The Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State has paved the way to glory for one or the other program through the years, but it also has provided plenty of weirdness, with strange finishes and circumstantial peculiarities that make it a great and memorable rivalry.
Washington State fans will want to tell you about the "Snow Bowl," when Drew Bledsoe and the Cougars propelled the Huskies into a downward spiral in 1992. Washington fans will counter with tales of taking down Washington State three years in a row from 2001-03, when the Cougars were ranked in the top 10 each year.
The Apple Cup sent Washington to the Rose Bowl and a national title in 1991. The Apple Cup delivered Ryan Leaf and the Cougars to the Rose Bowl after the 1997 season.
The 109th Apple Cup on Friday will feature two ranked teams for the first time since 2001, and the zero-sum stakes rarely have been higher. The winner becomes the Pac-12's North Division champion, which means a shot at the Rose Bowl. Or, in the Huskies' case, a shot at the College Football Playoff.
The Apple Cup has featured pre- and postgame controversies, postgame riots, huge comebacks and one particularly memorable meeting of awfulness.
So there has been plenty of glory and, well, plenty of weird, too.
The Huskies were a dominant 10-0 entering the 1991 Apple Cup and, according to offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy, they were not terribly focused on rivalry hype as they prepared for the 4-6 Cougars.
"We saw Wazzu at the time as somebody standing in the way of greatness -- I never saw Wazzu as a threat," Kennedy said. "We were rolling and had dominated so many teams that we sort of got to that game thinking, 'This is the last one we're going to face before we go to the Rose Bowl. We're going to take care of business.' More importantly, we weren't going to be denied. The year before we found ourselves scoreboard-watching and we lost to a subpar UCLA team at home."
The Cougars kept things close early, but the Huskies took control and rolled to a 56-21 win. It was notable that Bledsoe, a sophomore, passed for 430 yards and the Cougars' 21 points matched the season high against a defense that yielded only 115 points over the course of a 12-game season.
Kennedy, who played high school football in San Diego, said he saw USC and UCLA as bigger rivals during his Huskies career, at least until he lost to the Cougars for the first time in 1992.
"I've definitely developed more of an affinity for [the rivalry], and the reason why is because I had a beautiful string of wins going against Wazzu until my senior year taking on Drew Bledsoe in Pullman," he said. "I remember it didn't start snowing until we got over there. Losing that game ruined my winning streak. I hadn't lost to Wazzu to that point."
So what does Kennedy, now a commentator for the Pac-12 Network, think about this year's game?
"I'm seriously concerned, as a Husky alumni, about this game," he said.
Washington State glory
In Mike Price's ninth year leading Washington State, the Cougars coalesced into something special with Leaf behind center. They entered the Apple Cup in Husky Stadium at 10-1, with the Rose Bowl in their sights. Washington, meanwhile, was spiraling.
"That team was really an independent, very, very confident group of athletes," Price recalled. "There was no way they'd let the Huskies knock us out of the Rose Bowl. To my exasperation, they let everyone know that. They popped off in the newspapers. I about killed them."
Price referred to receiver Chris Jackson, who told reporters that when it came to Huskies, "I don't respect them as players or people." He added, "We're looking forward to studying them pretty well and going out to put 40, 50 points on them."
Jackson and Leaf would play starring roles in a 41-35 victory, leading Washington State to its first Rose Bowl in 67 years.
"It was probably the biggest moment in my coaching life," Price said. "Everything just came together."
Price, 70, is feeling pretty confident about the Cougars' chances Saturday.
"I really respect Chris Petersen and what he's done at Washington," Price said. "I think he's a fantastic person and a great football coach, but he's going to lose this game. I'm guaranteeing that."
Washington State weird
Paul Wulff owns the unique perspective of having participated in an Apple Cup as both a player and coach for Washington State, so he understands the rivalry inside and out, particularly from a Cougs perspective.
"The two universities couldn't be more different," he said. "They are polar opposites in terms of alumni and regions where they live. Pullman and Seattle couldn't be more different. It's the beer drinkers versus the wine drinkers. It's just a lot different in every way."
The 2008 Apple Cup also was different, but not in a particularly good way for either program. The Huskies entered the game at 0-10 under Tyrone Willingham and Wulff's Cougars were 1-10, a win over FCS Portland State being the only victory between the two. It was the first time two 10-loss teams had ever faced off in Pac-10 history.
The national media dubbed it, "The Crapple Cup," and the game itself lived up to its advanced billing as a sloppy mess until things got interesting late in the fourth quarter. The Huskies led for essentially the entire game and seemingly had it won until they bungled it away, with Cougars kicker Nico Grasu becoming the hero, forcing overtime with a 28-yard field goal and winning it with a 37-yard effort.
"It was a low point for both programs," Wulff recalled. "It was really hard for either one of those teams to win a game. It was more or less about the team that lost. I think the Huskies lost that game more than we won it at that time."
For sheer "what the heck just happened?" value, few college football games can match the 2002 Apple Cup.
Unranked Washington's 29-26 victory in triple overtime over No. 3 Washington State contained so many plot lines -- both before, during and after -- that it probably makes sense that the controversial call that ended the game inspired a near-riot at Martin Stadium, with angry Cougs fans pelting the field with each and every available projectile.
The game turned early in the fourth quarter with the Cougars leading 17-10. Washington State QB Jason Gesser, who shared Pac-10 player of the year honors with Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer of USC, was sacked by Terry Johnson, suffering knee and ankle injuries on the play, forcing him to the sideline and bringing in backup Matt Kegel.
Without Gesser, the Cougars offense faltered. Gesser said he begged Price to let him back into the game, to no avail.
Said Gesser, "I told Coach Price, 'Just put me in shotgun. Put me back on that field.' He’s like, 'There's no way I can do that. You've been sitting for 10 minutes with ice on your leg.'... That kills me to this day. That is one of the bigger regrets I've had."
Kegel would throw a critical late interception to Nate Robinson, who went on to become a first-round NBA draft pick, setting up a 27-yard field goal from John Anderson that tied the score 20-20 with 15 seconds left and sent the game into overtime.
The teams exchanged field goals in the first two overtimes, and a third field goal from Anderson put the Huskies up 29-26.
On the first play of the Cougars' next possession, after more than four hours of play, Kegel tried to throw a bubble screen, but the ball was deflected by Huskies defensive end Kai Ellis. It appeared at first that Ellis intercepted the ball and then dropped it, but he ended up with possession, which would prove critical.
Referee Gordon Riese turned on his field mic and explained the ruling on the field was a backward pass and Washington had recovered. "The game is over," Riese concluded.
"It was an explosion," recalled then-Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, "because everything they wanted in life was there for the taking. Remember all those roses in the stands? It was going to be their night of nights to be a Coug, and we were basically the turd in the punch bowl."
The only conclusion you can make on the call? It was really, really close.
"I've never seen a game -- EVER! EVER! -- end with a call like that, with that kind of magnitude," said Gesser, still showing emotion 14 years later.
"To go and make that call, to determine the game with that call. To have it end on a bang-bang judgment call. It was a great college football game with so many implications and it was like, 'Really? That’s how it ends?'"
The Cougars would still go on to the Rose Bowl, where they lost to Oklahoma, but neither Price nor Neuheisel would be back for the next Apple Cup. Price was hired away by Alabama, where he would never coach a game due to an off-field controversy, and Neuheisel was fired over his participating in a March Madness betting pool.
Just another chapter in a rivalry laden with plenty of glory and plenty of weird.