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The Gravitron Diaries: Chapter Apple Cup

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We hate that team; We hate this game. We really want to change that.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We’re down to one game. And it means everything. And this time, we really mean it.

Hello, again! The Gravitron has been closed down for repairs for the last couple months; I hope you missed me and hope that an eight-game winning streak was enough of a consolation for you to get through my absence. We welcomed our second kid into the world at the end of September, and while raising the 2037 Rose Bowl MVP has been more work than anticipated, I’m not gonna lie: I’ve been gone mostly because winning gives me crazy writer’s block. I’ve had as much fun as you have had running roughshod through this conference over the past couple months, and predicted it would happen as much, too! But there’s nothing that gets the brain moving like 137 third-down conversions in Boulder and the prospect of that team coming into town in a few days.

In the summer, if you asked me what would make this a successful season, I would have told you I’d like to still be in the conference title hunt toward the end of the year. And after what has become WSU’s traditional nightmarish start to the season, the ship has been righted and we find ourselves in that very position. We should be thrilled, right? A course has been set for one final showdown to play for the title against….oh, that team. The one game the Cougs never win is the lone roadblock before the Conference Championship game. What could possibly go wrong?

I saw this line come through my feed a few days ago and truer words have never been spoken. I mean, set aside the fact that this is called Hate Week because you’re tired of the Starter jackets, the woofing in public, the hangers-on from Pacific Lutheran and Cascadia College and the sports talk radio enthusiasts who derive their self-worth through their football team. It’s also because sometimes we wish out loud that we could puff our own chests for once if our team could only win this one game every once in a while. We hate what this week does to us. Our happy “win or lose, we booze” demeanor locks itself in a storm cellar this week each year in order to make room for its cousin “rage at anything purple and kick a wall when we lose….then booze.” This week, we’re not a fun bunch to be around. We cherry pick stats to rationalize why this year might be different; we talk ourselves into the improbable and make ill-advised wagers. We plan two different post-game scenarios in the event of a win or loss, knowing we probably only needed to plan the loss idea. We dust ourselves off and head back into work on Monday morning and find our desks decorated with purple and gold streamers and grit our teeth and smile and tell them we’ll get them next year, only to repeat the process 365 days later. This week fundamentally changes our DNA and every year I can’t wait to get back to not caring about this game again.

I was a freshman in the fall of ’97, which will make this my 20th Apple Cup as someone old enough to make his own decisions and didn’t base his fandom on the whims of whatever sweatshirts were on sale at Mervyn’s. Since clinching the Rose Bowl on that glorious afternoon, the Cougs are 5-13 in Apple Cups and 1-11 in years where UW wasn’t dumb enough to employ Keith Gilbertson or Ty Willingham. The Cougs lose this game when they’re the better team and the Cougs really lose this game when they aren’t the better team. WSU is a missed chip-shot field goal from having a seven-game losing streak in this series. And that missed chip-shot field goal is why we keep coming back as if the stadium were a gas station selling scratch tickets.

But for all of the years you’ve walked into a stadium, sports bar or living room hoping to see the Cougs win this game and walked out dejected and pretending not to care about football, there’s never been an opportunity like the one presenting itself on Friday: UW has an all-time series lead that will never be evened up in any of our lifetimes, but what if? What if WSU won the most important Apple Cup ever? This is the jackpot that hangs over your head right now. If it doesn’t pay off, who cares? It’s just like every other year when we lose this damn game. But if our number hits and WSU walks away with the trophy on Friday, there’s no amount of nickel-and-dime Apple Cups they could ever win to top winning the one that actually mattered most. The most important one ever.

Ever.

One of these days, Charlie Brown is going to kick that damn ball. And you want to be able to say you saw it happen. That in the face of mountains of logic telling you otherwise, that you never wavered in your convictions. For all of the years where you tell yourself “it’s rivalry week; throw the records out the window because anything can happen,” and the team still loses by five touchdowns, there’s going to be that one year where “anything can happen” happens. Our shot to shift the history of this entire rivalry on a new damn axis has presented itself. Let’s finally go be Kings in the North.

Go Cougs.