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Apple Cup 2022: Reflections on community and a look ahead

Rivalry week is a time for community, and that’s what makes it so special.

Washington State v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Football, more than any other sport I’ve encountered, requires a community. I believe it’s one of those ‘everything is everything’ kind of things. It’s the size of the roster. It’s the importance of fourth-string players in practice.

It’s the fans screaming.

It’s the money.

It’s the temperature and texture of the air on gameday.

It’s the distance from the nearest metropolitan center.

It’s the view from the cheap seats of the stadium, and it’s the number of not-so-cheap seats available for purchase.

It’s the willingness of family and friends and strangers to go out of their way to help a player, trainer, coach, coaches’ wife, chef, GA, team doctor, assistant athletic director and/or any of the hundreds of people a football team needs to function.

It’s whatever it has taken to put ol’ crimson on College Gameday every weekend for the majority of my life.

Football has to be special to a community in order to work, is my point. It is natural, then, that the nature and values of that community are often reflected by the team itself. Maybe not in any given game, or in style of play, or in win-loss records overall. But also not not in those things either.

Which is why rivalry games are so special. Because ... well ... you’re two communities that are so close together you’re sometimes considered the same. There is a reason Eli mocks Peyton Manning so effortlessly on Monday Night football.

This coming Apple Cup we see two community avatars on the come up. Two new head coaches who know what winning football means. Two programs that have shown flashes of brilliance, but enough mistakes or flaws that they are clearly not among college football’s best. Two teams headlined by players who transferred in this past season and have played their butts off.

These are, honestly, two pretty fun teams to watch*. A few things below that I enthusiastically get, or begrudging have, to say I am looking forward to.

*I can’t believe I just said that about the yacht enthusiasts

1) Two pulling lineman. This past week against Arizona the Cougs pulled a guard and a tackle or a guard and a TE over and over and over again. What made it brilliant it was that where the ball was going, and who was carrying it, changed all the time. Watson, Ward, Jenkins, Watson. It was all essentially the same play, but also ... it wasn’t at all. It’s good offense, and it’s fun for lineman not actually have to block anyone because the defense just plum ran the wrong way. Case in point: Cam Ward’s first half TD run last week.

2) Darts. Cam Ward has been throwing some lasers recently, and he does so with such suddenness. When he’s on it’s almost like Ward’s inner rhythm is a half count faster than most quarterbacks. This quick decision making, and his mechanics, sometimes combine to make his 15-yard lasers feel, well, abrupt. It makes me cackle. Then I realize he put it on his receives number and it’s a first down. I cackle again.

Unfortunately, this is where I have to admit that UW’s quarterback Michael Pennix Jr. doesn’t really throw darts. His throws don’t feel abrupt as much as they feel like…. teleportation? No no, because you can see them the whole way. They feel like a free kick in soccer. He makes throws that slow down the other 21 players on the field, and it seems like they’re watching and holding their breath just as much as you are.

Thankfully, these throws sometimes end up in the hands of the other team, or on the ground. Which brings me to ...

3) The Cougar defense. Sometimes, when an offense is humming, it makes it feel like one or two guys are superman. Defenses are not this way. When a defense is rolling it should resemble a great big net. All encompassing. As dense as the sun. The heat death of the universe. Inevitable.

That is how a great defense should feel. Sometimes, in the due course of inevitability, you see Sam Lockett III get multiple interceptions, or Daiyan Henley leap a tall building, or Francisco Mauigoa time up a swing pass and run 97 yards to the house. But most of the time, you should just see opposing quarterbacks running from wall to wall, waving their hands, panicking as the walls get closer, raging perhaps*, as the inevitability of defeat gains purchase in their consciousness.


Then either the QB or the ball ends up on the ground, and we line up to do it all over again.

It’s fun! The kind of fun WSU has actually had a few times this season. My greatest hope, and Coach Dickert’s I suspect, is to see that kind of defense take the field at Martin Stadium one more time this year.