It’s the day after Thanksgiving. It’s also the day I hate the most, which caps off the week I hate the most. Thanksgiving Day should be one of my favorite days of the year. There is nothing to do but eat, drink, watch football, eat some more, drink some more, maybe watch a little more football, and just be lazy. I was made for Thanksgiving Day. Except now Thanksgiving Day isn’t that way, and it’s all because of something completely beyond my control.
While I was drinking my coffee Thursday, my wife asked me if I was feeling ok, because I seemed to be in a bad mood. Since I appear perpetually grumpy to most people in general (I’m really not), I must have really appeared sideways - or cross, if you’re into Thomas the Train. After some initial resistance to the actual reason behind my lugubrious nature, I came clean.
“Because of this f***ing game.” I said. “I hate it. I hate this whole week. It’s like I’m on death row and Thanksgiving dinner is my last meal.” She should have made fun of me, but she didn’t because she’s a lot nicer than I am. It hasn’t always been this way, of course. Most years, WSU is supposed to lose this game, and most years they do lose this game. There have been times when they rose up and beat Washington, but for some reason the days leading up to the game weren’t filled with a sense of dread.
My Cougar-loving nephew almost never doubts that his favorite team is going to come out on top. Well, he’s finally coming around, and I’m here to help:
We had a neighbor family over for Thanksgiving dinner, and they’re Nebraska fans. The mom asked me what WSU’s record was this year. When I replied “10-1,” she openly wondered if Nebraska would ever have a 10-1 record again. To recap, THIS IS A NEBRASKA FAN WHO IS JEALOUS OF WSU’S RECORD AND IN CASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW NEBRASKA HAS WON MULTIPLE NATIONAL TITLES. And still, I said it in a dismissive tone, because I know what’s waiting for me in a matter of hours.
When I was a kid, my grandfathers would tell me about their childhood. When they misbehaved, their dad would tell them to go out back and cut their own switch. This meant that they had to go out in the yard and select the stick with which they were about to be beaten. Can you imagine what that walk back the to house was like? I can, metaphorically anyway, because that’s Apple Cup week for me.
The thing of it is, this is one of the dumbest things we humans do to ourselves. My life and career are not affected by this game’s result in any tangible way. The sun will come up Monday morning, I’ll get my kids ready for school, and I’ll go to work. Whether WSU wins by 49 or loses by 49, I’ll get paid on 1 December. So why do I put myself through this nonsense? It’s a question I ask myself all the time, and it’s a question to which I will never have an answer.
Maybe it’s because the stakes have been higher lately, which makes the losses tougher to stomach. Maybe it’s because the Cougars have crapped the bed the last four times, despite the fact that they were good enough to at least keep the game competitive. Maybe it’s because I’ve loved Cougar Football since I became a fan of the sport. Maybe it’s because of the smugness and arrogance of the opponent’s fans. Maybe it’s all of that. I don’t know.
The feeling of annual dread is only a recent phenomenon, dating back to the 2014 and 2015 games. In 2014, WSU was lousy, but they were at least decent enough to hang with a so-so Washington team. So of course UW scored the games first 31 points and rolled to an easy win. But at least I nearly froze to death watching the game so it was totally worth it.
The next season, the Cougars were better than the Huskies for one of the precious few times in series history. Despite the fact that Luke Falk was injured, many Cougar fans thought WSU would beat the 5-6 Huskies for their ninth win of the season. After a few decent series, the roof caved in. 23 turnovers and 36 Washington touchdowns later*, WSU left Husky Stadium on the wrong end of a complete and utter ass-kicking.
If I’m being honest, that was Apple Cup that broke me. When that game ended, I resigned myself to the fact that WSU is never going to win this game again. So the next year, when 8-3 WSU hosted UW with the Pac-12 North on the line, I had zero hope that the Cougars would win. I went to the game anyway, and left at halftime. Last year, the stakes were the same, and so was the result. Despite the fact that WSU had more to play for, Washington clearly took the game more seriously, and appeared to be lightyears more prepared. Once again, WSU looked like they didn’t belong in the same conference, let alone on the same field.
As an aside, I have no idea how those of you who live in/around Seattle, and to a lesser extent, Spokane, do it. My career in the Air Force has taken me to places where the people with whom I interact couldn’t care less about Pac-12 football, let alone this matchup. I’ve never had to worry about taking crap from co-workers, except for one UW grad who was in my KC-135 squadron in Kansas back in the day, and he was a pretty nice guy.
Then again, sometimes it would be cool to be around a bunch of fellow Cougs because their recent success - Apple Cups aside - would make for some fun interaction. Wherever I’m at, this is what it’s like for me when the Cougs get a big win:
I can’t imagine what it’s like to live and work with Husky fans, most of whom are almost certainly Shoreline CC or WWU grads. I really envy you folks, because if that were me, I’d have serious homicidal tendencies every time the calendar turned to late November. I grew up a couple houses down from a Jack Husky, and he was the typical loudmouth UW fan who had zero connection to the university and only bumped his gums when they were good. He was also an Oakland/LA-but wait back to Oakland-oh hang on we’re headed to Las Vegas Raiders fan. Seriously, how do you folks put up with it?
One more aside - My parents were Seahawks fans, and when the Raiders beat the Seahawks in the AFC title game during the 1983 season, this neighbor wrote the score of the game on our screen door with shaving cream. Now, I don’t know exactly what happened next, but what I do know is that mom left our house with a carton full of eggs, and returned with a carton containing exactly zero eggs. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’. (We’re friends with that family today, so all’s well that ends well)
That brings us to 2018. My favorite team has shattered my preseason expectations. They’ve given me more sports joy this season than I’ve had since the Seahawks won the Super Bowl. They’ve at least equaled, if not eclipsed, the joy I felt during the 1997 Rose Bowl run, and I was a student then! They have more to play for (a spot in the CFP, despite what resident Pac-12 dunce Jon Wilner says). And still...
I am once again filled with a sense of dread. I know that, no matter how great this season has been, no matter how much of a home field advantage WSU has, no matter what kind of uniforms the Cougs wear, no matter how much better they are (and the are better than UW this year), it’s all going to crash.
It’s gotten so bad for me that I’m still on the fence as to how I’m going to consume the result. The game comes on at 0230 here in Germany. Luckily (or maybe not), Armed Forces Network is broadcasting it, and I’ve got the DVR set to record it. My past tactic when an overnight game has taken place, such as last week, was to set my phone to “airplane” mode, wake up whenever, and watch the game in radio silence.
For the Apple Cup, I’ve actually given a lot of thought to looking at the score as soon as I wake up, and not bothering to have my teeth pulled for 210ish minutes. Part of me just wants to rip the bandage off and get on with my day. It certainly would make me less non-productive than I normally am. That’s how much I hate this.
Of course, there’s that slimmest of chances that the Cougs will actually win, and if they do, it’ll be one of the greatest Cougar sports moments ever, especially given the results over the last four years. Just don’t try and talk me into the idea that they actually have a chance. This brick wall is nearly finished, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna halt construction now.
So if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish this Bloody Mary and conduct a 5ish-mile run in the bitter cold. I want to think that will quell some of my anxiety, but I know the truth.
I love you all. Let me know when it’s over.
As always, Go Cougs.