With just over eight minutes left in the 2021 Apple Cup, Washington State defensive back Armani Marsh intercepted a tipped pass from Washington quarterback Sam Huard and took it all the way back for a touchdown. The score and ensuing point after put WSU up 40-13, assuring its Apple Cup drought, nearing a decade, was going to end.
This sent the strong contingent of Cougar fans into a frenzy. I stood—I don’t say sat because we didn’t sit the entire game—in one of the larger groups behind the WSU bench. I didn’t pay much attention to the game after Marsh’s score. Instead, I was floating from crimson-clad person to crimson-clad person handing out hugs and high fives, and making sure everyone knew the plan was to meet at midfield when the clock hit triple-zeros.
Being there in that moment would have never happened if not for a change of heart on my part. Less than a week prior, I was telling everyone who asked that I was skipping the Apple Cup and that I would never set foot in Husky Stadium again.
Washington has had long winning streaks in the Apple Cup series before, but the seven-straight wins from 2013-2019 were particularly demoralizing. Those contests were rarely competitive—UW won every single one by double-digits, and in the process beat some of the most talented teams in Washington State history.
Like many Coug fans, the nature of that streak killed my enthusiasm for the Apple Cup. Sometime around 2017, I began writing it off as a loss before the season even started. I considered skipping all Apple Cups going forward, whether they were in Pullman or Seattle. That’s particularly noteworthy because I am a season ticket holder that attends nearly every Wazzu home game.
The seminal moment influencing my decision to never watch the Apple Cup in Husky Stadium again came at the 2015 meeting. I bought tickets for the assigned WSU fan section—a series of disconnected rows near the top of the 300 level. The intermixing of fans led to some issues—Husky fans were more than happy to rub the loss in our faces, some invading my personal space to inform me of WSU’s failure.
It was not an experience I cared to risk again, so for me at the time, Husky Stadium Apple Cups were no longer an option. Reaching that level of Apple Cup apathy was a stark contrast from previous years when the rivalry game was among the most important events in my life each year. The passion surrounding the event was gone, replaced by a cold indifference meant to protect against pain.
The 2003 Apple Cup was the first I followed as a Coug. I wasn’t there, instead watching it on a dorm room TV while visiting a high school friend at Western Washington University. That game was a disappointment and a sixth-straight loss in the series. It was a proper taste of the future, but it did nothing to hamper my enthusiasm for the Apple Cup.
The next year I waited in line nearly overnight to guarantee my preferred seat on the rail for the 2004 Apple Cup, the first I ever attended in person. I had been a ball of nerves all week. UW was bad, WSU was not as bad. The Cougs won and we rushed the field to celebrate a victory over a 1-10 team. It meant everything.
At the start of my junior year, I wanted to be sure I had the money to buy a student ticket to the Apple Cup in November. I tucked away the necessary $25 in my bedroom, and it stayed there until the tickets went on sale. I got that ticket. WSU won again. We rushed the field and partied on the W. It’s still one of my favorite college memories.
After that, I attended the 2006 Apple Cup as a student and the 2008 Apple Cup as an alum. One was another disappointment, one was epic in its combined ineptitude. I rushed the field again after the latter, a fourth WSU Apple Cup win in five years. At that point, the game was not only a big deal but also a source of joy.
What followed was just one Coug win over the next 11 Apple Cups—and that one required an 18-point fourth-quarter comeback. I moved out east and I wouldn’t attend another in person until that infamous 2015 day.
WSU’s victory over Arizona leading into the Apple Cup was an emotional one for many reasons. It was senior day for one of the most successful and resilient senior classes ever to come through Pullman. It was also a bowl-eligibility-clinching victory, and that’s always important to achieve before the Apple Cup. Finally, the sparse attendance was heartbreaking to see for a group that I feel deserves all the support in the world.
That weighed on my mind in the following days. Then, thanks to an Oregon loss and an Oregon State win, suddenly the Apple Cup had stakes for WSU. By Sunday, to my own surprise, I was seriously considering attending the Apple Cup.
I’ve driven five hours each way to attend six of the seven homes games this season. This year, more than any other, felt like I wasn’t just doing that for my own entertainment, but to do my small part in showing support for WSU’s players. They’ve been through more than any one group should have to go through—teammate deaths, multiple coaching changes, and dealing with COVID-19 on top of all of it.
Despite that, they were in contention for a Pac-12 North title heading into the Apple Cup. They had earned as much support as possible, especially in enemy territory. I made the decision to go and started reaching out to friends for a group to tag along with. If I can make the long trek to Pullman, I thought, then I should suck it up and head the short drive north to Seattle.
Soon after I found a group to sit with, and another group to party with. I bought a ticket for much more than that 2005 price. I was committed to attending an Apple Cup in Husky Stadium again.
When the day of the Apple Cup arrived, I hopped in my friends’ minivan and we headed to do some pregame preparations in Eastlake, about a 1.5-mile walk from Husky Stadium. We had lunch, we took down pitchers, then we grabbed some roadies and headed for the game.
My friends Marnie and Cory had bought some beers specifically for a group toast on the University Bridge—E9’s Puppies vs. Kittens. We stopped, got a great photo, and were in just the right state of mind to stroll through the middle of UW’s campus and into the sea of purple that awaited us.
I wasn’t sitting with that pregame group—I couldn’t find a ticket in their section. So I broke off from them and headed to my seats by friends that I often tailgate with in Pullman, right behind the Cougar bench. There were Washington fans around, but the first ten rows or so were primarily Cougs. I knew at the very least that there would be like-minded folks around me should the game go poorly. My fragile psyche was protected.
Throughout the week I had become increasingly confident in WSU’s chances to end its seven-game Apple Cup losing streak. So much so that I moved from dreading the game to looking forward to it, and by Thursday night I was once again that ball of nerves.
There was a feeling as I got to my seat that it was going to be a special night. The Cougs around me were expecting a win with a reasonable level of caution. With each Cougar score, each Huard interception, and each stadium-priced beer, that level of caution slowly faded.
By the fourth quarter, the Cougar section behind the bench had grown and the party had begun in earnest. My pregame group moved down to join us. Smiles were everywhere, Husky fans became a rare sight. The Cougs extended the lead again, any rational human would expect WSU to win at that point—but that Marsh score was truly when Coug fans let loose.
Leading up to that moment, I felt my passion for the Apple Cup returning. I’ve seen the Cougs win in dominating fashion many times, but this one felt different. The Cougs were smacking around Washington at Husky Stadium, and I felt unencumbered happiness that I wanted to share with every person in crimson around me.
Then, like in 2005, we ran out onto the Husky Stadium turf to celebrate. I gave a heartfelt thank you to every player I saw. We danced on the W, then we had WSU Creamery Smoky Cheddar on the W. The Apple Cup was once again a source of joy.
Buoyed by that feeling, I can shed my cold indifference for the Apple Cup for now. It’s going to be an important event for me again. I am now reminded that sometimes it can be good and Jayden de Laura plants a Wazzu flag at Husky Stadium, and it’s not a guaranteed pit of despair. All it took was one incredible day, and I am hooked again. The Apple Cup is back.