Petersen Understands Rivalry’s Importance

PULLMAN - Chris Petersen admitted that, while some of the Washington players - like Danny Shelton - embraced the cold and snow of the Palouse like Linus’s blanket, he’s not a fan of the low temps. Bundled up in twelve layers, it was hard to pinpoint the Washington Head Coach along the UW sideline Saturday night. But it's not hard to spot a winner.

And when UW defeated Washington State 31-13 in the 107th Apple Cup, Petersen underscored what’s important about the in-state rivalry: Scoreboard, baby. The fact that it was also his 100th career win as a head coach was pure coincidence.

“I know how important it is to our fans, and I know how important it is to our seniors,” Petersen said. “It’s important to our entire university.”

Petersen rankled some Husky fans Monday when he downplayed some of the hype surrounding the Apple Cup - the yearly game that routinely divides friendships and households here in the great state of Washington. But all he was really doing was talking sense.

“The fans are the ones that are so intense about this,” he said. “We’re intense about the game anyway. So to say OK, now we’ve got to really play extra hard – I mean, really? Harder than we wanted to play last week? But I do think they’re fun. I think they’re fun for the universities. I think they’re good for the fans and all those type of things, but sometimes I’ve got a little bit of a hard time saying, ‘OK, now we’ve got to really go.’”

Yet, behind the scenes the coaches brought in former players, like Brock Huard and Lawyer Milloy, in-state high school legends who would eventually parlay their Washington careers into lucrative professional tenures, to talk about the importance of the Apple Cup.

You saw it pre-game at Martin Stadium Saturday night when Shaq Thompson took the P.A.C.K. flag from Azeem Victor and went to midfield, like Tommy Trojan or Chief Oceola, seemingly poised to spike the opposition logo. What ensued was a lot of huffing and puffing, a lot of taunting, a lot of braggadocio. It’s what you’d expect from a rivalry, and especially from the visitors coming in to prove just how much better they were than the home team.

It’s what makes a rivalry a rivalry. It might mean more for many Washington fans now to beat USC or UCLA or Oregon, but you don’t see those type of pre-game antics - and it’s that kind of spice that fuels generations of rancor and downright pissed-off-ness in a state split between Dawgs and Cats.

“Hatred,” Jaydon Mickens said simply to Dave ‘Softy’ Mahler earlier in the week when asked the first thought that comes into his head when thinking about the Apple Cup. And this coming from a kid that, until a few years ago, probably didn’t even know what the Apple Cup was growing up in southern California. It means that much.

And it usually brings out some of Washington's greatest performances. Dwayne Washington, who has exploded for over 380 yards the last three games, ran for 135 yards and two scores of 51 and 60 yards to put the Huskies up 14-0 at half. That kind of a day would be a great effort for any running back, yet statistically it doesn’t even rate among the top-15. And Cyler Miles overcame some second quarter struggles to finish the game throwing for 249 yards, his third-best game statistically for the season - yet that effort wouldn’t even place him in the top-10 Apple Cups for a Husky quarterback.

That’s what the game has meant to the Washington Huskies.

Just don’t expect Petersen to fuel the rivalry fire with word kindling. “My first Apple Cup, I should just say nothing,” he said a week ago. And like Don James to Jim Walden, that would make Petersen a 2,000-word underdog to published author Mike Leach. But when it comes to the bottom line, no one does it better than Petersen. With a career mark of 100 wins and only 17 losses, Petersen can talk all day about putting academics above football or whatever - but he’s clearly put winning above all else. He’s done it better than anyone.

And that’s all he needs to do to ‘get’ the Apple Cup rivalry - win. That’s it. There's really no additional analysis required.

When Robert ‘Spider’ Gaines sprinted to the end zone, the beneficiary of a tipped pass delivered by Warren Moon to rip from the Cougars a 28-27 Apple Cup win in 1975 - Don James’ first as head coach - it didn’t take James long to learn just how important that win would be. James’ Apple Cup record ended up being 13-5, including seven-straight wins to start - yet arguably the two Apple Cups during his Hall of Fame tenure that Washington fans remember were losses; 1982 and 1992.

