The series always had a geopolitical thing going for it--the
radical professionals from Seattle (they drive their yachts right
up to the stadium!) against the conservative farmers from Spokane
(they drive their tractors right up to the stadium!). So that
aspect is good, even if it's not necessarily true. A rivalry
needs that kind of broad stereotyping to survive, especially when
you can't get players or coaches to make so much as a peep during
game week to promote genuine hostility.
These days it's all about caution, about not saying something
that will end up on the other guy's bulletin board. When
Washington traveled to Washington State last Saturday for the
annual Apple Cup game, you would have thought it was a
nonconference season opener. There was more frost in the air
(and snow on the ground) than there was excitement. This partly
had to do with the rivals' status. The Huskies were 9-1, ranked
sixth in the country and hoping for a Rose Bowl berth--or
better--while the Cougars were 4-6 and hoping for...the Apple
Cup. The lack of bite in the Apple also was a consequence of
programs so afraid to offend that they turned a traditionally
wild rivalry into a peace demonstration.
The best they could do for Apple Cup week? Well, Ryan Leaf, who
had quarterbacked Washington State to its last victory in the
series, in 1997, wrote a fax urging on the Cougars against the
hated Huskies, in supposedly colorful language. Unfortunately for
him and Washington State (and confirming his reputation for
thoughtfulness), Leaf left the original lying in a San Diego
Chargers' office, where it was found by a Washington alumnus, who
did no more than send it on to Seattle.
Meanwhile the Cougars had photos of Huskies coach Rick
Neuheisel's mug taped on every locker. What had Neuheisel said?
He said, before immediately soft-pedaling, "We're still in the
national title hunt." That's trash talk? Perhaps Americans are
too polite to hold these rivalry games anymore.
Or perhaps, as a football team, Washington was too good for one
this year. The Huskies had bigger fruit to pick than Washington
State apples, and they made short work of the Cougars, scoring
early and often in a 51-3 rout. "It's a big rivalry game, don't
get me wrong," said Washington receiver Todd Elstrom, whose
sister attends the enemy school and whose parents graduated from
it. (Were there any other stories like that during rivalry week?
About a hundred.) "But this game had huger implications than the
Apple Cup. Washington State turned out to be one of those teams
that was just in our way."
The Cougars' season was ending, one way or another. It had been a
frustrating what-if year for Washington State, in which it lost
all three of its overtime games and a promising sophomore
quarterback, Jason Gesser, who broke his left leg on Nov. 4
against Oregon. All the Cougars had going was the rivalry. But
they downplayed even that. Indeed, no Washington State player has
promised an Apple Cup victory since '97, when wide receiver Chris
Jackson mouthed off a week before the big game and then was
ordered by coach Mike Price to get up at the crack of dawn one
day and run until he dropped--and issue apologies to Huskies on
top of that!
So one team was too preoccupied with larger issues, the other too
preoccupied with small ones. The fans, who presumably aren't
afraid of a little freezing weather (last Saturday wasn't like
that really cold game day in Seattle in 1985, when antifreeze had
to be poured into the toilets), were a scattered presence, buying
only 33,010 tickets to 37,600-seat Martin Stadium and leaving
Who could blame them, the way the game went? Washington
quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, who had led the Huskies to eight
come-from-behind victories this year, got Washington up and
running early, throwing for three touchdowns in the first half.
No come-from-behind necessary. Then, as if a 27-0 lead weren't
enough, Neuheisel added some halftime motivation. He'd learned
that Oregon had lost to Oregon State, giving the Huskies a Rose
Bowl berth if they won. Neuheisel reminded his players that
junior cornerback Curtis Williams, who had suffered a spinal cord
injury in the game against Stanford three weeks earlier and
remains completely immobile, had told him, "Make sure those guys
know I want a [Rose Bowl] ring."
Washington had been reacting to Williams's injury anyway. The
Huskies were devastated when it happened and let a 24-6 lead
against the Cardinal dissolve before prevailing 31-28. They've
been wearing a patch bearing Williams's jersey number, 25.
Neuheisel probably didn't need to remind any of his players about
Williams's wishes. "We think about that all the time," said
Tuiasosopo. "It reminds us why we play, the specialness of
playing together, of having teammates around you."
The Huskies now move on to another special experience, one that
Neuheisel also has been selling ever since he got to Washington
two years ago. "Now," said Neuheisel, "they get to enjoy one of
the great spectacles in sport." Neuheisel, while a middling
quarterback at UCLA, played in two of those Pasadena spectacles,
as a holder in his first, as an unlikely star in his second. He's
the only Rose Bowl Hall of Famer coaching today.
So, you might gather, the Apple Cup was secondary to Washington's
purposes, with an emotional and highly successful season on the
line. The game wasn't to be disregarded, because Washington State
had knocked Washington out of the Rose Bowl twice in the last 20
years, but this time it was little more than a diversion in a
long season. So pardon the Huskies if, this year anyway, they did
more for their own tradition than the Apple Cup's.
--In 1995 Virginia Tech's Antonio Banks returned an interception
of a Virginia pass 65 yards for a game-clinching touchdown on the
final play. As Banks ran past the Cavaliers' bench, trainer Joe
Gieck stuck out his leg as if to trip Banks, retracting it at the
last moment. Virginia barred Gieck from the sideline for its
appearance in the Peach Bowl that year.
--Last year, after Utah scored a touchdown at BYU, Utes
cheerleaders ran behind the end zone waving a large flag bearing
the letter U. A dismayed Cougar fan tackled one cheerleader, who
in turn began pummeling the fan.
Teams for the Ages
In 1920 Texas entered its clash with Texas A&M with an 8-0 record
and had outscored its opponents 275-10. The Aggies were 6-0-1 and
hadn't been scored upon in 18 games. The Longhorns won 7-3.