Memories From 20 Apple Cups

I'm not exactly sure when the Apple Cup officially came into being, but I believe it was when I was playing in the mid-sixties. I know I have a picture and the memory of accepting the trophy on behalf of Washington State University on November 25, 1967. It was one of the greatest moments of my playing career.

Gov. Dan Evans was the presenter and I, as captain of the Cougars, accepted the honor on behalf of my teammates and then planted a muddy kiss on Miss Washington. I was thrilled to say the least and had played my heart out the whole game. We had come into the game 1-8 and had only beaten Idaho.

Get where I'm going with this?

We began dancing shortly after the Husky kicker had missed a chip shot field goal with hardly any time on the clock. We stood at midfield and flipped everyone the bird. We had made a stand. We had won the most important game of the year. The Cougars had not beaten the Huskies in eight straight years and here we were, at 1-8, winning the game. We were losers who found a way to win on that gloomy day almost 40 years ago.

We had already played and lost to USC, who ended up number 1 in the nation. We had played the Trojans tough for a half before caving into a more talented team led by OJ Simpson. Sound familiar?

We had won as big underdogs. We had won, even though we had only won one other game. We had done something that eight straight Cougar teams hadn't done. We had beaten the Huskies. It made our season and for those of us who were seniors, it made our careers. We walked off the muddy field of Husky Stadium as victors. We had finally won. One game can make a season, especially if it is the Apple Cup.

The point is, anyone can win this game. Fifteen years after our victory almost the exact same thing happened when Chuck Nelson missed his only kick of the whole year and the Cougars upset the Huskies and kept them out of the Rose Bowl. I was there and was sitting in the opposite end-zone. I still think Chuck made the kick but knew immediately that history had repeated itself.

Could a kicker be the difference in this year's game? Considering how close the two teams are, it could easily be determined in the kicking game. I couldn't imagine a better ending to all this suffering than winning the last game with a field goal on the final play. Evan Knudson may get that opportunity.

My first memory of the Apple Cup - even though it wasn't called the Apple Cup back then - was seeing fullback Don McKeta gut out a gash on his leg when the Huskies beat the Cougars 8-7 in 1960. Taking stitches at half time, he came back to lead his team to victory. I knew every player on the Husky team and regularly rode my bike to Husky practices in those days. I had dreamed of playing for Jim Owens but chose WSU when the Huskies rejected me.

My freshman year at WSU we couldn't play varsity, so all I remember from my first Apple Cup game was a trip to Spokane with some other freshmen teammates and a bottle of Bacardi. We had met some girls in the parking lot and couldn't see much of the game from our car. We lost.

My sophomore year we had a real good team and were upset in Husky Stadium by an average Washington team that was determined not to let us go to the Rose Bowl. I played well and distinctly remember losing my shoe when the mud literally sucked it off my foot. I made lots of tackles and remember stopping Ron Medved at the goal-line.

My junior year I got benched for the Husky game with about four other guys for partying too much. It was probably true but we were scapegoats. Everyone else had partied right along with us. We lost again. I sat on the bench the whole game and don't remember much.

My senior year was when we hit magic. We won when we decided that we would not accept losing anymore. We planned, practiced and played like we knew we could. We out-hit them and we hung tough even though they were a better team than us. I got my hand on a punt that led to a score. We won because we willed ourselves to win. Of course the missed field goal helped, but we like to think we won it because we wanted it more.

The next season I started my coaching career under Jim Sweeney and was responsible for all the breakdowns leading up to the game. I had studied the Huskies inside and out and was literally calling plays they would run before they ran them. The Cougars won 24-0 and I know I played a part in it.

Between those games in 1968 to the one in 1984, I was only involved as a Cougar fan. I distinctly remember the great Husky comeback that stunned the Cougars in Husky Stadium in 1975. The Cougs had the game won and then tried to run up the score rather than kicking a sure field goal. The Huskies literally stole it back with an interception and a bomb to Spider Gaines. It was Don James' first Apple Cup and Jim Sweeney's last.

