'The Cats' retro gear takes Western Carolina fans back to glory years of football

The idea to bring "The Cats" script back was Pamela DeGraffenreid's idea. Her late husband "Mutt" was a player and coach during the epic run. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Western Carolina alumni have found pride in two words that instantly bring back memories of the golden years. "The Cats" is back on T-shirts, hats and hoodies, and the new retro gear has longtime fans, well, purring.

"And they were carrying out armloads of this merchandise. They loved it!" WCU bookstore director Pam DeGraffenreid said.

On Saturday, the Cats lost their finale to North Carolina, 65-10. Even so, they've had three seven-win seasons in the past four years, and that's surge in the right direction.

"I think this year, for Catamount football, it's very special," WCU alumn Taylor Medford said at a recent game. "An exciting season, kind of makes you think back to when we were in our prime."

The program's scratching and clawing its way back to what it once was, and the throwback design is burst of pride. At the campus bookstore, many have rallied around a link to the glory years on the gridiron.

The "Go Cats" script is tied to a rich history of excellence. DeGraffenreid unveiled the line for homecoming with cat-like instincts.

"You know, I heard comments like, 'This is who we were,'" DeGraffenreid recalled. "We were the Cats!"

The source of identity goes back to legendary coach Bob Waters. WCU athletics historian Steve White said in in 1971, Waters wanted to give the helmets a new look. Instead of squeezing in Catamounts, they went with The Cats.

"Oh my goodness, I have flashbacks," White said.

Now, the vintage look is synonymous with success, part of a winning formula that included 13 winning seasons and 10 national finishes.

"Beat Appalachian State four years in a row in one stretch," White said, beaming with pride. "And, of course, went all the way to the national championship game in 1983."

Just six years later,Waters died of ALS, but his legacy of winning endures. The retro clothing display in the store is like a shrine for that exceptional era.

"Yes, it is comforting," said DeGraffenreid, whose late husband Mutt played and coached at WCU during that great run. "He was so proud to be a Catamount."

That explains why the line of clothing means so much to her.

"And so that's why this logo is so near and dear to my heart, because of him," she said. "His blood ran purple, that's for sure."

Now, a new generation is discovering The Cats through common threads.

"The retro look of it is cool. It's different than all the other stuff," a freshman said.

Maybe seven letters will open eyes to infinite possibilities.

"I think it's motivation to our current players to look at what we've done in the past," White said.

Because even when they're underdogs, they're still The Cats.

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