SEATTLE – All across the state Thursday night, siblings, family members and friends who hold diplomas from the two major public universities in Washington will engage in Apple Cup banter over Thanksgiving feasts. Time not consumed by smacking lips will be filled by talking smack – the type only school colors, pride and a major intrastate rivalry can elicit, and elicit just once a year.
Fortunately, the Apple Cup is still stirring excitement and emotion among both fan bases on its 112th birthday, because while the men coaching the Cougars and Huskies on Friday at 1 p.m. acknowledge the history and the significance of this rivalry, you usually won’t find them adding ammunition to the late-November feud.
“I always tell you this: Washington State’s not more important than Colorado,” said Washington’s Chris Petersen, whose Huskies come into their final regular season game on the heels of a 20-14 loss to the Buffaloes. “It’s like, one game at a time. That’s all how I think. Then you go play the next game. And is it fun that there’s more energy and those type of things coming into the stadium? That is. That’s fun on game day. But it’s got to be all done with the preparation.”
Washington State’s Mike Leach isn’t much different.
“I think it’s really big between the fans, and you hear about it all the time,” he said. “I think the players, we’re just trying to improve, and that’s the biggest thing we can do this week is focus on improving and be the best team we can be and go out there and play as well as we can.”
But there was a time when the coaches would feed into the rivalry a little more, sharing the importance of the Apple Cup to the players in hopes that it would generate more energy, passion and focus on game day.
On a podcast earlier this week, former WSU fullback Jed Collins said ex-Cougars coach Bill Doba would recite fan mail to his team to reiterate the significance of the rivalry game. Doba adopted the tradition from Mike Price, according to Collins.
During the WSU pregame show last week, decorated military officer and Cougar alum Timothy Gordon shared with Collins a memorable Apple Cup tale from the 1982 game, when Jim Walden’s Cougars knocked off the Huskies 24-20 to snap out of an eight-game skid in the series.
“His fondest memory was rushing the field and tearing down the goal post,” Collins said. “He got on the Seattle Times front page and as a member of the ROTC, he took the goal posts and went and threw them in the river. This game can make or break a reputation. You look at Alex (Brink). Alex is looked at as the guy who beat the Huskies because he did it more than anyone else.”
On the same podcast, Brink, who’s dubbed the “Husky Killer” for his three wins over UW, said “I do think the acknowledgment of what the rivalry is and what it’s meant to the school and teams and all those sort of things is important. I think it does create kind of a hyper focus.”
Various UW and WSU players were asked about the gravity of the Apple Cup this week. Most clung to the “every game is equal” approach their coaches have been spewing out, but they were still able to provide context to what the rivalry means.
“Us as a team, we’re really taking it upon ourselves to not make this game more than it is,” Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon said. “It’s just another opportunity to improve and go and put hands on someone for 60 minutes.”
Gordon has the unique perspective of someone who’s been around the Apple Cup plenty, but hasn’t played a snap in the rivalry game, instead watching Luke Falk and Gardner Minshew start against the Huskies the last three seasons.
“Seeing them the past few years, it’s definitely been an advantage to mine I guess,” Gordon said. “They don’t really adjust too much, they stay true to what they are. They’re a good defense, they’re real sound, they’re always in the right spot. So I need to, first and foremost on my end, I need to make sure don’t try to throw a 30-point touchdown, just try to put the ball in play and the receivers we have around are unbelievable.”
The Cougars aren’t making a big deal of the Apple Cup in the days preceding it, but there’s no doubt what celebrations in the visitor’s locker room would look like if they could end a six-year slump against the Huskies.
“It would mean a lot to me, it would mean the world to me pretty much to win this game,” WSU wide receiver Renard Bell said. “Especially over in their stadium, too, it would mean a lot.”
“I’m from California, so I wasn’t really in it. But I feel it as a WSU student. If I wasn’t playing football, I’d feel it. I’d feel the hatred they feel, too.”
Linebacker Jahad Woods, a San Diego native, has a similar perspective, and he too has learned to resent the team in purple over the course of his four years in Pullman even if he didn’t know much about the Apple Cup before Leach and the Cougars offered him out of Helix High School.
“The hype of the Apple Cup is something special here,” Woods said. “I really didn’t know, understand it til I got here, but it’s grown on me and like I said, I’m excited for it.”
Washington’s dynamic junior running back, Salvon Ahmed, took cues from his head coach, telling reporters “As I said throughout the whole year, we treat every game the same, and we want to approach this one as we approached all the other ones.”
But, WSU not more important than Colorado? Nonsense.
“You remember every single Apple Cup,” Ahmed said. “That’s what our coaches tell us. You’re not going to remember the Cal game, you’re not going to remember those games, you’re going to remember the Apple Cup and so that’s what I remember. I remember all my Apple Cups so far.”
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