUI President Max Cowan has hesitated to publicly announce the return of the Losers Walk, a tradition that has made the Idaho-Washington State football rivalry one of the nation’s most unique since its creation in 1938.
When the Battle of the Palouse dissolved in 2007, so did the nine-mile walk that accompanied it.
A long-standing tradition was on pause until Cowan and members of the Associated Students of Washington State University collaborated during the summer to bring it back.
“It’s nothing super official, I think that’s one of the beauties of the tradition,” Cowan said. “It was never an official event, as many traditions started out.”
Originally, the resurrection was an idea casually thrown around by ASUI and ASWSU. As the Battle of the Palouse drew closer, a final handshake was made and the parties agreed to hold up their end of the bargain.
If WSU lives up to its overwhelming on-paper advantage, Cowan and company will make the long haul to Pullman. If the Vandals edge the Cougars, Cowan will greet ASWSU members in Moscow with open arms.
“It sort of started out as a little bit of a joke … as we get closer and closer we’ve been talking a little bit and it’s come up multiple times and both of us finally agreed that we’re going to do it,” he said.
Rather than an agreement between members of student government, the Losers Walk, now 75-years-old, commenced after two members of the respective school newspapers made a wager.
In an Argonaut column, sports editor Bill McGowan claimed that 1938 was Idaho’s year — the Vandals would snap a 10-year losing streak and upend the Cougars for just the fifth time in the rivalry’s history. McGowan was so confident in the Vandals that he offered to make the trek to Pullman if Idaho lost the game.
The 12-0 Cougar victory initiated one of the most special traditions on the Palouse, and in college football for that matter. Idaho lost 12 of the next 13 match-ups (Idaho and WSU tied in 1950), setting up a walk for the ages in 1954, when the Vandals toppled the Cougars 10-0.
For the first time, thousands of students wearing the Cougar crimson, rather than the Vandal gold, lined the joining highway and flooded Moscow hours later.
UI alum Tom Stroschein was a year late to that party.
As a freshman in 1955, Stroschein experienced the rivalry at its best, during a time when WSU did more than steal football victories away from Idaho.
“There was about three guys for every girl at Idaho and then you could come over (to Moscow) and drink at 19, so not only did the Cougars come over and drink our beer, they chased our girls and it really made it hard for us to get a date,” Stroschein said.
Now a Latah County Commissioner, Stroschein knows the Losers Walk better than most. It became a habit for the freshman class of 1955, one that watched the Vandals drop four consecutive games to the rival Cougars.
“We would smoke cigars and it was great for us freshmen and sophomores because it really have me a chance to meet some of our leadership and I went on to be involved on campus quite a bit,” Stroschein said.
The small contingent of UI students that participated were rewarded for the thousands of steps they walked during the 1950’s, however.
Stroschein remembers that aspect of the tradition quite vividly.
“When we’d get over there, between the cheerleaders and the Spurs — they were a girls service group — they’d wash your feet and they had snacks for you and everything,” he said.
Since the upset of ‘54, WSU has lost just four times and most recently in 2000. Total up the miles and the Vandals have out-treaded their Palouse counterparts by a few hundred miles.
Like the Battle of the Palouse, the Losers Walk has undergone a stop-and-go circuit as of late. The game was most recently played in 2007, when WSU dealt Idaho a 45-28 blowout loss.
The walk that followed a 2006 56-10 WSU victory, though small and informal, still managed to capture the essence of the tradition.
“It was kind of a lost tradition,” said Tara Roberts, 2006-07 Argonaut editor-in-chief. “It was kind of last minute … we’d written a column about it and I talked to the Evergreen editor. Three or four Evergreen editors met us at the end.”
The group had lunch at Denny’s, a modified version of the original walk in 1938 when WSU students washed McGowan’s feet upon his arrival in Pullman.
“We decided we could do without the feet washing,” Cowan said.
Roberts, now a mother and full-time UI employee, likely won’t find time in her schedule to walk Sunday, should the Cougars live up to their 2013 hype.
“It would be tempting, I would at least want to see the poor suckers do what I did six years ago,” she said. “I hope that there’s a crowd, it’s a cool tradition.”
Cowan has refrained from publicizing the walk’s return in an effort to help it grow organically, rather than through fliers, posters and sidewalk chalk.
But those wishing to assist in reviving one of the university’s prized traditions may want to take a tip.
“There’s something that you do because you have pride in the University of Idaho,” Cowan said.
Those helping to rebuild the tradition instilled by McGowan 75 years ago may find Cowan at the trailhead of the Bill Chipman Palouse Trail Sunday at 10 a.m.
But think twice before spreading the word, creating a Facebook event or marking up the cement in front of the Commons.
Because tradition develops naturally and that’s the beauty of it.
Theo Lawson can be reached at email@example.com