Almost immediately after Alex Brink’s college football finale, a nickname was coined for the Washington State quarterback.
Brink, WSU’s signal-caller from 2004-07, doesn’t recall where it originated, but someone had dubbed him “The Husky Killer.”
Instantly, it stuck.
Fourteen years later, it’s a moniker he still hears “all the time” from friends and the Cougar faithful.
“What’s cool about it in all honesty is that my career was very up and down for a lot of reasons,” Brink said by phone this week. “When you follow three 10-win seasons and you don’t reach those same goals, ultimately the head coach and quarterback are going to hear about it the most.
“So going out and being able to beat Washington three out of four times is a really fun thing for me, personally.”
Brink capped his WSU career with an outing to remember, leading a come-from-behind 42-35 victory over UW in Seattle.
He became the first – and still only – WSU QB to defeat the Huskies three times.
The Cougars haven’t won at Husky Stadium since, but they like their chances of ending the drought this season when they head west for the Apple Cup, which kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday.
“It’s very strange,” Brink said of the skid in Seattle. “There have been teams for Washington State that have had good opportunities to win there. It kind of speaks to the unpredictable nature of a rivalry.
“There’s just so much that goes into it. As the cliché says: Toss the records out the window.”
The Spokesman-Review caught up with several key figures of the Cougars’ most recent triumph over their despised foes from the other side of the Evergreen State.
Bill Doba, a 19-year WSU coach who spent his last five seasons in the top job for the Pullman program, didn’t realize the Cougars hadn’t prevailed in Seattle since his final game as boss, which he remembers fondly. Doba and WSU agreed to part ways a few days afterward.
Doba, 81, has two framed photos decorating the office of his home in a peaceful corner of southwestern Michigan.
One depicts Brink’s go-ahead 35-yard scoring pass to Brandon Gibson with 31 seconds remaining. The other shows a worried Doba watching UW quarterback Jake Locker’s last-ditch toss toward the end zone.
“If they catch it, they win,” Doba said. “The look on my face says, ‘It’s time for me to retire.’ But we intercepted it, and that was the game.”
Doba’s Cougars went 3-2 versus UW, including a pair of gutty road wins that both featured late scores. The Cougars went a combined 20-5 in the two seasons before, but fell to the Huskies twice in that stretch.
After Doba was promoted following the 2002 season, he tried “not to inflate (the Apple Cup) too much,” he said.
“Before I became head coach, we made a big deal out of it,” Doba said. “Former players sent letters. (Coach) Mike Price would read them to the team and all that. I think we probably got too high.”
Rivalry week was a balancing act. Doba said he made it a point to preach levelheadedness in the lead-up to the Apple Cup. Meanwhile, Cougar alumni and assistants like Timm Rosenbach and Steve Broussard – among several other WSU players-turned-staffers – ensured the athletes understood the magnitude of the game.
“That was the challenge. We had a good sense of keeping it light, but being serious at the same time,” former standout WSU wideout Michael Bumpus said. “We knew where our sweet spot was. There were times when you had to be serious and locked in, but we kept to who we were.
“You could see it in the older guys. There’s a little more pep in their step. They’re a little more serious during that week of practice. I think the older you get, the grumpier you are when it comes to the Apple Cup. You know it’s for bragging rights, and who knows if you’re going to be able to get one again.”
Brink, for one, fed off the hype surrounding the game.
Understanding the history and pageantry of the Apple Cup was crucial in his performances.
“I think embracing what makes it different is how you can end up playing well,” said Brink, now a color commentator on WSU football broadcasts. “If you lose, it’s a big deal. If you win, it’s a big deal. So, you might as well approach it like it’s a big game because either way you’re going to catch the upside or downside of it.”
For someone like Gibson, downplaying it was next to impossible.
A star WSU receiver from 2006-08, Gibson was raised in the south end of Seattle by Husky parents. He moved to Puyallup, Washington, during his middle school years.
“I naturally rooted for (the Huskies) until I figured out the good side,” he said. “I watched those games that had Rose Bowl implications. And ideally, you have the same mindset.
