It’s as if Mark Rypien never left.
He’s as pumped for today’s Apple Cup as if he, not Ryan Leaf, were at quarterback for Washington State.
The Cougs can take a giant step to their first Rose Bowl since 1931 by defeating the Huskies in Seattle, a feat last accomplished by WSU in 1985, with Rypien at the helm.
“Ryan Leaf might as well be carrying the Olympic torch with him,” Rypien said from the offices of the St. Louis Rams. “The Cougar faithful haven’t seen anything like this in - what? - 67 years?”
Today’s Cougars have instilled pride in Cougars past, Rypien said.
“I’m not the only who’s very thankful for what they’ve done,” said the Rams quarterback from Spokane, in his 11th professional season. “I saw (former Cougars defensive back) James Hasty when Kansas City came in here. Robbie Tobeck with Atlanta. Steve Broussard when we played the Seahawks. All the guys are so proud of what this team has been able to do.”
Husky-Cougar sentiment is divided in St. Louis, however.
“We (the Rams) have (former Huskies) D’Marco Farr and Ernie Conwell here,” Rypien said. “The loser has to wear the opposition (colors) for a week.”
Rypien remembers the “jumble of emotions” as the curtain closed on the ‘85 Cougars’ 21-20 win in Husky Stadium.
The thrill of winning that one, after beating the Huskies in ‘82 and ‘83 and nearly pulling off the upset in ‘84, is as great as anything that’s happened in his career, he said.
“To have so many Cougar fans in Seattle, with my family there, to celebrate with my buddies afterward, it’s something you never forget. When this game comes around every year I think about it - the plays, the people, the amazing atmosphere. It’s something only a few of us ever get to experience.
“It’s a feeling that never goes away. The atmosphere is as great as the Super Bowl, maybe greater because all the people who went to either school relate to the football team.”
This year’s team has “done enough right now but it is Husky week and that takes precedence over anything,” Rypien said. “I played (the ‘84 game) with 19 stitches on my throwing hand. Nothing could pull you out of that game.”
What would he tell Leaf heading into today’s game?
“I’d congratulate him for the confident air he has, that a lot of people at the position have,” Rypien said. “It’s a great demeanor. You’ve got to look at it optimistically. Boomer (Esaiason) said it best. We all believe we can take a 3-13 team to the Super Bowl.
“From what I see on TV and hear, Leaf is the best college quarterback in the country. My hope is that he’s the same player (today) he was in the previous 10 games.
“There’s nothing he can’t conquer.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo