Gardner Minshew will only get one crack at the rivalry game that’s divided households in the Evergreen State for the better part of the last 120 years.
The Apple Cup has eluded some of the best passers in school history – even the Pac-12’s all-time passing leader couldn’t get over this particular hump – so Minshew could immediately elevate himself to “Apple Cup hero” status by beating the Huskies Friday at Martin Stadium (5:30 p.m., Fox 28) and snap a five-year losing drought while securing Washington State’s first Pac-12 North title.
This week, we tracked down four ex-WSU quarterbacks who’ve been successful in the rivalry, and asked each of them a set list of 10 questions. Which Husky got on your nerves, how long does a rivalry loss sit with you and what advice would you have for Minshew heading into his first and only Apple Cup?
Ryan Leaf played in three Apple Cups and won his last one, in 1997, beating the Huskies 41-35 to clinch a Rose Bowl berth. Alex Brink became the “Husky Killer” after defeating UW on three occasions – 2004, 2005 and 2007 – a feat that’s still unmatched. Timm Rosenbach, like Leaf, got it done on his third try, leading the Cougars to a come-from-behind 32-31 win in 1988. It took Jeff Tuel four attempts, but the last WSU QB to snare a win over the Huskies also gave current coach Mike Leach his first and only Apple Cup win: a 31-28 overtime triumph in 2012.
Spokesman-Review: What was your impression/background knowledge of the Apple Cup before signing with WSU?
Ryan Leaf: “Growing up in Montana, the rivalry I knew of was Cat-Griz, and I always fell on the side of the Cats. Montana State. That’s where my father had gone to school and I always felt like they were the underdog and Montana were like the spoiled group and all that. … The other thing is, the end of my junior year, we won the state (high school) championship and in the front page of the newspaper, there’s a picture of us and winning the championship. And down in the right hand corner, there’s a picture of Shaumbe Wright-Fair running in the snow in 1992, beating the Washington Huskies. So that was my real knowledge, and then as soon as I got on campus it was immediate. It was a big reason I went to Washington State, was Mike Price, and Washington didn’t offer me a scholarship, they asked me to walk-on so it all started to fuel that fire.”
Alex Brink: “Obviously I grew up in Eugene, so I was very in tune with the Civil War. So I knew a lot about what a big rivalry was from the Civil War. So when I came to Washington State, I kind of had an appreciation for it even though I didn’t say grow up in the rivalry.”
Timm Rosenbach: “Growing up, we mainly lived on the west side of the state so my Apple Cup experience had been more involved. I remember as a kid being in the Husky locker room because my dad was a high school coach, so you could get a pass to go down there and stuff like that. So I remember being on that side of it and I remember when Jack (Thompson) was playing when I was a kid. As I got older, we moved to Pullman and it was all Cougars all the time. Murray Walden (son of Jim Walden) was my best friend, so we lived and breathed it. I became obviously more familiar with it then and it began to mean a lot more to me then as well. I was always intrigued with the place on the other side of the state, living in Western Washington. I always used to look for the preseason magazines … and I can remember finding the one with Jack’s face on it, so that was always intriguing to me because he was a big-time player in the Pac-8 at the time.”
Jeff Tuel: “Just being a Pac-12, or Pac-10 at the time, and I’ve been to 100 U of A games, Arizona games, so I’m obviously familiar with the different rivalries in the conference. But I guess I didn’t understand the magnitude of it in the state of Washington. I think my recruiting process was a little different than others because it was such a rebuilding time and it was just like, get in here and we’re going to win some games. Oh, and by the way, ‘Huck the Fuskies.’ ”
S-R: Was there one moment – or something you experienced – that spoke to the hatred between WSU and UW fans?
Leaf: “No, I signed the letter of intent and this intense hatred for purple and Huskies just organically happened, I guess. There wasn’t anything I saw, but to this day I hate the color purple. Hate it. And I feel like there’s an elitist, something about Washington, and I dislike them. I found myself softening over the years. I’ve become friends with Brock Huard and other Washington Huskies, but at least for one week a year, I tend to get into that mode now. I remember (wide receiver) Chris Jackson just, a reporter getting to him and him just kind of blatantly laying out how we were going to beat up on them at Husky Stadium in 1997. And how (upset) coach Price was. But Chris was right, everything he laid out and predicted, we pretty much did in that game in Seattle on our way to the Rose Bowl.”
Brink: “For me, I came right after the 2002 game with all the bottle throwing and all that stuff that happened. I heard a lot of stories about that. Then my freshman year, my redshirt year, I traveled to Husky Stadium and we were playing for a Rose Bowl bid and there was a lot on the line. We ended up losing that game and Cody Pickett throws a game-winner at the end of the game there, and for me when it really clicked home was the end of that game, kind of the reaction of the Husky fans and players and then just the look on our seniors’ face and that sort of thing. Then it got reinforced my second year, the first year I ever played in the Apple Cup, 2004, we’d lost six straight I believe and winning that game – the reverse, kind of the look on our seniors’ faces beating the Huskies and the reaction of our fans to rush the field and the whole deal. Those two instances just showed me what it means for both fan bases.”
Rosenbach: “I can remember going in as a true freshman and not even playing in the game in Seattle, but being suited up. We had an ice storm, I think it was in ’85. And coming out of the tunnel and getting hit with an ice ball in the head. Really. Seattle was frozen that day. When they had Jacque Robinson and I was still in high school, and they beat the Cougs in Pullman, all the Huskies lined up on the 50-yard line and did the Pee-wee Herman. That kind of gets the fire going at that point. Even when I was coaching there, the year we went to the Holiday Bowl and rolling into the back there, Hec Edmundson Pavilion where we’d get dressed in Seattle. There’s a guy standing there with a kid propped up on his shoulders – probably seven years old – and the kid’s giving us the finger.”
Tuel: “I’m a big, big fan of purple Gatorade. Love purple Gatorade. So I remember when Apple Cup week came around, in practice my freshman year, and they weren’t serving any purple Gatorade. There was no purple Gatorade that week, so that was a little eye-opening where I kind of realized, this is for real.”
S-R: Your most memorable play and why?
Leaf: “My freshman year, my first start ever at Husky Stadium, we went spread and they moved their linebacker out from the middle and we’ve been kind of seeing that on film all week. We were about the 20-yard line, just this little 19-year-old kid playing in front of 78,000 people screaming at me in my first start. I kind of tapped my center on the inside of his thigh and kind of pressed up and that was a signal him and I were just going to roll, and he snaps it to me, he kind of lead-blocks to the tackle and springs me for a 20-yard rushing touchdown. I remember getting over to the sideline and my backup, Steve Birnbaum, came over to me and he was just kind of laughing and slapping me on the helmet. He told me, ‘You will not believe what Chad Davis said to me.’ Chad Davis was the quarterback that was benched for me in the last couple of weeks. He said, ‘Soon as he ran that touchdown in, Chad Davis looked over at me and said, ‘I’m never going to play here again.’”
Brink: “The last half I threw, in ’07, a touchdown to Brandon Gibson. Was definitely my favorite play of the Apple Cup because of what it meant for our team at that time and our coaching staff being able to win, send the seniors out on the right note, send Coach Doba and that staff out on the right note. And for me personally, throwing a touchdown, game-winner at Husky Stadium as my last collegiate play, obviously was pretty special.”
Rosenbach: “It’s obviously the go-ahead touchdown in ’88. But probably the most memorable play in that game for me was when Shawn Landrum blocked the punt. That was probably the play that set us up to win cause it was pretty close up until that point.”
Tuel: “My most memorable play would be seeing (kicker) (Andrew) Furney standing there, double-fisted in the air after hitting that kick to win the Apple Cup. And just running on the field and that feeling of joy. That was such a great thing to experience, but that picture of Furney standing there with his fists in the air is just burned into my memory.”
S-R: On the flip side, is there one play you wish you could have back?
Leaf: “(In 1996) the overtime corner route to Chad Carpenter. I overthrew it by literally like an inch. He wasn’t able to get his one foot down in the corner of the end zone. That would’ve tied the game and sent it into the second overtime. I just put a little too much on it and we weren’t able to get in bounds on that fourth-down play and we would lose to Brock Huard and Corey Dillon that year by a touchdown in overtime.”
Brink: “Oh boy. In 2006, there was just a string of plays – they were big plays, but one that defied kind of what I thought was possible. Washington had a receiver, he was running like a drag route and the quarterback throws it a little bit behind him and his foot kicked the ball back into his grasp. Our defender stopped and he thought the ball was incomplete. The kid ends up catching it and going 80 yards for a touchdown. That would be one that, I would love to see that ball fall incomplete because that was one of four or five big plays that crushed the momentum of that game for us.”
Rosenbach: “They beat the heck out of me the year before (1987). They just beat me up. That was a rough day. I think that was the day I said, ‘They can’t hit better than they dance,’ or something like that. The quote that lives on. There was a lot of plays in that game I wish I had back. I wish I hadn’t thrown a pick to Le-Lo Lang in the ’88 game, but I did. Those things fade away. We played perfect in that game – when you’re 52 years old, you played perfect.”
Tuel: “I would love another shot at that 2010 game, that’s for sure. I just remember it being a dogfight and being a pretty competitive game and making a late-run comeback and tying it up and then just giving that last second touchdown up. I think if we had another shot at that one, we could’ve pulled that one off as well. One of my best friends from high school played for UW, he played safety, Nate Fellner, and I remember I threw an out route – I think it was to a tight end – and he undercut it and it hit him right in the chest. And I just remember thinking thank God, because he would’ve taken it to the house, man. I wouldn’t have heard the end of that. And I did throw a pick to him the last play of the game, Hail Mary just trying to make a play.”
S-R: Was there one Washington player that got on your nerves more than the others?
Leaf: “Jason Chorak, defensive end, he was constantly on my tail hitting me and he was a part of all three games I played in, so it was definitely him and I. Ironically, he ended up on the practice squad for a little time with the San Diego Chargers when I was there. He was always there and making it an interesting battle.”
Brink: “I don’t talk to him much now, but Washington had a defensive tackle named Jordan Reffett who’s a local guy, he’s from the state of Washington, was a Husky and was always very vocal going into the game and was pretty vocal going into our game in 2006. We had a chance to go to a bowl game and they were not going to go to a bowl game, but they clearly wanted to spoil the party. But he was a guy I always remember talking.”
Rosenbach: “Le-Lo (Lang) was a good player. That corner. He was a high school quarterback, he was a guy that was a super athlete. He was always in on it. If there was something happening in the secondary, he was around it. I probably remember him more than anybody just because of that one play in the first half of that ’88 Apple Cup. I knew he was there, I knew he was going to be an issue, I knew he was a good player and that was the last thing on my mind that I thought was going to happen in that game and when I did it, I was like, ‘That guy.’”
Tuel “Our rivalry was interesting because the UW guys would come to Pullman, they would party with us. Several UW guys came to Pullman, because obviously Pullman likes to have fun, Cougs like to have fun and I don’t think UW can wave that same flag. So they made their way over to us and spent a weekend with us. I didn’t have any eye-gouging or pinching under piles or smack talking. The guys were relatively pretty cool. Keith Price and Kasen Williams, my roommate knew. (Desmond) Trufant obviously was a great player. If anybody got on my nerves, it was him just because he was so damn good, but overall we had a fun rivalry.”
S-R: How did you celebrate the victories?
Leaf: “Of course the one we won in Seattle, it was the biggest celebration. I got carried off the field, we had roses. We’re back at the hotel popping champagne and dumping it on my dad’s head. Walking in on Rian Lindell and Aaron Price, just both of them sitting in the bathtub drinking beers after the game to celebrate. That’s kind of how Cougars I think would celebrate those situations. It was very memorable and it was about 67 years of exhaustion that had been released. That celebration lasted I do believe for about two full months.”
Brink: “Well two of them were at Husky Stadium, so we had to fly back home. Most of the time it was family time. Getting back home, I think the year it was in Pullman it was kind of fun because there was always a lot of family and friends around for that. So I just remember for me, every year there’s the obvious deal with it being at the end of the late season, so you know your season’s kind of coming to a close. So all that time spent, the seniors you’re around, I always remember feeling very proud whether I was a senior or the guys beforehand, of being a part of this so the seniors could go out on the right note.
Rosenbach: “We were at Rusty’s, no question. Which was up on the hill. Up there by the apartments, I don’t know what it’s called now. But we were either at Rusty’s or the Sports Page.”
Tuel: “Same old thing, man. It was called Mike’s (Bar) at the time. We’d go to Mike’s or we had house parties and we had a football house that we ended up making our way to. Just had a good old time. You’ve got a bunch of parents in town and anybody listening that’s a Coug knows if it’s Dad’s Weekend, Mom’s Weekend, it doesn’t matter. There’s parents joining, they like to get rowdy, so it was a great time. Went and watched my girlfriend at the time, now wife, go play the Huskies (in volleyball) after the game and went out and celebrated with the guys.”
S-R: How long did the losses sit with you?
Leaf: “My freshman year, the loss didn’t sit with me long because I was like, this is going to be great, this is just going to be so much fun. I just didn’t get that first one. The second year, it was for our bowl eligibility. We were 5-2 and we would lose our final four games by the closest of margins. So we were left out in the cold but I also think it helped us out a ton. It kept us out of bowl contention, it put a chip on our shoulder, we went into the offseason working really, really hard. It really set up everything for us the next year.”
Brink: “That one was heartbreaking on a lot of levels and that sits with you. You certainly have 364 days to think about it. That one in particular, from a career standpoint and for our class because that would’ve put us in a bowl game and there’s a lot of conversation around our time at WSU about not playing in a bowl game following three 10-win seasons, and I think if you win that one you obviously go to a bowl game, you can answer a lot of questions. So I think that one even now still stings pretty heavy for all of us.”
Rosenbach: “Well, the ’87 loss was with me for the whole year. My year in ’87, I had broken John Elway’s total offense record, but I also set the Pac-10 record in interceptions. I didn’t even want to play quarterback, but coach was like, ‘You’re the only guy I’ve got, you’ve got to get better.’ So I had to kind of regroup and kind of figure out, well I certainly don’t want to be bad at this if I’m doing this and I don’t want to lose that game ever again.”
Tuel: “Every loss sucks, but certainly because the Apple Cup for us, because we weren’t going to a bowl game, was the last game of the year. So going into the offseason with a loss is just tough and you have that bad taste in your mouth for a few weeks, a month after, until those offseason workouts start. And you’re like, man I’m ready for next year, let’s get going. But you’ve got to get over it. But certainly winning the last game of the year, you go into the offseason with momentum and it’s much different, much better feeling.”
S-R: What are your wise words for Gardner Minshew going into Friday’s game?
Leaf: “I’ll give him a hard time here and this is what we do with other Washington State quarterbacks. Until you beat the Huskies, you can’t truly be considered a legendary Washington State quarterback. We’ll just put that pressure on you, Gardner. It’s stuff we do, I give my cousin Matty Kegel the hardest time about, because Matt probably had the biggest and best bowl victory ever and that was the Holiday Bowl in 2003 when they upset Texas and Vince Young and Cedric Benson. But I always give my cousin Matty a hard time about the fact he never beat Washington.”
Brink: “I actually told him this after the (Arizona) game, I think for me the biggest thing is you’ve just always got to be on the attack, you’ve got to kind of manage the ups and downs. It’s like going into a heavyweight boxing match. They’re going to throw their punches, you’ve got to throw yours and itf you take one on the chin, you’ve got to get up and go do it again and kind of get through that. And I think in that, you have to protect the football and if you do those things, you should be able to come out with the win.”
Rosenbach: “That guy doesn’t need any advice. He needs no advice from me nor anybody else. He needs to just keep doing what he’s doing. If he just threw seven touchdown passes against Arizona, he doesn’t need any advice. The only thing I’d say about that whole situation is he’s not as familiar with it as everybody, so he’s going to have to feed off the guys that have been around. And he will, he’s a champion and he’s a great player.”
Tuel: “Man, he seems like he’s a pretty cool, calm, collected guy. He doesn’t get rattled. I’d say just lay it all out there, just let it fly. But I’ll tell you, the guy rips it, he lets it fly every Saturday. So just keep doing what he’s doing. Just let it fly.”
S-R: How and where will you be watching the game?
Leaf: “I’m calling the Cal-Colorado game Saturday, so I’ll be in Berkeley prepping for that game. But I will set aside those few hours and watch it in my hotel room. I can’t watch it with anybody else. I’m going to be too anxious and nervous about it and I need to watch it in the privacy of my own hotel room and be ready to throw things at the television if need be.”
Brink: “I will be in the (WSU radio) booth, I will be watching intently and probably be just as nervous as everybody else about it, too.”
Rosenbach: “We thought about going over. My daughters are 11 and 9 and they’ve got hockey. They’re playing ice hockey, so they’ve got stuff going on. My oldest daughter was born in Pullman when I was coaching there, so we will be glued to the television set watching the game.”
Tuel: “I will be watching at my house, just brolaxing. Screaming my ass off.”
S-R: And finally, a score prediction …
Leaf: “I think it’ll be very similar to the Cal game, so how about 21-17 Washington State?”
Brink: “Boy, now you’re really putting me on the spot. I think it’s going to be 42-31 Cougars.”
Rosenbach: “After you’ve been in that game, the things I’ve seen happen in that game. All these type of things where it’s not supposed to go one team’s way. You just never know. We were really good when I was coaching there, the year we went to the Holiday Bowl and we should’ve smoked them. And we got beat in Seattle. I think the Pullman crowd can have more of a positive effect than the crowd at Washington, just because they are right on top of you. It’s nuts.”
Tuel: “Can I just say Cougs by 50 and hang up the phone? I will say 42-28 (Washington State). Let’s score as many as we did last week (69 vs. Arizona), that’d be good.”