Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Night 54° Clear

Biggest hit in WSU lore

It's been a brutal season for the Cougars, but fans should probably stay in their seats for Saturday's Apple Cup.
It's been a brutal season for the Cougars, but fans should probably stay in their seats for Saturday's Apple Cup.
Otter: This situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part. Bluto: We’re just the guys to do it. - National Lampoon’s Animal House

This is not an Apple Cup story, per se. But it should be. It is lore that demands cultivation - and considering how thickly the compost is inevitably layered in anticipation of Washington and Washington State’s annual football tryst, what better garden than this? Besides, what Terry Smith did in 1970 speaks to emotions and sensibilities that must surely run deep in every true Coug held captive by the dreadful season in progress - if you call this progress. But don’t mistake this for an endorsement. Kids - especially you Wazzu kids - don’t try this at home, and especially not on the road. No matter how maddening the events unfolding in front of you grow - the interceptions, the missed tackles, 12-men-on-the-field - we cannot advocate overindulging in spirits, succumbing to peer pressure, civil disobedience or reckless endangerment. Though in Terry Smith’s case, it worked for him. “I was on Paul Harvey and everything,” he recalled. Sure beats being on Paul Sorensen. And, frankly, it beats the oh-so-very ‘90s alternative of dealing with the ennui of bad football - which, if you’ll think back to the start of the decade, was an Apple Cup bomb scare at Martin Stadium that landed its two perpetrators in jail. No, that ‘70s show of Terry Smith’s was far more personal and, in a twisted sort of way, more constructive. Smack in the middle of the worst football season ever at WSU - yes, worse than this one - he vaulted out of the stands at a Cougars home game and made a tackle his heroes couldn’t. It remains the single most remarkable hit in Cougars history. It ranks him as Wazzu’s ultimate 12th man. Just think if he’d done it against the Dawgs. Alas, the Cougars played Stanford on Oct. 17, 1970.< Still the Indians then, Stanford was on its way to the first of two straight Rose Bowls and stopped at Spokane’s Albi Stadium - WSU’s home field that year - long enough to stomp the Cougars 63-16. Wazzu would lose every Pacific-8 game that year by an average of 31 points. Even Smith couldn’t put a dent in that. Today, he is 55 years old, retired from a career at Atlantic Richfield and living in Huntington Beach, Calif. Back then, he was 27, a year removed from an 18-month Army hitch in Vietnam, a sophomore from Richland majoring in business administration and minoring in, well … “This is what it was like,” said Smith. “In 1971, Playboy ranked all the biggest partying schools in the country based on the amount of beer drunk. They didn’t include Washington State, but they put in a footnote - `Sorry, Wazzu, we do not rank professionals.”’ And this was before burning dumpsters. Too old to live on Greek Row, Smith and a few fellow Vietnam vets had their own fraternity they called “Go For It,” a motto they tried to live up to in getting their game faces on. Motoring up from Pullman, they found seats in Albi’s west grandstand close to the north end zone. The day was dazzlingly sunny, but Smith and friends continued to fortify themselves against a potential arctic front. And watched Stanford’s famed “Thunder Chickens” turn up the heat. “They had (Jim) Plunkett at quarterback, of course, but they didn’t have to throw it much,” Smith said. “They just kept running it around the left side, coming our way all the time and nobody could stop him. They got it down to about the 25-yard line and I kept telling my friends, `If he keeps making that left run, I’ll go out there and tackle him.’ “Well, he must have done it about three times and they started getting on me: `Terry, you’re supposed to be out there. How come you’re not out there?’ It started out as a gag, but finally I took my shoes off and went over the ledge.” Why he felt the need to take his shoes off is unclear. The newspaper account the next day had Smith telling a buddy, “This is no good,” before heading over the railing when Plunkett handed off to sophomore Eric Cross. “Everybody was yelling at me,” he recalled. “I actually had this moment of clarity - how stupid this was and how I’d better not do it. But all of a sudden, he was at the 5-yard line and I was out there.” Cross had outrun the few Cougs who hadn’t been blocked and was steaming toward the end zone. He’d just checked over his right shoulder when a blur appeared in his peripheral vision on the left. At least that part of the confrontation was even. Everything was blurry to Smith. “I swear he could have gone around me, but he lowered his head with his helmet and everything,” Smith said. “I remember thinking, `Oh, God.’ I had a football coach at Richland High School, Fran Rish, who used to tell me, `Terry, get your big ass down.’ So I hit him as low as I could - and he went flying one way, and I went flying the other.” The collision happened at the goal line. Cross was given the touchdown, of course, and an unwitting role in legend. In the best lore, the aftermath is always richer in detail than the actual event - and this was no exception. Cross remained stunned on the Albi turf - this would be his only carry of the game - and the next spring a Stanford baseball player would tell Smith that a teammate had to tap Cross on the shoulder to stir him to leave the field after game’s end. Smith, stunned in a different way, gathered himself up and headed back toward the bleachers. “But now we’re talking about 3 hours of drinking,” he said, “and though that ledge was only about shoulder high, I couldn’t climb it. The police hauled me down and we were off to the calaboose.” Fans continued to roar their approval. Cheerleaders started passing the hat to raise bail. On Albi’s east side, alums were waving tens and twenties that were never collected. On the student side alone, according to Smith, more than $800 was raised. For drunkenness and disorderly conduct, Smith wound up forfeiting a $50 bond and whatever anonymity he might have had. “Not long after that, there was a TV ad for WSU football - we did have TV then - that showed the play,” Smith claimed. “The announcer said, `Come support the Cougars - but not like this.”’ For a week, his mother back in Richland wouldn’t speak to him. Three weeks later, the Cougs returned to Spokane to meet USC. At a pep rally, coach Jim Sweeney was supposed to present Smith with a game ball. “But you could tell he didn’t want anything to do with it,” Smith said. “He gave me this little plastic kid football and wouldn’t look at me. He never made eye contact.” Maybe it was because Stanford coach John Ralston had called Smith’s tackle “the toughest hit of the day.” Or perhaps because Sweeney was bracing for another pasting - 70-33 - at the hands of USC. Years later, a friend of Smith’s in Chicago saw Plunkett in a bar when the quarterback was playing for New England and struck up a conversation that began, “Do you remember …” And so Smith still has a scrap of paper that says, “How you doing?” and the signature “Jim Plunkett.” It seems a shame that in the published history of WSU athletics, the Smith-Cross encounter is only a footnote, but possibly that’s reflective of the timing. WSU football came to enjoy better days in the ‘80s and ‘90s; had the writing been done 25 years ago, this may have been a defining moment. Likewise, this year’s troubles - no wins and seven losses in the Pac-10, by an average of three touchdowns - must be considered a hiccup, albeit a Wazzu kegger-sized one. Even so, you’d have to think more than one fan has felt like pulling a Terry Smith this fall. Only one mystery remains - and it’s a whopper. “There was like $800 left after bail,” Smith said. “One of the guys in our fraternity, Tom Gamble, put the money in what we called the Washington State Rose Bowl Fund and it wasn’t supposed to be used until the Cougars got to the Rose Bowl.” Smith didn’t remember that until a reporter called him this week. Even watching last year’s Rose Bowl from his living room with his shoes off didn’t dredge the memory. Just one problem: Smith lost contact with Tom Gamble 23 years ago. “I might have to look into that,” Smith said. A really futile gesture, but he’s just the guy to do it.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.