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John Blanchette: Apple Cup becomes ‘Gag Order Cup’

Both Washington State coach Mike Leach, left, and Washington coach Chris Petersen have made their players unavailable to the media this week. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Both Washington State coach Mike Leach, left, and Washington coach Chris Petersen have made their players unavailable to the media this week. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

So it’s come to this – the Gag Order Cup.

I know, we should be thankful, and not just today. After a year of the most uncivil discourse by candidates and citizenry in American history – and still every bit as vile post-Tr(i)ump(h) – giving peace a chance in advance of a mere football game seems the least we can do.

But dammit, that just isn’t tradition.

OK, sometime before Jim Walden invented the sound bite, surely one of the previous 108 incarnations of what we now call the Apple Cup managed to come off without mockery being lobbed over the Cascades. A Washington player declining to paint his Washington State rival as a hayseed in the run-up, say, or Cougs refraining to indict all Dawgs as smug tools in the post-game.

There’s just nothing in the record to suggest such a thing ever happened.

And truth be told, there have been enough years when the sez-yous have provided the sole source of entertainment.

This is not likely to be one of those years. This Apple Cup is for the Pac-12 North championship, and possibly a good deal more down the line. Washington’s loss to USC and WSU falling at Colorado took off some of the fine edge, but this is a rare convergence of two of the best teams in the respective histories of these schools.

Still, talking the talk enhances walking the walk.

Just browse the accompanying anthology of Apple Cup quotes – and it’s not all trash talk, by any measure. But it’s a reminder of why Chris Jackson’s rant and Chris Chandler’s sour grapes are every bit a part of the lore as Chuck Nelson’s miss and Nico Grasu’s make.

And now … nothing.

WSU coach Mike Leach, who doles out weekly player access to the media as if the Pac-12 was fining him for doing so, put all his fellas off limits this week. UW’s Chris Petersen buttoned up the Huskies, too, presuming Our Kinda Guys might stray from giving out Our Kinda Quotes.

I don’t know how Don James or Mike Price ever managed to win an Apple Cup while letting players speak their minds, but somehow they did.

Leach himself did take the bait on a question about an imagined road trip with Petersen, embarking on a good-humored detour on the blue highways of his mind:

“He’d do all the driving – very reliable, seems very responsible,” Leach said. “And, you know, like a lot of us, I grew up with parents telling me, ‘Why can’t you be more like Chris Petersen?’ ”

Well, this week, that came true.

Even potential discord failed to spark. The Huskies had a backup cornerback, Darren Gardenhire, quit the team – at least he did it after last weekend’s game, and not at halftime of the Apple Cup a la the Cougs’ Deon Burnett in 2000. But instead of bitterness, there was instead an Instagram post that read, “I would just like to say that I appreciate everyone at the University of Washington and thank them for everything they’ve helped me accomplish.”

Hey, the high road is great – but he also could have added, “But I’m not transferring to WSU because I’d like to get a job someday.” What did he have to fear? He’d already quit.

Anticipation for this game is spiking. Certainly it could have gone off the charts with a little help.

Like if Washington’s Jake Browning had suggested that WSU’s Luke Falk was a “system quarterback.” Or if Falk had fired back something along the lines of “Yeah, Sam Darnold’s system.”

Or if, say, Washington’s Budda Baker had popped off, “Don’t worry, Cougs. When we beat you, you’ll still be eligible for that JC softball championship.”

Think how both fan bases would have started buzzing if Petersen had said, “We’re considerably better than the teams Mike Leach said were considerably better than us last year – when we won 45-10.”

Or if when Petersen said, “Football is hard,” as he does, well, all the time, WSU receiver Gabe Marks would have darted, “Unlike your schedule.”

But the fact is, you can’t make this stuff up. It has to come from the heart, and the heart of the matter is that the Apple Cup was a lot more fun – it was more accessible – when a Cougar player was claiming the Huskies “win and are obnoxious about it, or they lose and have excuses.”

Yeah, I know. Reminds you of an election. But it sounds better when a football player says it.

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