As rivalries go, the Apple Cup is not one nation's best
In-state bash between UW, WSU doesn't come close to many high-profile rivalries
It's been that long since the Utes and Buffaloes were on the same field.
Rivalry week in the Pacific-12 Conference?
"I feel," Colorado coach Jon Embree said this week, "like we're on the outside looking in."
In a broader sense, the entire Pac-12 might feel that way. While the conference has five long-standing rivalries between intra-state schools, there isn't quite the passionate fanfare that will be dominating places like Auburn, Ala., Columbia, S.C. and Ann Arbor, Mich., this weekend.
As much as Husky and Cougar fans love the Apple Cup, it's got a long way to go to become the next Iron Bowl or Holy War.
The way I see it, there are seven main elements that go into any great, frothing-at-the-mouth rivalry. And the Huskies and Cougars have just a couple working in their favor as they embark on the 104th installment of the in-state battle on the gridiron:
Sure, the Oregon-Stanford football games and Arizona-Washington basketball games have become must-see TV in recent years. But these games have nothing on those long-standing rivalries like Alabama-Auburn, Harvard-Yale and North Carolina-Duke -- matchups that have stretched across generations.
Exhibit A: Army and Navy have been doing battle since 1890, and that's only part of the historical significance between military rivals.
Apple Cup? Check. The Huskies and Cougars will be battling for the 104th time, dating back to 1900. The teams have played every year since then, except in 1905, 1906, 1909, 1915, 1916, 1918 and 1920.
There's something about the likelihood of fans working in the same office, or living in the same apartment complex, that really brings out the venom in rivalries. With a few notable exceptions (USC-Notre Dame, Ohio State-Michigan, Oklahoma-Texas), the best rivalries pit teams from the same state.
Exhibit A: Part of what makes the North Carolina-Duke basketball rivalry so rich is that the schools are separated by just 12 miles.
Apple Cup? Check. Although 300 miles apart, UW and WSU have the advantage of having the only two NCAA Football Bowl Series programs in the state.
Guys like Spider Gaines, Corey Williams, Hank Grenda and Ricky Turner made names for themselves with legendary Apple Cup performances. Others, like Ryan Leaf, Hugh McElhenny and Drew Bledsoe used the game to propel themselves into legends. The rivalry has had plenty of great moments ... but have there been enough?
Exhibit A: Everyone knows what the Big Game is, and it's not because Cal and Stanford are historical powerhouses; it's because of The Play that left a Stanford band member laid out in the end zone. No need to YouTube it -- you already know.
Apple Cup? Not quite. While there have been some memorable moments in these parts, the rivalry lacks the signature image that continues to burn in the memories of college football fans around the country.
OK, so maybe an Alabama fan burning Auburn's historic trees was going way too far. And some of those recent stories of violence between fans of the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are disturbing, to say the least. But it doesn't hurt to hear a player talk about how much he hates the other school once in awhile. In fact, it makes the rivalry that much better.
Exhibit A: Since the days of Hayes and Schembechler, Ohio State and Michigan have truly hated each other. And not much has changed in recent years.
Apple Cup? Definitely not. UW fans like to insist that their biggest rivalry is with Oregon. WSU fans seem to enjoy the after-party more than the game. Whatever anger simmered between these two programs in the 1980s and '90s seems to have dissipated over time.
A big prize
Both teams don't necessarily need to be national title contenders, but it's always nice when there's something on the line. Whether it's a team in an off-year trying to knock the other out of the Rose Bowl, or two teams battling for the same bowl invitation, there needs to be a golden ring at the end of the road.
Exhibit A: It wasn't that long ago (OK, maybe it was) that Miami and Florida State were battling for not only in-state bragging rights but also national titles.
Apple Cup? Not lately. The last time both teams were ranked heading into the game was in 2001, and since then it's been rare that either -- even more rare that both -- teams had a bowl bid on the line.
It's been said that there could never be a rivalry between a hammer and a nail. That's a big reason why a natural intercity rivalry like USC-UCLA has never really lived up to its billing.
Exhibit A: While there have been years in which one side was heavily favored over the other, the Iron Bowl pitting Alabama and Auburn has seen the Crimson Tide hold a narrow 40-36-1 advantage over the years.
Apple Cup? Definitely not. WSU has had its share of moments, but the Huskies are still the heavy favorite almost every year -- and they have a 66-31-6 all-time record to back it up.
An obvious bad guy
Admit it. There's something special about seeing someone like Brian Bosworth, Jimmy Johnson, Steve Spurrier or Nick Saban get his big mouth slammed shut. The more boisterous they are, the louder they fall.
Exhibit A: From Michael Irvin to Warren Sapp to Ray Lewis, the old Miami teams had plenty of big personalities that were easy to dislike heading into those historic rivalry games with squeaky-clean Notre Dame over the years.
Apple Cup? Definitely not. Certainly, the Cougar fans had no lost love for Steve Emtman. And Ryan Leaf will never be among the favorite players in Husky Nation. But for every one of them, this rivalry has had 10 Jake Lockers and Jason Gessers and Donald Butlers -- nice guys that don't elicit much deep-seated vile. And if you think Keith Price or Marshall Lobbestael is wearing the black hat this week, well …
Best of the best
A look at the nation's top football rivalries:
When they play, the entire state is watching … literally
#2 Ohio State-Michigan
Books and films have been made about this rivalry
Struggles in both programs have taken some, but not all, of the luster away
Nebraska used to be in the mix, but now these two stand alone in arms
It's good because they have so much history, and so much in common
Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.