Claiming that you created The Wave is a bit like cities that claim they had the first shopping mall. Every city I've lived in or near makes that claim. Seattle, Wash. Portland, Ore. Edina, Minn. They all say they had the first mall (Kansas City, Mo., too). OK, fine. You all had the first shopping mall. It must be a real source of civic pride to say you paved the way for Orange Julius, Cinnabon and Foot Locker. (Just for the record, the Grand Bazaar in Isfahan, Iran, has been around since the 10th century and the Oxford Covered Market opened two years before the Declaration of Independence. How old are shopping malls? Marconi wasn't born until 1874 but I think there was a Radio Shack in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele when it opened in Milan in the 1860s.) Anyway, a Detroit man told me this week that Tigers fans started The Wave back in 1984. I told him that was a bunch of bull. The Tigers did not invent The Wave in 1984. I knew that because I created The Wave in 1981. Well, not me specifically. I was just one of 50,000-some fans who created The Wave at Husky Stadium during the Washington-Stanford game 25 years ago this Halloween.
Or so that's what I always believed -- that UW alumnus Robb Weller and the Husky student section invented The Wave. Oh, I knew there was some professional cheerleader named Krazy George Henderson down in the Bay Area who insisted he invented The Wave at an Oakland Athletics playoff game on Oct. 15, 1981, but we never put much stock in that claim up in Seattle. We feel the same way about people who say there were coffee shops before Starbucks.
But damn, I finally talked to Krazy George and though I'll probably get kicked out of the UW Alumni Association for saying this (not such a bad thing if they also stop hounding me for donations), I reluctantly must admit his version is probably correct. He even says he has tape from the game (though I haven't actually seen it).
"It's the best kept lie in the world," Krazy George says of the UW's Wave claim. "The University of Washington is the only college in the world where you have to show them a calendar with the month of October on it so they can see that the 15th of the month comes before the 31st."
Hold on there, George. I might accept your version of The Wave but I will not have you knocking the UW's academic standards. I mean, I graduated from there.
I was a sophomore at the UW when Weller, a former UW yell leader, returned to school for the 1981 homecoming game. He told us how when he was a yell leader in the early '70s he would direct the student section in a vertical wave, where the fans would stand up and cheer row by row, from bottom to top. We gave that a try and were reasonably happy with the result. Then either Weller or the students -- he remembers it one way, I remember it the other -- decided to do a horizontal wave that would move from one end of the student section to the other. Either way, within moments Weller was running down the sideline and we were standing up alongside him.
Whether you think The Wave is a classic at 25 years or has outlived its welcome, we can all agree these 10 things add absolutely NOTHING to the stadium experience and should be eliminated immediately:
1. Dancing grounds crews: If they could dance, they wouldn't be gardeners. What's next, dancing chain gangs?
2. Fans holding up signs using network letters for a stupid slogan: Everyone Stop Please Now!
3. Throwing back home run balls hit by the visiting team: Do you really want to copy something the Cubs do?
4. Male flag-carriers at NFL games: Where's the pride?
5. Mascots dunking off a trampoline: We just saw a 5-foot-9 player do that unaided between two 7-footers in the second quarter and we're supposed to be impressed by a guy in a Bigfoot costume doing it with a springboard?
6. Pregame F-18 flyovers: Who came up with this display of "patriotism"? A defense contractor trying to make his bonus?
7. Gatorade dunks: If you absolutely must dump liquid over someone on a football sideline, we can think of some more attractive candidates than a fat, middle-aged coach.
8. Showing Bluto's pep talk to fire up the crowd: It was fun at the beginning, but c'mon. Even Gallagher freshens up his material every once in a while.
9. Scoreboard games. This does not, however, include sausage, pierogi or president races on the field.
10. In-game interviews with managers and coaches: Has anyone ever said anything even remotely interesting in one of these?
That would have been that and we would have gone back to drinking booze out of our bota bags except an amazing thing happened. The fans in the rest of the stadium, including the old alumni in the raccoon coats, joined in. And pretty soon there was this wave of fans rippling around the stadium. What made it even better is the Huskies scored like four touchdowns in a span of a few minutes and went on to whip John Elway and Stanford en route to a Rose Bowl season.
A tradition was born. Previous students marched on Washington, protested the Vietnam War, fought for civil rights, led the way for women's liberation, but my generation pulled off The Wave at a football game!
And here's where Washington gains the upper hand over Krazy George in Wave history. The Wave didn't catch on after his Oakland game (mostly because the Athletics season ended that day in a 4-0 loss, not the sort of thing that builds momentum). It did, however, catch on after the Husky game because we continued to do it for the rest of the season and the next as well. For awhile, we used it as a secret weapon at a key moment in the game. I remember how the opposing players would stand on the sidelines and look around in a mixture of confusion and fear, sort of like Denny Green coaching with a lead.
The Wave was a very intimidating thing for awhile until everyone copied us.
The Wave has been immortalized in several classic films, including "Field of Dreams" (where James Earl Jones and Kevin Costner take part in a three-person wave) and "When Harry Met Sally" (Billy Crystal interrupts a conversation about his failed marriage to stand for The Wave at a Giants game). But like a lot of things from the '80s -- paisley ties, Walkmans, Flock of Seagulls -- the Wave has fallen out of favor in recent years. Krazy George says he leads a stadium in The Wave only two or three times a year at most these days.
Which is for the best. Once everyone started doing The Wave -- even at baseball games for where it was never meant -- it became downright embarrassing, like pink baseball caps and the "Wheeeeeep, Wheeewwww" thing people do when a reliever warms up in the bullpen. I was even writing that The Wave was played out as early as 1985 when I was writing for the UW school paper.
The Wave, my friend Rod says, is nothing more than "crowd masturbation."
Weller, who was a host on "Entertainment Tonight" for several years before forming Weller-Grossman Productions, doesn't necessarily dispute Krazy George's claim but he says the true origin of The Wave began when he was at UW in the early '70s directing that vertical wave thing "to show our parents on the other side of the field that we were still sober enough to keep sending us money."
"As far as I'm concerned," Weller says, "this is not the 25th anniversary. It's stuff we did 10 years earlier so it's the 35th anniversary. Where have you guys been?"
Krazy George says that's nonsense, that getting fans to stand up and down in vertical sections is not the same thing at all as getting them to do so in a wave pattern whipping around the stadium. "It's like somebody inventing flight two weeks after the Wright Brothers and saying the Wright Brothers did it north to south and true flight is east to west," he says.
Whatever. Whether you side with the professional cheerleader who spells crazy with a K or a former yell leader, here's my final take on whatever role I might have played in the creation of The Wave 25 years ago this month. I'm sorry.