Sports

Apple Cup Redux

With the Huskies chasing a bowl berth and the Cougars owning two victories, this year’s Apple Cup is a whole lot more interesting than the 2008 version. But the buildup to that game spawned a pretty decent column, so I thought I would offer an encore performance. This originally ran in The Columbian on Nov. 22, 2008:

He probably didn’t realize it at the time, but Horace Walpole once wrote about the 2008 Apple Cup:

“The world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those who feel.”

Walpole was known as the 4th Earl of Orford, which is comical enough all by itself. And he lived from 1717-97, which means he probably saw the Huskies’ last victory.

(Rimshot).

See? Comedy is easy. Comedy, yes; good comedy, no.

And yet we don’t know what to make of today’s Apple Cup. We don’t know whether it falls into the discount comedy bin alongside the Carrot Top DVDs, or into the file of Shakespearean tragedies.

Washington is 0-10; Washington State is 1-10.

Washington hasn’t won in more than a year; Washington State has defeated only Portland State.

Washington is in the bottom four nationally in both scoring and scoring defense; Washington State is next-to-last in each category.

It’s a Titanic clash. You know, like the boat, not the guy on “American Gladiators.”

(Rimshot).

The Huskies and Cougars of 2008 have resided amid a comedy of errors, and yet they have been touched by tragedy. Because somewhere along the way, this stopped being funny.

“In the big picture, you have teams that have been in transition that are in a certain state and are going to build themselves back up and are going to be better,” first-year Cougar coach Paul Wulff said this week. “If they want to make fun with it and they get a laugh out of it, then I guess they can do that.”

If Wulff sounds a little testy, who can blame him? It can’t be easy having the worst year of your professional life, a year more desperate than you ever could have imagined, play out on such a public stage.

Yes, coaches know they are going to be in the spotlight. That’s part of what they signed up for, and they are well-compensated for it.

But who in their right mind could find humor in what Wulff has gone through this year? A 69-0 loss to Southern California? That’s a real knee-slapper.

And what about the players? What about the guys who go to practice every day, hit the weight room at every opportunity, and know that they have no chance to win on Saturday after Saturday?

Surely, some of the players on both sides have been mailing it in for weeks. But it’s equally certain that many of them have been working their tails off.

“You hear them talking on ESPN . . . it hurts the pride of our state,” Washington defensive lineman Johnie Kirton said. “But you’ve got to look past that because this is an important game for our state.”

Um, yeah. Important is exactly the word to describe it. It’s so important that FSN is broadcasting the game to the entire nation.

(There must be a joke in that somewhere.)

So as we head into an historic Apple Cup, we take solace in the knowledge that somebody is going to win. If only because the rules demand it.

The cynics will tell you that by all rights it should end in a tie, that it’s going to be a shame somebody has to win this game.

But regardless of who wins, there will be some players who deserve it, players who have stuck through a dreadful season with no tangible reward. Their reward will come today, however late and however minor it might be.

“It’s the Apple Cup,” Washington cornerback Mesphin Forrester said. “It’s still a pretty big deal.”

(Rimshot).