PULLMAN, Wash - WSU football Coach Mike Leach will try to say Friday's Apple Cup clash against the UW Huskies is just another game. But, history - and, fans of both schools - will be quick to tell you otherwise. More than any time in recent memory, more than just state bragging rights are on the line.
This year's game has so much riding on it that both teams' coaches have tried to downplay the rivalry aspect of the game. But, anyone one who's been a part of this tradition for any of the last 116 years will tell you the rivalry itself is what makes it great.
"It's huge, it really is," said former Cougar quarterback Jason Gesser. "It's a fun thing."
Former Coug and current WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos agrees.
"It's huge, it's a great rivalry," Moos said. "It's grown into an even better one this year because all the marbles are at stake."
Specifically, the Pac12 North title. The winner of Friday's game goes on to the Pac12 title game next week in San Francisco. For the Huskies, it could keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive. It could send the Cougars to their first Rose Bowl since 2003.
Even in a year without those implications in play, the Apple Cup brings extraordinary hype and excitement. There's a trophy, coaches' bonuses and fan bragging rights for the next year. That doesn't come with beating a team like Arizona State. And, losing the Apple Cup leaves a distaste that never fully goes away.
"All you do is just hate the other side," Gesser remembered. "You hate anybody that wears purple, anybody that talks about it."
"I don't really have friends that are Huskies," said former Cougar offensive lineman Pat Afif. "I have acquaintances that are Huskies."
Over the years, the game has come with snow, fights and legends. Names like Sixkiller, the Throwin' Samoan and The Ghost. We've seen blowouts, upsets and walk offs, along with tears of joy and sorrow with dreams achieved and careers ended. Not to mention families divided, friendships put on hold and roses awarded.
Try as they might, the coaches will never convince us that the history of this game doesn't matter Friday on the Palouse. We all know better.
This is Apple Cup.