“Whatever the record is, it was always about coming out on top and saying, ‘Hey, we won the Apple Cup.’ ”
WSU had been knocked out of bowl contention with a 35-32 loss to UW on the Palouse in 2006.
A year later, neither team was playing for a postseason berth. WSU came into the 2007 Apple Cup with a 19-26 record across the last four of Doba’s five seasons. UW was 12-34 in that span.
Both squads were 4-7 entering the 2007 rivalry clash.
“If you’re not going to a bowl game, to beat the Huskies, to go out on top in your state and see that Cougar flag on the Space Needle, it’s awesome,” Bumpus said.
Players recall the 2007 edition of the rivalry as “tense” and “back-and-forth.”
UW returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown to open a 10-0 advantage before WSU surged back. In all, the lead changed four times.
“It felt like a typical rivalry game – momentum shifts, plays being made and not being made, guys you don’t usually rely on stepping up,” Bumpus said.
Brink absorbed a hard sack early in the fourth quarter and received a nasty cut above his eye.
“They had to get me patched up, and I was thinking, ‘This is what rivalry games are about,’ the blood, sweat and tears of it,” said Brink, who wound up completing 27 of 40 passes for 399 yards, five touchdowns and no picks. “I remember the resiliency of our team. We could have laid down.
“But there was no way (Gibson) was laying down in Husky Stadium. There were guys up and down our roster from the West Side that had the drive to win that game.”
Gibson roasted a defender on a slant early in the fourth quarter and scored from 40 yards out to deadlock the score at 35.
“They tried to play us man,” Gibson said. “You’re just asking for a touchdown.”
Two drives later, receptions of 22 and 18 yards from Bumpus set up the winner.
On a second-and-9 with time winding down, Rosenbach dialed up a play-action bootleg, designed to “get us another chunk to get into field-goal range,” Brink said.
Brink rolled left. The Huskies had a blitz on, so he was forced to pull up, flip his hips, and quickly scan his options.
Gibson, not the primary target on the play call, appeared to be all alone, sprinting straight downfield. Brink followed his instincts. He crossed his fingers and slung it deep toward the future NFL pass-catcher just before taking a hit.
“I saw Brandon flash, and I hoped nobody was there,” he said.
From his vantage point on the turf, Brink couldn’t tell whether the pass connected, and for a moment all went silent.
Then he heard a roar from the other end of the venue – the corner of Husky Stadium in which Cougar fans sat. Gibson had been wide open.
After Alfonso Jackson’s clinching interception, the Cougars jumped in a dogpile.
“The week before, I’d thrown six interceptions on senior day (versus Oregon State). Coming back for the seniors, and with it being Bill Doba’s last game, you honestly couldn’t have written a better script,” he said. “I took a fair amount of criticism throughout my career. To go out like that, it was super fun, and powerful in a way.”
These days, Bumpus and Gibson reside in Seattle. Husky fans enjoy reminding them of the recent history of this series. UW hasn’t lost to WSU since 2012, coach Mike Leach’s first year at the Cougs’ helm.
“People are asking me, ‘What’s up with your Cougs?’ ” Bumpus said. “We’ll get it right, but as far as when I played, I’m 3-1. They’ll remember quickly that we had some weapons.”
“They were fortunate to sneak one out in ’06,” Gibson said.
WSU has failed to score more than 21 points in each of the six away Apple Cup games since its 2007 win. The closest the Cougars came to besting UW in Seattle was a 27-17 defeat in 2013.
Yet WSU (6-5, 5-3 Pac-12) seems exceptionally motivated this year, bolstered by a senior-heavy lineup and inspired by interim coach Jake Dickert, who’ll certainly be considered for the program’s permanent job with a victory.
The Cougars, still alive in the Pac-12 North, are favored by a point in Friday’s matchup against the Huskies (4-7, 3-5).
It begs the question: Is this the year the misery on Montlake finally ends?
“The makeup of this roster, the resilience of this senior class leads you to believe they have as good a chance as anybody,” the “Husky Killer” said of WSU’s 2021 team. “The key is managing some of the emotion that comes with it.”
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