Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The most anticapted Apple Cup ever; flashback to 1981

By Kshell

This years Apple Cup appears to have the most excitement in years. The reason fans are so excited for this years Apple Cup because for the first time since 2002 the Washington Huskies are looking to go to a bowl game. The Washington State Cougars are looking to play spoiler in this game and deny the Huskies a trip to a bowl much like the Huskies did to the Cougars back in 2006. Now playing just for a bowl game wasn't always the case for excitement in this rivalry. There was once a game that determined who would go to the Rose Bowl between these two teams. At the end of the game one team had lost a big opportunity but still accomplished something it had never done before in 50 years.

I'm talking about the 1981 Apple Cup which is often left out when people talk about Apple Cup games. Probably because the game itself as often the case when a game is hyped wasn't that great. Far as the actual game goes this game probably doesn't even crack the top 15 but this was by far the most important game. The Washington State Cougars entered the Apple Cup in Seattle actually ranked higher and controlled their own destiny. The Cougars needed a win against their cross state rivals to go to their first Rose Bowl since 1931. While the Huskies needed some help, the Huskies needed USC to upset UCLA and beat the Cougars to go to their second straight Rose Bowl and third Rose Bowl in five years. The game had a ton of hype going into it as should be and in the end both teams won in a way.

November 21st, 1981: #14 Washington State 8-1-1(5-1-1) at #17 Washington Huskies 8-2(5-2)

This game had a ton of hype heading into the contest. The Cougars led by coach Jim Walden were seeking their first Rose Bowl berth in 50 years and were trying to clinch it in Seattle. The Cougars also had a seven game losing streak in this Apple Cup series to the Huskies. While the Huskies were hoping to deny the Cougars a chance at the Rose Bowl and with a little help go to the Rose Bowl back to back years for the first time since the 1959 and 1960 seasons.

This was the first time since 1936 when the Huskies defeated the Cougars 40-0 when this game had Rose Bowl implications. In 1936 the winner of that game would advance to the Rose Bowl and the #5 Huskies destroyed the #20 Cougars 40-0. Flash forward 45 years later and the game had Rose Bowl implications once again and both teams were ranked. In front of 60,052(largest crowd for either team regardless of home or away) turned out for this huge game. If this same game had taken place in the last decade ESPN game day would be there as the Cougars were trying to make history.

Led by quarterback Clete Casper the Cougars would take an early 7-3 lead for the bulk of the first half. The Cougars could taste the Roses as they were outplaying their rivals. Then an unfortunate event happened for the Cougars quarterback Clete Casper would get injured in the second quarter. Without their starting quarterback the Cougars couldn't move the ball and would end up turning the ball over six times on the day. You can't expect to beat a good team especially a Don James team turning the ball over that many times. Right before halftime young Sophomore quarterback Steve Pelluer would connect with wide receiver Paul Skansi that appeared would be intercepted. Instead Skansi made a terrific touchdown catch from 15 yard out right before halftime. The Huskies would take a 10-7 lead into halftime.

In the second half the Cougars would march down the field 69 yards but would have to settle on a field goal to tie the score at 10-10. The Huskies had been running the ball all game on the Cougars as freshman running back Jacque Robinson( Nate Robinson's dad for those who don't know) ran for 75 yards in the first half but had two fumbles. James then benched him and went with Ron "cookie" Johnson who the Huskies featured when they went on an 80 yard touchdown drive. The drive ended with Johnson scoring a 23 yard touchdown run to put the Huskies up 17-10. Johnson would finish the game with 103 yards rushing on the day most of which coming in the second half. Chuck Nelson would later add a field goal to give the Huskies a commanding 20-10 lead.

The game was slipping away for the Cougars and then something even worse happened. Not only were the Cougars going to be denied of a Rose Bowl berth with about three minutes left in the game the PA announcer had announced USC had defeated UCLA. For the final three minutes the Husky crowd started to chant "ROSE BOWL!" as Nelson added another field goal to give the Huskies a 23-10 win over their rivals. The Huskies under Don James were going to their third Rose Bowl in a five year span. The Cougars on the other hand had to watch as their rivals celebrate a trip to the Rose Bowl and wonder what could have been?

The aftermath of the game was great for both schools. The Cougars missed a great opportunity but were still going to their first bowl game since 1931. The Cougars would take on the BYU Cougars in the Holiday Bowl. BYU featured quarterback Jim McMahon and his backup Steve Young played a series in the game as well. The BYU Cougars jumped out to a 31-7 lead as Washington State didn't know what hit them. Washington State would battle back and close the game to 38-36 but at the end of the day BYU would hang on for the win. The Cougars would finish the season 8-3-1 which for Washington State back then was a great season. The Washington State Cougars wouldn't be a position for a Rose Bowl berth until 1997.

Meanwhile for the 12th rated Washington Huskies they took on 13th rated Iowa Hawkeyes. The Huskies were actually underdogs in this game according to Vegas. The Huskies led by Jacque Robinson the true freshman who would rush for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson as a true freshman would earn the Rose Bowl MVP and later as a Senior earn Orange Bowl MVP becoming the first player to be MVP in both bowl games. The Huskies would shut out the Hawkeyes 28-0. In fact that is the last Rose Bowl shutout in Rose Bowl history. The Huskies would finish the season 10-2 and ranked 7th in the AP poll and 10th in the coaches. The Huskies the next two years would have a chance at the Rose Bowl again only this time it was the Cougars who knocked them out.

All in all, this was the most anticipated Apple Cup ever. Regardless of the school you happen to root for this is where you want the rivalry to go back to. As a state we don't want games like 2008 to ever happen again. I want to see in my lifetime a game like 1981 where the attention is on this state much like the Civil War has gone for the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers. I'm glad this Apple Cup features some excitement but I'm greedy I want to get back to that level of 1981 where winner goes to the Rose Bowl and the loser gets knocked out while having to watch their enemy celebrate. This game wasn't the most exciting Apple Cup but it certainly was the most anticipated Apple Cup of all-time.

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