Doba doesn't blink in face of foe, detractors

HIGH ENTERTAINMENT. Soaring emotion. Saturday's wild finish to the 100th Apple Cup was so moving that the Voice of the Cougars, Bob Robertson, struggled to hold back tears that can only come out of a happy ending to a storied rivalry. The Cougs played so many games this season without much of a sparkle but suddenly they were in Husky Stadium, going off like an artillery barrage firing for effect.

It's why you don't miss this game. It's why more than 72,000 showed up in Seattle to care about two teams who spent much of the past three months trying to avoid last place.

Washington State 42, Washington 35.


Stirring Coug comeback cemented by a Grand Exit. The departure of Alex Brink. Brink leaves the field as the only Coug quarterback to engineer three career wins over the Washington Huskies.

Brink didn't always represent the Cougs with winning distinction but he never failed to front them with seamless class. This time the senior quarterback you love to hate blended class with distinction and threw in perfect pitch on his way out.

Brink is gone, but only after coming to grips with consistency. He had a grip on the pace of the game, and a touch on the ball that Washington Wunderkind Jake Locker would do well to study in what will be a very long off-season.

Locker almost won it for Washington with his hybrid strength and speed. He shook off a bull-rushing defensive lineman like a shepherd dusting off a flea. His passes do come out a little hot, though, don't you think? A cannonball might be easier to hold on to. You'd have better luck running down a laser beam.

Still, the future of this series belongs to the naturally empowered Jake Locker. The present is all Alex Brink's.

Brink's blizzard of TD passes and another acre of yardage ended with his clutch play-action lob to Brandon Gibson in the end zone. With 31 seconds left that was the game-breaker but hardly the last word in a drama that now moves to the back rooms of high office space.

Moments after the Coug defense turned back Locker with Alfonso Jackson's final-play pick in the Husky end zone, fighting words -- pleasant but clearly defiant -- came from Doba. Quizzed about his future at Washington State, Doba refused to duck the controversy tossed his way by an inquisitor from TVland. "Talk to my Athletic Director,'' Doba said. "I'm gonna come back unless they run me out.''

So much for Grand Exits. I thought Doba might use the victory to sort of grease the skids heading into Monday's state-of-the-program meeting with A.D. Jim Sterk. Take the politically expedient road, maybe get some bearing on how his case is playing in the president's office.

Doba might well be in on Sterk's whole agenda. He may, in fact, have nothing to worry about. But I never enjoyed Monday morning meetings with suits and ties. The only thing worse than a Monday morning meeting with the brass is a Friday afternoon meeting with them. Trust me. I know.

I'd love to tap into Sterk's weekend conversations with Wazzu's higher-ups. Was this Bill Doba's last game? If so, word might have leaked to the faithful. If so, l can grasp the emotion Bob Robertson seemed so ably to convey after the win. If so, Doba ended a career and an era on a definitive high. As of this game he can say he had the Huskies' number.

As Doba's boss, Sterk will consider the timing, knowing that now may not be the right moment to hang out the Help Wanted sign. Washington State could do worse than retain Bill Doba. He beats the Huskies. He has a winning record, however modest, at 30-29.

With five big-time programs including Nebraska, Ole Miss and Texas A&M shopping for new head coaches this week. one might side with the prudent who want to hold on to the guy. After all, it would take a fairly healthy investment to buy him out.

And this was nice. An Apple Cup win never comes easy. The glow never wears off. Yet in the cooler reflection of so much feel-good I don't see Sterk letting one brilliant snapshot blur the whole, sometimes dull, presentation. The Cougars haven't been very good for a couple of years. The Huskies are even worse. When the Cougs tried to give this one away, when their run defense was all but helpless, the Huskies inexplicably took to the air.

Why? When Washington State committed the costly penalty that seems inevitable to the Cougs deep in a close game, the Huskies weren't sharp enough to capitalize. Which raises a separate and perhaps even more relevant question. How much longer does Ty Willingham have to shape up a Washington program that's blessed and cursed with infinite resources?

CougInternational should hope the Huskies hold on to their coach. Washington State can beat him. The Husky football program is flatter than the housing market.

But back to Doba. Jim Sterk might have a tough 36 hours ahead of him.

For now, think of this Apple Cup as payback. Older fans will recall Husky sentiment through a number of failed WSU coaching regimes, when the cross-state opposition said the Cougs would be better off playing on a level below the Pac-10, perhaps in the Big Sky Conference. Now fast forward. I realize I'm kicking a Dawg when he's down but I don't think this Husky team is really up to next week's challenge.

The Huskies have to go to Hawaii. Not get to go, have to go. To Hawaii. Hawaii might hang 60 or 70 on the Huskies. A word, then, to Washington's athletic department. Unless it's a bowl game (remember them?) never schedule a game after the Apple Cup. Let the kids, this tradition's history makers, leave everything they have to offer right there, on the field.

As Alex Brink did Saturday. As --perhaps -- Bill Doba did Saturday.

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