So I went back the other night and totaled up Apple Cups I’ve attended, and I came up with 27 of them, dating to 1968. For a lot of years in there, the ’70s and much of the ’80s, I was checking out a little rivalry to the south, the Civil War.
Out of this, I’m offering up my most 12 memorable Apple Cups. There are caveats galore – I never saw guys like Hugh McElhenny back in the ’50s, never saw Sonny Sixkiller play live in one, never saw Rico Tipton’s personal-foul penalty that sustained the Huskies in 1984. So I’m not including those.
And the term “memorable” is a hair-splitting adjective. It doesn’t necessarily mean I think one was a better game than one ranked below, only that it had trappings that made it stand out. Sometimes, that wasn’t even part of the 60 minutes on the field, but something that happened around the game.
And finally, omitted are some landslide UW victories – in 1990 and 1991, for instance – that were no doubt big fun for Washington fans, but the Huskies were so good then that the games themselves weren’t particularly notable. You could throw in the 2000 game, a 51-3 UW rout in Pullman. A big day for the purple, obviously, one that cinched the Rose Bowl, but it doesn’t resonate as one that stands out in the memory bank – through no fault of the Huskies.
This got to be a pretty long post, so I’m breaking it into two installments of six apiece. All right, now that I’ve watered it down enough, here goes:
12. 1987 — Dennis Erickson throws down the gauntlet. In Erickson’s first of two Apple Cups, the Huskies charged hard in the fourth quarter to turn a deficit into a 34-19 defeat. Nothing real notable there, other than Chris Chandler and Timm Rosenbach trading barbs in the post-game. But the next day, in the innocent setting of a little conference room at the Westin Hotel (WSU was staying there en route to a season-game in Japan), Erickson let fly, taking issue with a pregame dustup in the UW tunnel he said was instigated by Washington. Still fuming, Erickson said, “Every night before I go to bed for the next year, I’m going to ask myself what I did that day to beat the Huskies.” No doubt, it was partly to urge on a young, talented team for the off-season. But I think there was some genuine passion there, too.
11. 1988 — WSU wins amid the snow flurries, 32-31. Erickson’s challenge was met by his team, although the Huskies, who were struggling through a bowl-less season, didn’t make it easy. They led most of the way until Rosenbach scored on a short, fourth-down run late in the game. The tableau of snow flurries provided the cover for former WSU publicist Dick Fry’s history of athletics at the school, “The Crimson and the Gray.”
10. 1969 – It was bad, but at least it was over. I sat in the stands for this one, which, at least until the 2008 season, stood as the most prominent monument to combined bad football. The Cougars entered the game 1-8 (this was the era of 10-game seasons), having beaten Illinois, 19-18. The Huskies were 0-9, and all things considered, were having perhaps their most lamentable season in history – not only losing but enduring a saga of racial strife. So, with a single, hairbreadth victory between the two coming in, the Huskies prevailed, 30-21. Maybe more notable than that was the amorous tryst enjoyed by two dogs on the field during the game in front of 54,500, who, at that point, needed some comic relief. One of the canines could have even been the UW mascot, though I can’t recall.
9. 2008 – It was bad, but at least it was over, The Sequel. I rate the ’08 game only a smidge higher than 1969 because as a celebration of bad football, it was probably worse. Think of the setup: The Huskies were 0-11, going on 0-12, and Tyrone Willingham had already been shown the door (he did stick around to coach, however; no way did he deserve to miss this). The Cougars had won one game (against FCS Portland State) and were so dreadful, I remember doing a story leading up to it comparing them with the worst teams of all-time. WSU came back from a 10-0 third-quarter deficit, setting up a late, tying field goal with a long bomb from Kevin Lopina to Jared Karstetter, and won 16-13 in double overtime on a field goal by Nico Grasu. Historians with strong stomachs can debate the (de)merits of all four of the 1969 and 2008 teams on both sides.
8. 2003 – In the Apple Cup, you just never know . . . This was a testament to the fallacy of assuming anything in this game. The Huskies, in Keith Gilbertson’s first season, had just gone to California and suffered one of the most humiliating losses in school history, 54-7. How bad was it? Cal had 457 yards in the first half. The Cougars were in their first season under Bill Doba, had a 9-2 record, and could have tied for the Pac-10 title with USC with a victory. But Matt Kegel reinjured an already tender shoulder, giving way to redshirt freshman Josh Swogger, and he threw three of the five WSU interceptions at Husky Stadium. With 70 seconds left, Cody Pickett zinged a 21-yard pass to Corey Williams, a play on which WSU’s standout safety, Erik Coleman, said his fingertip was close enough to feel the air from the ball. It was an incongruous ending for the WSU seniors, who finished with 30 wins in three years but never beat Washington.
7. 2010 – Locker’s last stand in Washington. Washington had to win in order to become bowl-eligible, and it did, 35-28. It was simply a very good football game, one that rose from a seeming Washington blowout. The Huskies had 14-point leads at three different junctures before Jeff Tuel began gunning the Cougars back into it. Finally, Locker, playing in his final regular-season game, lofted a nice, 27-yard throw to Jermaine Kearse to win it with 44 seconds left. But it was Chris Polk who punctuated the day for Washington, rushing for 284 yards.