And he also dispelled a myth during his talk with the press. "I have been around here since the 70's and I think in every generation there has always been the misconception that this game has meant more to the Washington State people then the Washington people, but that just isn't true," he stated. "Our kids had a pretty tight jaw on Monday and Tuesday and I felt that they were going to do something real special here tonight."
Gilbertson had so many people to thank, he didn't have enough time at the podium to address them all. The Beastie Boys call it 'gratitude', Coach.
"First of all I want to say congratulations to our seniors," he started off. "What a great way for those kids to go out and what a marvelous effort we had tonight from our senior class. Next I want to say thank you to our fans. That is about as alive as I have ever seen Husky Stadium maybe since the Miami game and maybe before that one, when USC was here. It was loud and crazy and it was fun to be a Husky and fun to be in there. Our seniors and our fans were great. The game was kind of the way we have had it all year.
Senior quarterback Cody Pickett was the first player specifically addressed by Gilbertson. "He's come under an awful lot of criticism and he's not an old man," Gilbertson said of Pickett. "So he kind of can't roll with it sometimes. But he just hangs in there. I hope everybody appreciates how tough and how competitive, how resilient and what a great person that kid is. If you think back over the last few years, he has provided us with a lot of spectacular moments, he really has. I know he was nervous going out there today. He wasn't quite sure what kind of reception he was going to get being introduced and all he did was leave everyone standing and cheering in the aisle. So I am real happy for him. That is just the way I wanted him to go out.
"You can say whatever you want to about the guy, but I want to point out that tonight, he was there when it was fourth down and three or four and he stood there in the pocket when guys were grabbing at him and he hit Charles Frederick and made a great play. That is Cody Pickett. He is going to just stand in there and compete and fight and fight and scratch and kick for that last inch. He may not be pretty all the time, but he is going to try to win every time. It doesn't matter if he didn't have a great day. What matters is that you hit the big plays when you need to and that's Cody Pickett."
The defense, which held WSU down nearly 100 yards and 15 points from their normal offensive output during the 2003 season, got their due from a grateful head coach. "Our defense played all out today, lights out," he said. "They turned the ball over and sacked the quarterback, our defense played unbelievably well tonight. I think that WSU really has a talented offense and football team, but our guys did a great job just hanging in there and making great plays. When they would have drives that looked like they were going to make touchdowns, our guys would hold them field goals and those were really big plays.
The difference between this game and the last one (California) is that they played hard and the effort was there. It was special."
The emotional roller-coaster that has been the 2003 UW football team had one more loop-de-loop Saturday night, ending a regular season that has been tough to pin down and identify. "It's up, it's down, it's a free-for-all, and it's a rodeo ride," Gilbertson said of his team. "I guess we are like the stock market - up one minute and down the next. But I will say this; I was real proud of our kids and our coaches. For what happened last week, a lot of people couldn't have got up off the deck. That would have been the knockout shot and it would have been over."
So what was it that got the team over the proverbial hump and mentally ready for the Apple Cup? "We had a really great meeting on Monday where we challenged everyone to believe," Gilbertson said. "These are the same guys that have been to four straight bowl games and they are the same guys that have beaten Washington State five straight times. These are the same guys that we recruited to come to Washington. We told them that we believe in you and we know you've got another great game in you. That was the tone of the week. I don't know if anybody gave us much of a chance.
"Washington State really does have one heck of a football team. They have a lot of good football players. That defense is really good, really fast and it is difficult to consistently move the ball against them. For us to just hang in there like we did was a difficult thing to do playing against a team like that. The other thing that I am very thrilled about is that Cody Pickett threw the last touchdown pass; that his last throw as a Husky was a touchdown pass to beat the Cougars. I don't know if this game saves the season, but it sure is a marvelous moment."
And the 20-point outburst in the 4th quarter to mark another Apple Cup comeback? Did 'Super Mario' give them the spark? "It was Mario Bailey," Gilbertson said of the former All-American receiver that was announced as the 'Husky Legend' for the game. "It was all Mario. That's it."
Right now, a bowl game for the Huskies looks to be a remote possibility. The clearest shot they have right now is the Silicon Valley Bowl, but they would have to pick UW over UCLA, a team that pounded them in the regular season.
"If we do, it would be marvelous to get to coach these guys some more, cause I really love coaching these kids," Gilbertson said about going to a bowl. "If we don't, hey, we had our chance. We gave two or three games away that we shouldn't have. But that is the way it goes."
"We are going to look back on some things that we really gave away. Like the second half at UCLA, the Nevada game here, the Arizona game, all the things that we just gave away. But at the same time, If you coach at Washington, your first job is to beat Washington State. Yeah, we'll look back tomorrow and Monday and say, 'What if this,' and 'What if that,' but the fact of the matter is that next 24 hours I get to be the happiest guy on the planet."