Back to the Future

IT APPEARS THAT Washington State may be turning to an old friend to help strengthen the support of Cougar football among the Spokane community. That old friend's name: <b>Joe Albi</b>.

Or Joe Albi Stadium, to be precise.

It's been more then 20 years since the Cougars last played a "home" game in Spokane's Joe Albi Stadium—a 41-28 victory over UNLV in 1983—but that two-decade drought is coming to an end, according to a prominent Spokane booster.

Jeff Barker, a WSU alum and chair of the Greater North Spokane Events advisory committee, told on Monday that an agreement is "real close" to being reached that would have the Cougars playing one non-conference game at Albi every odd numbered year. In addition, the plans call for at least one Apple Cup to be played in Spokane in the near future.

The stadium currently plays host to local and regional high school football, selected lower division NCAA football games, Spokane Shadow soccer, community fun runs, marching band competitions, seminars and concerts.

If an agreement is reached within the next few months, as Barker anticipates it will be, the 2008 Apple Cup will be played in Spokane and one non-conference game – possibly against Idaho—would be played there in 2005.

"It's a win-win for everyone involved," Barker said, noting that attendance growth at Martin Stadium in recent years has not primarily come from the Lilac city, as was always the case in the past. "Spokane offers the most support to WSU athletics, but that support has really shrunk as of late. It's a drastically untapped market. We need to reconnect Pullman with Spokane. This will accomplish that."

Barker, a former Cougar walk-on from the 1980's, also cited the extra need for this development since it appears WSU is committed to playing a "home" game in Seattle each year.

"I understand the whole Seattle thing, really I do," Barker said. "But Spokanites are feeling a bit slighted and it (the Seattle game) has little or no impact on Cougar football. Unless you toss up a latte stand every five miles or so on I-90, most of those west side swells aren't making the trip to Pullman. A game at The Joe will translate into more Spokane butts in the seats of Martin Stadium."

He also says the relatively small seating capacity (28,646) shouldn't be a deterrent.

"The Joe can really rock," he said. "I know, I played there as a Mead (High School) Panther and as a Cougar back in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. The 16,000 we had there for that UNLV win in '83 sounded like 60,000!"

WSU had a long tradition of playing in Spokane, but first played in the brand new Joe Albi Stadium (nee: Spokane Memorial Stadium) in 1950. All totaled, they've played 63 games there, compiling a 24-38-1 record, including a 3-12 Apple Cup mark.

In 2001, the Crimson and Gray game—WSU's annual scrimmage to mark the end of spring drills—was held at Joe Albi in front of an enthusiastic audience.

Barker is especially excited about bringing the Apple Cup back to Spokane and vividly recalls being in the Albi stands as a 10 year old, in 1972, and witnessing one of the Apple Cup's most infamous moments. Following a sack of the UW's Native American quarterback, Sonny Sixkiller, Cougar linebacker Gary Larsen broke into a mocking "war dance" around the fallen passer. He would like to bring the two players back as honorary captains for the 2008 Cup and "see what happens" at the midfield coin toss.

He also commented on the improvements made to the facilities in the last decade as being helpful in his quest.

"No more pea-gravel and dirt spilling off the railroad tie retaining wall into the back of the endzone—it's really a top-notch venue these days. The Billy Graham Crusade preached there recently and they loved it."

Editor's note: Please note the publication date on this article.

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