With rival Washington leading 35-14, Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe took the snap early in the fourth quarter of the 1991 Apple Cup, eluded a diving Steve Emtman and threw the ball toward the Husky end zone.
Tommie smith picked it off on the run at the 5.
The long-striding Washington strong safety raced up the left side of the field as three Cougars dove at him and missed.
ABC broadcaster Gary Bender, sharing the booth with Lynn Swann, excitedly called out, "He's out to the 40! He could go all the way!"
Smith had only open space ahead of him.
The Husky defensive back crossed midfield well out in front of four WSU players who were in hot pursuit and he veered hard to the right. A touchdown seemed almost certain.
Yet as Smith reached the Cougars 20, he suddenly lost speed like a car with engine trouble. Two defenders wrestled him down on the 9 and Smith was left with an 86-yard pick — and an unglorious school record for not providing points on such a lengthy pass theft.
"I got tired," Tommie said. "So now I've got the longest interception return without scoring, 86 yards. I'm not too proud about that. But it is what it is."
This is another in series of vignettes about the UW's 1991 national championship team, supplementing the conversation for the pandemic delayed and shortened season. We're in week 11 of this throwback series, Apple Cup week. The Huskies leveled Washington State 56-21 that day.
Smith was always a big-play guy for the UW. In his second collegiate play as a true freshman in Los Angeles in 1989, he broke through and blocked a USC punt, scooped it up, dove into the end zone and scored.
Against the Cougars this just wasn't going to happen. It wasn't that Tommie was purposely out of shape; the season had dictated his conditioning. He and the other starters hadn't played too often in the fourth quarter that season, with Coach Don James turning most games over to his second units in the third quarter.
Naturally, UW teammates chided Smith for failing to reach the end zone, asking him if he had a monkey on his back or some such thing?
In their run to an unbeaten season and the national championship, the Huskies occasionally lost points and other frivolous stuff, but not games, which was the bottom line.
"We're not supposed to be out there in the fourth quarter," Smith said. "But nobody questioned Coach James about leaving us out there."
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