That game opened my eyes to what a great coach Don would be for the Huskies. I had attended coaching clinics and became determined to one-day coach alongside Coach James. I began following both teams at about this time and even interviewed with the Cougars when Jim Walden got the job. I lost out to Jack Thompson's high school coach.

When I finally did go to work for Coach James in 1984 I was a firm believer in what he was doing and easily changed hats and did everything I could to make sure we always won the Apple Cup. I was lucky to have coached in 15 straight Apple Cups. We won 10 and lost five and each game had its own personality. We expected to win every one of those games and those that we lost really stung.

I remember getting oranges and frozen doodoo thrown at us when we beat them in 1984. Their students thought they were cute with the Oranges but we later found out that the Orange Bowl was one of the greatest experiences ever. I can't even imagine the idiots who went around Pullman gathering up dog poop.

We lost to Jim Walden's Cougars in 1985, 21-20, and we lost to Dennis Erickson's Cougars in 1988, 32-31. We then lost to Mike Price's Cougars in the infamous Snow Bowl in 1992, 42-23, then again in 1994 23-6, and finally again in 1997, 41-35. That 1997 WSU team went to the Rose Bowl. The other ten games we won as we expected to. Coaches always seem to remember the losses.

The Snow Bowl was a classic in that we had an interesting old guy come into our press box during the game. He was all bundled up and I immediately told him to get the hell out of there. He just stood there and after a while I turned and he simply refused to leave. It was then that he removed his hood and hat and underneath was none other than Jim Owens. I broke up and immediately told Lambo he would have to kick the guy out himself. When he turned around we all had a great laugh and it was probably the only bright moment of the game. The Cougars did a great job handling the conditions and our kids were slipping and sliding all over the place. Again, it is the losses that stick in your craw.

During our peak run in 1990 and 1991, we literally demolished the Cougars by scores of 55-10 and 56-21. I might add that every time these two schools meet there is always some trash talking and unsportsmanlike conduct involved. It usually is generated outside the teams and the flames are fanned by the media.

It really got ugly when Dennis Erickson was there but I think it has dissipated back to a more respectful rivalry during the past 10 years. At least that is my opinion. I really had a lot of respect for the Cougars when I was coaching but I'm sure a lot of it had to do with my background. Still, there were times when I felt the Cougar hatred had gotten out of hand.

It got so bad that my wife refused to go to Pullman anymore. I still can't convince her that it was not personal and that her treatment was more reflective of alcohol than it was pure hate. Whatever, the Snow Bowl convinced her never to go back and she has held true to her word.

Because I have been on both sides of this game it is difficult for me to not care about both teams. I think it definitely has more importance to the Cougars. They literally can make their season by winning this one game. The winner of this game will not be the worst team in the league. That just seems so odd to me after playing in so many Apple Cups where the winner got to go to the Rose Bowl.

One of my all-time favorites was my last as a Husky coach. We won in overtime and we did it by pounding the ball at them with the run (we only threw 15 times for 61 yards but ran it 45 times). The year before we had watched the Cougars dance their way to the Rose Bowl while still in Husky Stadium. We really couldn't blame them because they hadn't been there for 67 years. Still, we pulled a fast one late in the game and faked spiking the ball to stop the clock and instead threw for another touchdown.

One of my all-time favorite stories though was following the Huskies' stunning comeback in a triple-overtime thriller in Pullman to end the Neuheisel era in 2002. I went into the coaches' box to see Gilby immediately after the game, and as I went to congratulate him I missed grabbing him and slapped him upside the head and dropped him to his knees. I ruined an otherwise happy celebration for him. I felt terrible, but we won so I let it go.

Times have changed and both teams are mired in a struggle for respectability. Whichever team wins this game will take a major step toward 2006. Again, The Apple Cup is going to make or break somebody's season. I really think the Huskies are due but then so are the Cougars. I say the Huskies win with an Evan Knudson field goal.

I really root for the Huskies in the Apple Cup and don't find that to be hypocritical at all. I gave a good portion of my life to the program and would really like to see this group of kids and coaches finish what otherwise has been a terrible experience with a victory in their last game.

It just happens to be against my alma mater. Top Stories