As college football fans across the nation finally have reason to care about the Apple Cup again, I can’t help but think back to eight years ago, when the annual rivalry game between Washington and Washington State qualified as a very different kind of spectacle.
A quick recap for those who sought therapy to erase any memory of the 2008 season from their brains: The Huskies entered that year’s Apple Cup with an 0-10 record. The Cougars were 1-10. The game was such a joke that ESPN.com sent two staffers to Pullman to cover it, if only so they could say they actually witnessed one of those poor teams win a game.
Dubbed the “Crapple Cup” by some good-humored observers, the game delivered on its promise of futility. The Huskies, favored by a touchdown despite their winless record, led 10-0 at halftime. WSU made it 10-7 on a 57-yard touchdown run by Logwone Mitz in the third quarter. And after Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham made the baffling decision to punt on fourth-and-three from WSU’s 36-yard line with 1:04 left in the game, WSU moved the ball to UW’s 18-yard line with a miraculous, 48-yard completion from Kevin Lopina to Jared Karstetter.
Enough time remained for a game-tying field-goal try, which kicker Nico Grasu converted at the buzzer to force overtime. The teams traded field goals in the first extra period, and after UW kicker Ryan Perkins missed from 37 yards to begin the second overtime, Grasu followed with a game-winning kick from the same distance to send the Martin Stadium crowd into pandemonium.
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Fans rushed the field. WSU coach Paul Wulff performed a victory dance that was as goofy as it was joyous. Willingham glared icily at reporters afterward. Huskies players seemed stunned, their resignation defined most accurately by tailback Willie Griffin: “No disrespect to them, but we went up against a team that everybody is saying is the worst in the nation, and you can’t pull out a win. I mean, you’ve got to look at yourself and ask yourself, ‘What are we?’ ”
They were really bad. So were the Cougars.
Now, both teams sit tied atop the Pac-12 North, both nationally ranked heading into the Apple Cup for the first time since 2001, both needing a victory Friday to clinch a trip to the Pac-12 championship game.
Nobody can appreciate those stakes more than the folks who sat through the misery of 2008, which feels so much longer ago now than eight years.
Here are Apple Cup memories from some other staff writers:
JOHN MCGRATH: 1992
Between his freshman year at Walla Walla High School and his final NFL season with the Dallas Cowboys, Drew Bledsoe competed in some 280 football games. The legendary WSU quarterback long has maintained that none was more fun than the 1992 Apple Cup, better recognized as “The Snow Bowl.”
Bledsoe had a blast that afternoon — he had the carefree body English of a schoolkid in a snowball fight — as he threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Cougars to a 42-23 upset of the defending national champion Huskies.
My prevailing memory of the crazy conditions is less about the destination than the journey. Because there are, like, 14 hotel rooms in the Pullman-Moscow area, my former News Tribune colleague Don Borst decided we’d make the trip in two phases, stopping in Ellensburg after getting past the mountains.
Saturday morning posed a surprise — snow on the ground, seemingly accumulating at a rate of about an inch per minute — but we arrived safely. Or so we thought.
About five miles from Martin Stadium, a downhill Pullman street found Don unable to brake. His car skidded over a curb, damaging the wheels and seriously corrupting our itinerary: There was a game to cover, by gosh, and chances were slim that kickoff would be postponed until some Tacoma sportswriters showed up.
The only choice was to abandon the car and rely on an old tactic, hitchhiking. A thumb goes up, a car goes by, nearly one in a million try.
But a curious aspect about blizzards is that they put strangers in a good mood. Noticing our forlorn faces, a driver stopped and invited us to climb onto the back of his pickup.
In the unlikely event I am chosen someday to serve as grand marshal of the Rose Bowl parade, the trip won’t be appreciated more than the one I made on Nov. 21, 1992.
The day I got a free ride to WSU.
John McGrath has been a staff columnist since 1991.
DAVE BOLING: 1984
The Cougars had won two straight Apple Cups and had another in hand in 1984 in Pullman, leading 26-16 midway through the third quarter after stonewalling the Huskies on a third-and-3.
But after the play, WSU linebacker Rico Tipton was called for roughing, giving UW 15 yards, a first down, and the momentum to pull away to a 38-29 win.
I covered the Cougars beat that season for the Lewiston Tribune. And I, like so many in the media, touted Tipton’s penalty as the play that cost the Cougars the game and helped the 11-1 Huskies head off to the Orange Bowl and a win over No. 2-ranked Oklahoma.
Decades later, in his book “Tales from the Washington State Sideline,” coach Jim Walden called the penalty a miscarriage of justice, a case of the referee only seeing the retaliation, a penalty that unfairly tainted the reputation of Tipton.
Walden remembered a little behind-the-scenes tidbit that factored in, too. That week, the scout team running back, who was assigned to imitate Husky back Jacque Robinson, stuffed foam rubber down the back of his pants to try to emulate Robinson’s “low center of gravity,” as Walden put it.
Walden thought it was more in fun than being disrespectful, but word got back to Huskies coach Don James and Robinson, and reportedly helped stoke the rivalry fires.
Robinson ended up rushing for 160 yards and three touchdowns. “The joke was on us,” Walden said.
Dave Boling has been a staff columnist since 1996.
CRAIG HILL: 2002
Standing safely, or so I thought, in the west end zone of Martin Stadium following the 2002 Apple Cup, I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.
The Cougars had imploded. They lost a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead. Quarterback Jason Gesser was injured. And No. 3 WSU’s chances of clinching the Pac-12 title vanished with a controversial call that sealed UW’s 26-23 triple-overtime upset.
Rose Bowl plans were on hold. A perfect conference record was gone. And now it was raining bottles.
WSU fans were flinging the containers. Some empty, some sealed, some filled with fluids that matched one of UW’s colors. Some UW players returned fire.
I was pondering best how to write about this ugly, amazing chapter in Apple Cup history when, thunk.
Struck in the back of the head, I staggered forward, then turned around. I wasn’t safe. I was in the line of fire.
Minutes later I was in UW’s locker room and a team trainer asked me to follow the movement of her index finger. “Mild concussion,” she said. Don’t even think about driving, she said, and writing might be a challenge. (What else is new?)
Colleagues covered for me, but I was left to decipher bowl scenarios — a murky science even with a clear head. My story didn’t mention the Sun Bowl as possibility for the Huskies. That’s where they landed.
Luckily, WSU was easy to figure. Beat UCLA and the Cougs were going to the Rose Bowl. And two weeks later, in front of a UCLA crowd that couldn’t collectively muster enough energy to toss a thimble of beer 5 feet, that’s exactly what happened.
Craig Hill is a staff writer. He’s covered 10 Apple Cups.