Apple Cup lore: Grenda's dominating day

BY THE TIME IT WAS almost over, the best Hank Grenda could say about himself is that he'd had his moments and he'd hung tough. He was the forgotten man. He came in full of promise, a little taller than the rest, a freshman, like them all, unaware of how tough a game can be under the steady erosion of disappointment and injury. So when Grenda was asked to start at quarterback and win the final college game of his life, the reaction from the stands and the other side of the field was universal.

Shock, followed, improbably, by awe.

Shock, in that coach Jim Sweeney would entrust the game -- and essentially the last shot at redeeming Washington State's 1968 season -- to a solid though unspectacular senior quarterback whose last start had come more than a year earlier.

It took four quarters for the awe to accrue, but out of that late November sunshine 37 years ago in Spokane came one of the dominating individual performances in Apple Cup history.

Hank Grenda, the tall Canadian import, had rallied the Cougs in just about every way one man can. He punted. He kicked a field goal and three PATs. He ran for a touchdown and threw for two more. When it was over, 31,00-plus in Albi Stadium were nearly as stunned as the Washington Huskies.

The final: WSU 24, Washington 0.

In one form or another, Grenda scored every point on the board.

Sweeney's decision to start his third-string quarterback --- a move that dawned on the first-year head coach in the middle of the night, about 12 hours before kickoff --- turned out better than good. It was a fairy tale come to life.

We caught up with Grenda during a break this week at George Elliot High School in Winfield, just a slapshot north of the scenic lake city of Kelowna, British Columbia, where the former Coug QB works as a guidance counselor.

First question: Thinking back, what's the warmest memory of that Apple Cup-dominating display of versatility?

Answer: The party afterwards.

Typical of the True Coug but, truth told, the least surprised reveler in the stadium that day was the quarterback, Grenda himself.

"I could be a college student all my life," he said. "I just remember we had a wonderful time, celebrating after that game. I knew I could play. I didn't want to go out knowing I'd played with fear. You can't play with fear.

"Washington had an All-American, Al Worley, who I think led the nation in interceptions that year," said Grenda, who went on to play two seasons in the Canadian Football League. "I don't remember shying away from him. Sometimes you throw right at ‘em and can do no wrong.

"Even on a broken play. I remember Washington lining up to stop the dive. I saw a hole between guard and tackle. You just run it in there and gain five or six. I think I only did that once, and it was just to keep them off-balance. You can be second-guessed but you just make the decision and do it."

WSU's Apple Cup rout of '68 came out of the then-popular but now all- but-defunct veer offense, a triple-option run-first attack then favored by Sweeney.

"You don't see much veer anymore," Grenda said, making it obvious he doesn't miss watching it, much less orchestrating it.

Grenda was statuesque in ‘68

GRENDA'S SENIOR YEAR WAS a season somewhat like this one. The Cougars played well enough to lose a string of fairly close conference games. Grenda split time with, and eventually played behind, Jerry Henderson and Rich Olsen. It was WSU's initial season under Sweeney after four years of the tyrannical coach Bert Clark.

Clark was difficult and distant but his staff was supportive, Grenda said. "Bert might have been a d-i-n-k but he had great people working under him. Red Smith recruited me (out of Burnaby, B.C.). King Block I liked. Jim Shanley. I have nothing but respect for them. Without his assistants, Bert would've had nobody to coach but himself."

When Clark left Pullman after four years and one near-great season --- Grenda's freshman year in ‘65 --- those in the program were eager for change. Sweeney brought in a breath of fresh air but, inevitably, conflict cropped up as outgoing seniors tried to adapt to Sweeney's personality and grasp new concepts.

"I'd call it turmoil," Grenda said. "The team did so well in ‘65 that there was a hangover from that, like things would go our way all the time. They didn't. We all thought we'd have great seasons. It didn't pan out that way."

THE ‘68 COUGARS HAD wins over Idaho and San Jose State to go with a surprising tie with Stanford --- not much to show for nine games heading into their Apple Cup date with the Huskies.

Then, like now, both Washington schools were down. Then, like now, both hungered for success in this clamor for instate point-set-match.

"We came in with great preparation," Grenda said, "and a lot of enthusiasm. I had a good feeling in the first quarter. Good things kind of snowballed."

Grenda played at 6-foot-3 but his stature seemed to grow as the game wore on.

"We ran that veer with Del Carmichael at fullback and Glen Shaw at tailback," he said. "The long pass we hit went to Freddy Moore. That was just straight drop back and let it fly. Sometimes you develop a vision for what the defense is doing. You locate spots, like a pitcher. There were other times, other games, when I did a good job locating linebackers."

You don't pitch a 24-point shutout without winning up front, right?

"Dave Harris was our center,? Grenda said. "He was a state wrestling champ from Oregon. I've lost track of him. I remember he was only like 210 but he was quick. You needed scramblers in that option offense."

Coping with the range of emotions that go with winning the starting job, losing it, sharing it and finally getting it handed back in the final hours took dedication, although Grenda remembers his dedication wavering at least once.

"I tried to stay focused, stay positive, but as a sophomore I broke my foot," he said. Broke it in the doggone field house when it was just dirt. Stepped in a hole. I had to sit out. A friend at Hawaii was talking to me about going there."

Grenda found himself listening. His decision to stick around contributed mightily to Apple Cup lore.

"I got a chance and I did something with it," Grenda said. "When you're beating somebody on the way out, who better to do it to than the Huskies?"

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