This 2016 Apple Cup, man. It is a doozy. This will be my first Apple Cup in Pullman since 2008. You remember that game? Yeah, that one was a doozy for very different reasons. The Cougs might have been the worst major-conference team of all time. The Huskies, not to be out-done, had yet to win a game, coming into the Apple Cup 0-10. It was dubbed the “Crapple Cup”, not by anyone in particular, but by every single observer of the game. We aren’t as uniquely funny as we think, and also puns are the best.
I was 23, and it was the first Cougar football season for me as a fan where I lived on the other side of the state and didn’t have a Sports Pass. That was fortunate, in retrospect. I only witnessed the 63-14 Oregon beatdown in person, and was spared from the 66-3 Cal and 69-0 USC embarrassments (Holy Hell, how was that even real?).
That 2008 game turned out to be therapeutic, in a way. After enduring a season of humiliation, it was the Cougs sending their rival to the greatest humiliation of all: A winless season (both sides knew UW had no chance against Cal). I rushed the field from the alumni side, and I wasn’t the only one. I then decided to take random selfies with people in the scrum. Here is one, with some students who are eight years older now. I wonder if any of them will be there on Friday?
Between that picture and now, I’ve moved to Tennessee, then Vermont, then back to Washington State. I watched the 2010 Apple Cup in my Nashville apartment, terrifying my neighbors as I screamed and yelled for a fourth-quarter comeback that fell short. I watched the 2012 Apple Cup in my Burlington, Vermont apartment while working on SB Nation’s news desk. I wasn’t productive that day, especially once that successful fourth-quarter comeback began. The 2014 version, well, I’m just glad I wasn’t there in person freezing my butt off.
Over that time period, I gained weight, lost weight, gained weight, lost weight, gained weight and started sporting a beard regularly. I managed to reach 31 years of age with a job that I didn’t even know existed back in 2008. The Cougs and Huskies have gone from the lowest-of-lows, the worst Apple Cup in the history of the rivalry with the least-successful coaches for either school, to now possibly the most epic Apple Cup ever.
It’s crazy to think about that shift. That’s two full sets of seniors coming through each program. Washington has gone from 0-12 to the cusp of the College Football Playoff in those two groups. The Cougs have gone from one Pac-10 win that year, to the most Pac-12 wins over the last two seasons. I might sound like I’m rambling and repeating myself, but it’s tough to wrap my mind around how different the possibilities are for this 2016 Apple Cup and the last one I attended in Martin Stadium.
It took major changes in both programs to reach this point. Washington sent head coach Ty Willingham packing after that winless year. It then brought on Steve Sarkisian, who earned the “7-win Sark” moniker for his inability to translate recruiting success to Pac-12 dominance. The Huskies might have caught one of the biggest breaks in program history when USC inexplicably stole Sarkisian away, opening the door for UW to hire one of the best coaches in college football: Chris Petersen.
The Cougs hung on to the coach that led them to that miserable 2-11 year for a while longer, and endured a four-season span that saw just nine wins, and only four in conference play. A perceived influx of future cash from Pac-12 television deals spurred WSU to build top-notch facilities, and that was enough to persuade Mike Leach to jump on board. In October 2016, Leach won more league games (five) than his predecessor did in his entire tenure, and for the second-straight Fall, his squad is facing a playoff contender at home with the division in the balance.
While Wazzu fans were rooting for a season-saving win in 2008 and a piece of infamy they could hold over UW forever, there is no season to be saved here, only a season to be made great. I am hoping to once against storm the Martin Stadium turf, but this time as my school celebrates a division championship, and the guarantee of a shot at the Rose Bowl. Instead of rooting for legendary UW futility, I would like nothing more than to shut them out of a National Championship chance that seems almost assured if the Huskies are able to win out.
Those are the new stakes. This is a new type of Apple Cup in Martin Stadium. I could have listed my tickets for $400 each on StubHub a week ago and not felt like a crazy person, but if I took the time and effort to attend that 2008 game, how could I miss this? I cannot possibly miss this.