SEATTLE – As part of his job this week, Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian will place some emphasis on “coaching up” his Huskies on the Apple Cup rivalry with Washington State.
Uh, coach, but who’s going to coach you?
See, this is his first bite of the Apple.
“I’ve done a few history lessons,” Sarkisian said Monday in a press conference to kick off Apple Cup week in preparation for Saturday’s game at Husky Stadium. “We have (assistant coach) Johnny Nansen on staff, who played in it for the opposing team.”
Most of the players have more familiarity than Sarkisian with rivalry lore, but “it doesn’t take long to realize the importance of this game from the standpoint of what it means in the state and the community,” he said.
There’s no need for history lessons for WSU coach Paul Wulff. As a former Cougars center, Wulff is part of Apple legend. As the story has inflated over the years, Wulff was at death’s door during an emergency appendectomy, but was sewn up just in time to take the field, dragging IVs with him all the way, because, well, it’s the Apple Cup, and if you hate the Huskies, that’s what you do.
Wulff tried to be diplomatic, an especially important approach as the Cougs are more than three-touchdown underdogs. But he still spilled a few drops of unvarnished honesty on the conference call Monday when pressed on the issue.
When you’re a student-athlete, the dislike is natural, he said, in fact, “I’d say it’s a high dislike.” And as a coach? “Even now, heck, I’m a born-and-bred Cougar, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
In his second season, Wulff’s team is struggling again, but he talked Monday of the injuries and other bouts of adversity that have struck. He likes the effort and is confident of improvement. And, apparently, the current Cougs are better scholars than their predecessors, too.
The message to his 1-10 team about this game? “You know you’re living a moment you’re going to remember the rest of our life … that’s what creates a special feeling for anybody.”
Sarkisian hasn’t been around long enough to know all the Cougs-are-hicks or Huskies-are-snobs punch lines. But he’s certain his players are going to avoid dismissive comments this week that might serve as fuel for an already eager opponent.
“That’s who we are the entire year,” Sarkisian said of verbal restraint. “I don’t know what you get out of (trash talking). I don’t know what you gain. I think the guys who do that are looking for attention. I like to think we put our helmets on and our uniforms on, and we talk with the way we play, and it’s not about what you say, it’s what you do.”
Well, that’s not much fun.
As Sarkisian gets more familiar with the history, he may learn that the buildup has sometimes been better than the game.
Last year’s matchup was considered one of the weakest in the 100-meeting history as UW came in winless and WSU had one win, having topped Portland State.
Yet it created one of the more dramatic games in the series, as Washington State pulled out a 16-13 double-overtime win in Pullman.
This time, the Cougs have a win over SMU on their record, and the Huskies have won three, including a stunner at home over USC.
Compared to last year, this is epic.
As an assistant at USC, Sarkisian had enough matches with L.A. rival UCLA to develop all the understanding he needs of how motivation and intensity swells during that week every season.
And this one?
“It’s a special one in that there’s a lot of emotions involved,” Sarkisian said. “That’s the beauty of college football.”
Well, they haven’t all been beautiful coach.
But they’re rarely boring.
Dave Boling 253-597-8440