In 1982, it took a missed kick from an All-American who hadn’t missed a kick all year - Chuck Nelson - and a fumble late from quarterback Tim Cowan, for the Huskies to miss out on a Rose Bowl. And even though an Apple Cup loss didn’t take a Rose Bowl away from the 1992 Washington team, a 42-23 ‘Snow Bowl’ loss went down in Washington State lore as a signature moment; the day where Goliath went down in a giant white heap.

Conversely, Washington State’s greatest Apple Cup loss took place in the Palouse a little over a decade ago. From 2001-2003, the Mike Price and Bill Doba-led Cougars won 10 games each year in their last great stretch of play, yet they never won an Apple Cup. The 2002 game was extraordinarily excruciating, a 29-26 triple-overtime defeat at Martin Stadium where John Anderson belted five-straight field goals, the last one coming from downtown Colfax, to crush the Cougars’ hopes of a Rose Bowl. The Huskies, who had just won the football game, had to win a new game - Bottle Dodge - just to get to their locker room.

All that history rehashed to simply say this; both Washington and Washington State understand the importance of the Apple Cup, and it didn’t take long for Petersen to get that - no matter what he said to the press. It didn’t hurt that the Huskies are playing their best ball of the season right now at a time where players and coaches have finally hit upon a formula for success - something that eluded them at times during the season but one everyone could see was building to a rousing finish.

“I think the last few weeks, these guys have really been figuring out on how to practice, but too, how to get themselves ready for the game,” Petersen said. “I think that may be as big as anything we’ve felt as a change, from Friday to Saturday, and what the locker room should feel like and look like before we go out there. And today was as good as we’ve had it before the game started. I thought going out there, this is going to be interesting because this is one time that I really feel like these guys are truly ready to play.”

And all Washington did was shut Washington State out for the first three quarters of play. The Cougars, averaging 491 yards passing per game - tops nationally - were held to nearly 150 yards below their average. Luke Falk, who threw for 601 yards at Arizona State the week prior, was never comfortable working against a withering Washington front four, sometimes a front three.

It started with the seniors up front, and finished by a secondary led by underclassmen asked to grow up in a hurry and did just that. Bellevue’s Budda Baker did not play like a freshman Saturday night, putting together his best Earl Thomas impression by laying the lumber and forcing fumbles, never stopping until the clock read four zeros. John Ross, seemingly lost on offense, found himself on the other side of the football, picking off Falk.

By the time Washington State got a serious sniff of the red zone, the Huskies were already up 31, and Petersen called off the Dawgs. Leach has never been shut out as a coach, but that wasn’t on Petersen’s mind. He wanted to reward the Drew Schultzes, the Brian Clays, the Darren Gardenhires, the Tani Tupous, the Brandon Beavers for buying in to his system, his process. Petersen, even in the midst of a rivalry blowout, was still coaching, one eye firmly fixed on the 15 upcoming bowl practices and the development that will take place during that time.

By not stepping on the Cougars’ throats, Petersen showed that winning the right way doesn’t necessarily take a back seat to winning. Once the win was secured, he took the opportunity to play program-builder. From my vantage point, keeping the Cougars out of the end zone would have been great, but it was like the punch Muhammad Ali didn’t throw against George Foreman during ‘The Rumble In The Jungle’. It wasn’t necessary. The damage had been done. The win was all that mattered. And by allowing WSU a glimpse of the end zone, it showed just how dominant Washington’s performance was. Everything was dictated by what the Huskies did on both sides of the ball.

That’s how you know Chris Petersen gets the Apple Cup. And as long as he continues to beat up the Palouse Patsies, no Washington fan will ever question how seriously he, or his staff, takes the rivalry.


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