I wrote about 2002, and the Apple Cup in general, for SB Nation, but the game I keep thinking about heading into this week’s matchup is 2012. That was the last Apple Cup I attended in person,* about six months before I moved away from Pullman and headed to Washington, DC. That game, like this one, was on Black Friday. But the stakes weren’t nearly as high.
*Stealing this from idea Craig, whose last Apple Cup was 2008, the worst game on paper in our lifetimes.
Because it was a Black Friday game, I bailed out of family Thanksgiving festivities and headed across the pass in the dark, trying to get ahead of traffic, and get to Pullman plenty early to cover the Apple Cup. The buttfumble happened just as I came over the other side of the pass. I remember hearing about it on the radio and checking my phone to watch as I stopped for gas. That was probably a sign that the weekend was about to get weird.
By the end of the third quarter, I wondered why the hell I even made the trip, and why I’d left family and friends to watch Wazzu get its ass kicked to end the season. There were no stakes in that game, and Washington State was 0-for-the-Pac-12 coming in, only notching two wins over bad non-conference opponents (beat Eastern though).
You know those points where you question what in the world you’re doing? For me, that was 2012. I’d spent years covering the Paul Wulff era, at times traveling back and forth from Seattle until I moved to Pullman to be with my girlfriend (now wife) who was in graduate school. It was Mike Leach’s first year in 2012. He was supposed to fix everything. Everything was not fixed.
And then this happened
Every once in a while I wonder why I keep coming back. It’s not like I’d give the Cougars up — at this point, it’s engrained in me, and has been my whole life. But when the team is so bad, and at times unwatchable, for almost a decade and a half, it’s harder to justify the money and trips and time spent on it.
There are moments that hook you, though, and keep you coming back for more. Mine were 20 years apart: The 1992 Snow Bowl is burned into my memory as the moment that made me fall in love with Pullman and Washington State. The 2012 Apple Cup reminded me why it was all worth it again.
Because sometimes, when you least expect it and think everything is over, a referee calls a false start on a head bob, a Washington kicker misses a chip shot and a few minutes later a 300-pounder comes rumbling towards you with a football he somehow intercepted in overtime. And sometimes you come out of nowhere to win a game you had no business winning in overtime, and all you can do is tear up Martin Stadium.
That’s why we keep coming back, even at the lowest points in Cougar football history. There’s that glimmer of hope, that sometimes irrational feeling that anything can happen in the Apple Cup.
It’s been four years since the Cougars won one of these things, and we’ve slogged through a decade of bad football for this exact matchup: Washington and Washington State, with everything on the line. But no matter what happens, we’ll keep coming back. Because for the Cougs, nothing ever comes easy.