Blanchette: A rivalry with history
Years ending in 2 mean games rate a 10
It’s John O’Bryan’s where-were- you-when-you-heard-the-news moment.
Just about everyone collects them, for events life-changing and tragic and joyous – and yet not all that often in sports because, well, nowadays you’re usually seeing it, if not in person then through television’s powerful eye.
But O’Bryan didn’t see Drew Bledsoe’s pass that sent Phillip Bobo sprawling into a snow bank for the most visually remarkable touchdown in Apple Cup history. He could only see the outline of the stadium, the snow swirling in the lights and his own breath. The roar from the stadium, and later a TV replay, filled him in on the rest.
It was 20 years ago Wednesday, and John O’Bryan was standing on the roof of The Bookie, the campus store.
“There was a hatch in the back of the electronics department,” said O’Bryan, who was working there that day. “We weren’t supposed to be up there, but there weren’t any customers so I went up to see what I could see.”
Which was nothing. And everything.
• • •
The records and the betting line don’t suggest much of a game Friday when Washington State hosts Washington in the 105th Apple Cup. But those numbers may be immaterial.
Here’s one that isn’t: 2.
Traditionally, any Apple Cup that falls on a year ending in 2 has been a terrific game or a momentous upset or simply weighty in the legend of the state’s best ongoing drama.
Yes, a Rose Bowl berth has been on the line four times during the “aught” games, and 1997 and 1975 are going to be in anybody’s top five. But for 100 years now, the 2s simply haven’t missed.
And the most recent, of course, was probably the wildest of all.
• • •
The backward pass? Walt Wolf didn’t think it was.
Neither did anyone in crimson among the 37,600 wedged into Martin in 2002, but here’s the thing: Wolf was wearing stripes, the umpire on the officiating crew that day.
And yet that was the game-over call that gave Washington a 29-26 victory in the only three overtime Apple Cup.
Matt Kegel – a Holiday Bowl hero a year later – was enduring a virtual meltdown in relief of the injured Jason Gesser, and threw a dinky pass that was knocked down and covered by Huskies defensive end Kai Ellis, and eventually ruled a fumble.
Wolf, a Spokane insurance executive, wasn’t convinced.
“I was overruled,” he said. “The ball was loose right in front of me and I didn’t think it was a backward pass. It was a very difficult situation.”
Referee Gordon Riese deferred to line judge Roger McMinn, who was just as adamant that the ball traveled backward. The Pacific-10 Conference office affirmed the call, but it left Wolf with a bad memory.
Especially because it was his last game.
“You always want to let the players decide the outcome,” said Wolf, who had worked Cal’s legendary five-lateral- through-the-band win over Stanford during a long career, “and it was unfortunate that didn’t happen in this instance.”
• • •
Beating the Huskies is Cougar nirvana and yet the 27-10 victory in 1972 has become a virtual footnote in the Big Book of Wazzu Lore. It’s merely the game when Gary Larsen danced.
The Cougar linebacker slammed UW quarterback Sonny Sixkiller to the turf for an 8-yard loss, then broke into something that looked like a mock war dance. Sixkiller, a Cherokee, was incensed, hurling the ball at Larsen’s back and thrusting a middle finger for a hooting crowd at Spokane’s Albi Stadium to chew on.
“I turned to Geoff Reece and said, ‘Oh, oh, look out,’ ” recalled WSU athletic director Bill Moos, an offensive tackle on that team. “Then Mike Johnson, who I lived with, sacked him and he tried it. It looked like a bad disco out there.”
• • •
Rivalries are intense anyway. What ratchets that up is the cost of losses – or even ties. In both 1932 and 1942, 0-0 deadlocks knocked the Cougars out of Rose Bowl contention – Nick Suseoff dropping a pass in the end zone in latter game.
By 1962, when the game officially became the Apple Cup, things had opened up considerably – Dave Mathieson passed for 363 yards (still a WSU Apple Cup record), but the Cougars lost 26-21 when UW got a field goal and a safety in the last 22 seconds after an interception in those days before overtime.
“I’d have felt like less of a person,” Mathieson told The Spokesman-Review a few years ago, “if we’d played for the tie.”
• • •
Do we even need to explain about the 1982 Apple Cup, surely the most significant game in the series?
The first Apple Cup in Pullman in 28 years. The Huskies, needing a victory to make it to another Rose Bowl, which they’d denied WSU the year before. UW placekicker Chuck Nelson, perfect on 25 tries during the season, missing the go-ahead field goal from 33 yards. A 24-20 Cougar victory. A goalpost ending up in the Palouse River.
“I remember Clete Casper kneeling to run the clock out, and all of us kind of jumping on him,” said Gary Patrick, a guard on that team. “And then when we stood up, this sort of overwhelming paranoia came over all of us – or claustrophobia. It felt like the whole stadium was on the field.
“It felt like that game changed the whole feeling of the rivalry.”
• • •
Sometimes that feeling is hard to pin down. Even when he heard the roar from his perch atop The Bookie, O’Bryan figured “it had to be something good – but it’s hard to tell with the Cougars.”
So does his where-were-you-when memory beat any Apple Cups he’s seen in person?
“Never been to one,” he admitted.
Some advice then: If you only get once chance to go, make it in a year that ends in 2.