’75 game still haunts Sweeney

  • JOHN SLEEPER / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, November 16, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports


Herald Writer

Out of all the crazy moments, out of all the misfortune and improbability that happened on that day 25 years ago and haunts him to this day, Jim Sweeney remembers the extra point.

“It was wide,” he said. “I thought it was wide then and I still do.”

Sweeney’s Washington State Cougars had the game. Period. Even Washington coach Don James admits it. The Cougars had a 27-14 advantage and the ball on the Huskies’ 14-yard line, fourth-and-1. A tick more than three minutes left on the clock.

And they blew it.

Because of greed, mostly.

The white-hot intensity of the Washington-Washington State rivalry had as much to do with it than anything. Two touchdowns weren’t enough. Cougar quarterback John Hopkins wanted to beat the Huskies by three. Rub their noses in it. Blinkin’ Huskies, anyway.

Indeed, it was greed that set up the wildest finish to an Apple Cup game ever.

Hopkins wanted to pass, even though conventional wisdom said to kick a field goal. And if you don’t want to kick, if you’re afraid of it being blocked and returned for a touchdown, send fullback Vaughn Williams safely up the middle. Who knows? Might even get a first down out of it. At the worst, Washington has to travel more than 80 yards to score.

Do anything. Anything but what happened.

What happened was that Hopkins, a senior quarterback who should have known better, talked Sweeney into a pass to tight end Carl Barschig. The reasoning: The Huskies would play the run, and Barschig would be wide open.

Easy, right?

“John was sure it would happen,” said Sweeney, now 71 and spending winters in Maui. “He convinced me, so I nodded permission. It wasn’t the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done.”

Husky safety Al Burleson read the play, stepped in front of Barschig and returned the interception 93 yards untouched into the end zone. Suddenly, the Huskies trailed just 27-20.

“I was still reasonably confident that we could get out of there with a win,” Sweeney said. “We needed a couple of first downs and we could run the clock out.”

The Cougars couldn’t come up with even one. Starting on its own 20-yard line, a shaky, shell-shocked WSU offense managed just 8 yards on three running plays and had to punt.

Even then, the Huskies faced long odds. A steady, game-long rain and biting cold conditions made the ball hard to grip. Quarterback Warren Moon had completed just three of 21 passes up to that point, and somehow, he had to take Washington from its own 22-yard line to score in about two minutes.

He needed about six seconds.

On the first play of the series, Moon lofted a pass into a crowd at about midfield. The ball appeared to bounce off defensive back Tony Heath, wideout Scott Phillips and perhaps another Cougar defender. Game film is inconclusive and Sweeney himself isn’t sure what happened.

“It was tipped at least twice,” he said. “I was in a bad place to see what happened. But I remember seeing the catch and not believing it.”

Spider Gaines, a fleet Husky receiver who was a sprinter on the track team, hovered behind the play. As the ball glanced off the pack of players in front of him, Gaines grabbed the ball, spun around and ran the rest of the 43 yards to the end zone.

Scott Robbins’ point-after was called successful, despite Cougar fans’ assertions that it was wide, and the Huskies, who trailed the entire game, took a 28-27 lead with 1:56 left.

“If we’d taken a knee, we would have won,” Sweeney said of the fourth-down play where Burleson intercepted Hopkins’ pass. “John was sure it would be open. I violated a law of coaching and refused to win the easy way. I got paid for making those decisions, and didn’t do it.”

Washington State finished the season 3-8 that year after a 2-0 start. Sweeney resigned a week after the game, although he said he had told WSU officials earlier in the season that he’d planned to quit.

Sweeney went on to coach Fresno State for 21 years and ended his career with a 200-154-4 record. Time has healed the hurt of Nov. 22, 1975. He even laughs about it now.

He says he keeps in contact with Hopkins, who now lives in Los Angeles, owns a construction company and is a high school assistant football coach.

“We still talk about the play,” Sweeney said. “He says it took a great play by Burleson to beat us, but … “

Then he laughs, not finishing the thought.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Sports

Lake Stevens High School graduate Taylor Roe competes for Oklahoma State University at the 2024 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 8 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State University)
Taylor Roe competes at the Olympic trials this weekend

Now that the Lake Stevens H.S. graduate’s decorated college running career is done, the pro ranks are next.

Jean-Luc Baker leads advanced students through a warmup during the Seattle Skating Club 2024 Your True Step figure skating seminar on Saturday, June 15, 2024, at Olympic View Arena in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Patterson: What’s next for local Olympian Jean-Luc Baker?

The Edmonds ice dancer brought Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen to town with Your True Step.

Mukilteo’s Beard places second in hammer at U20 nationals

The King’s High School sophomore has a chance to represent the U.S. at U20 worlds.

Sounders complete purchase of NWSL’s Seattle Reign

Now both of Seattle’s pro soccer teams are under the umbrella of one ownership group.

Logan Gilbert of the Seattle Mariners throws a pitch during the second inning against the Texas Rangers at T-Mobile Park on June 16, 2024, in Seattle, Washington. (Alika Jenner / Getty Images)
Mariners week: Gilbert’s brilliance lifts Seattle to sweep

Seattle’s 8 1/2-game lead in the AL West is its largest since the 2001 season.

AquaSox week in review: Mariners’ Polanco does rehab stint

Everett wins five of six on the road against Eugene; Schreck and Garcia have big weeks.

Women’s PGA Championship offers fans chance to watch and learn

The women’s golf major tournament comes to Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish beginning Thursday.

Jackson senior and UNLV commit Yanina Sherwood is The Herald’s 2024 Softball Player of the Year. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
2024 Softball Player of the Year: Jackson’s Yanina Sherwood

With both her arm and bat, Sherwood led the Timberwolves to their second-straight state title.

Kamiak’s Synclair Mawudeku (2) pitches during a 4A softball game between Kamiak and Jackson at Kamiak High School on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. Jackson won, 9-0. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
The Herald’s 2024 All-Area softball team

Editor’s note: The Player of the Year and All-Area teams were chosen… Continue reading

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba catches the game-winning touchdown pass as Eagles cornerback James Bradberry defends in the fourth quarter on Dec. 18. (Yong Kim / Tribune News Service)
Seahawks look to fully unlock Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s potential

Seattle is expecting good things from the receiver, who was taken 20th overall in the 2023 draft.

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon (21) celebrates a stop of Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Nov. 30, 2023. The Cowboys won, 41-35. (Tom Fox / Tribune News Service)
Captain of the Seahawks defense? Why it could be Witherspoon

The talented second-year cornerback brought ‘outrageous energy’ to Seattle’s minicamp.

Glacier Peak’s Nicholas Miller. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
2024 All-Wesco boys soccer teams

Here are the 2024 All-Wesco boys soccer teams. Teams are chosen by… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.