There are at least a few Spokane residents who haven’t been caught up this fall in the Minshew Madness, nor reveled in every offbeat joke at a Mike Leach presser.
Several dozen of those Inland Northwest fans who claim the purple and gold, rather than the crimson and gray, will pack into a charter bus downtown Friday afternoon, ready to make the 75-mile trek to cheer for the underdog Washington Huskies in the 111th edition of the Apple Cup.
“I’ve had people calling this week to see if there’s room, which is great,” said Stephanie Fleisher, a 2008 graduate of the University of Washington who serves as assistant director of Spokane and Eastern Washington relations for the school. “We have Husky fans coming from Southern California to ride the bus.”
Such road trips have been infrequent in recent years, said Steve Lamberson, a local attorney and UW alumnus from 1978. Lamberson estimated he’d been to 40 Apple Cups over the years, including the contests in the early and middle 2000s when the two teams taking the field hadn’t performed anywhere close to the two top-15 powers that will battle Friday night.
“From 2000 to 2015 – we called them the dark years,” Lamberson said. “The Huskies just went through numerous coaches.”
The Huskies won 10 of those 15 contests but fell in the 2008 game in Pullman to round out the first winless season in Pac 12 play in 28 years. Known colloquially as the “Crapple Cup,” because Washington State’s victory only pushed them to two wins on the season, most Husky fans say now they’re just happy Friday’s game will take on some meaning.
“I’m glad we’re a long way from that scenario,” said Mark Ostersmith, a 1990 graduate of UW who now is the chapter lead for the school’s alumni association in Spokane.
Ostersmith won’t be watching the game in Pullman – he has Thanksgiving plans with the in-laws. But don’t count the Spokane native among those who hope for a close contest. Even with the compelling story of WSU’s breakout star quarterback, and a season that has defied all expectations for the Cougars, Ostersmith wants a blowout.
“Some people say, ‘I just want it to be a good game,’ ” he said. “To heck with that, I want to win by 40 every time.”
That sentiment is shared by father and son Jay and Brayden Underwood, who will both be traveling to Pullman on Friday, but not on the alumni bus. The pair said they wanted a big Husky win, but acknowledged that WSU had earned its national prominence by performing at a high level all year.
“I live here, so I’m one of those Husky fans that, I don’t always root for the Cougars but I have actually rooted for them this year and it’s been a lot of fun,” said Jay Underwood. “I am envious.”
“I’m optimistic that the Cougs aren’t really as good as they look, and that the Huskies – ” Jay Underwood continued, before his son cut him off on the phone line.
“Well, we’re really only a few plays away from having the same record as them,” Brayden Underwood, a 2016 graduate of the university who now lives in Seattle, said. “It’s all just kinda crazy how college football works in that sense. For me, I don’t know if I’d say I’m envious.”
Most Husky fans agreed while there’s some good-natured ribbing between the two fan bases in Spokane, it’s not as difficult to cheer for their alma mater in Eastern Washington as in other rivalries.
“One thing the Cougars and Huskies share in common is their hatred for Oregon,” said Jay Underwood. “But I think there’s no denying that the Cougar/Husky rivalry is bigger than that, we just don’t like to admit it.”
Lamberson said in his many visits to Pullman over the years as a Husky fan he’s never faced any unreasonable heckling.
“It’s hostile, in a good-natured, good-spirited way,” Lamberson said.
Ostersmith remembered back to growing up as a Husky fan in Spokane, and how his brother, Sean Smith, reacted following a Cougar upset victory. He estimated it was the 1982 contest, when Washington State knocked off the heavily favored, fifth-ranked Husky squad 24-20 in Pullman to deny the favorites a trip to the Rose Bowl.
“All these Cougs came out of the woodwork,” Ostersmith remembered, laughing. “And my brother wrote this poem, ‘Ode to the Closet Coug.’ I think it was therapeutic for him.”
The Husky faithful all agreed making a clear prediction in what promises to be an Apple Cup for the ages was difficult.
“I hope it’s a blowout,” Ostersmith said. “But, if you asked me, gun to my head, I have no clue how this game is going to go.”
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