Last winter, when the Pacific-12 Conference announced a 2012 football schedule that slotted the Apple Cup for Nov. 23, Huskies and Cougars fans reacted with rare solidarity.
A 12:30 p.m. kickoff in Pullman on the Friday after Thanksgiving? A 105-year-long rivalry renewed while WSU students are off campus during a holiday break? Ya gotta be kidding.
For those of us old enough to remember college dormitory posters from the 1970s, a version of an anti-war slogan was retrieved from a dusty corner of the mind:
What if they gave a football game and nobody came?
Now that the actual football game is upon us, I must admit something: This Friday-after-Thanksgiving novelty isn’t shaping up as the party flop I figured it to be.
Of course, to borrow a term from another season, the race is still too early to call. I’m writing these words without having arrived in Pullman, which today might resemble a sort of ghost town inhabited by, uh, hollow corpses and zombies.
Or it might not, because the Thanksgiving weekend forecast of Apple Cup apathy – Applethy? – is looking as misguided as Karl Rove’s projections for a red Ohio. On Monday, more than 34,000 tickets had been sold for the game at Martin Stadium, which seats 35,117.
Tickets sold do not always translate into tickets scanned at the gate, to be sure, but you can go ahead and bury any notion of the original Thanksgiving feast – 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans showed up in 1621 – outdrawing the 2012 Apple Cup.
Although the concerns of the Pac-12 commissioner are 100 percent about TV revenue and 0 percent about spectator convenience, Larry Scott’s push for this Black Friday rivalry game is giving the rivalry some needed energy.
Fans who’ve grown weary of searching for the Pac-12 Networks on cable won’t have any trouble finding the game today. It’ll be broadcast on Channel 13, which is to say, the Huskies and Cougars will share an authentic national-television stage on Fox.
Here’s something else to consider about a Friday-after-Thanksgiving football game: The schools that are used to it have come to like it.
Take Nebraska. Between 1990 and 1995, the Cornhuskers annually faced Oklahoma on Black Friday. When the Big 8 became the Big 12 and put the rivals into different divisions, Nebraska extended the tradition with Colorado. That series, which spanned from 1996 through 2011, was discontinued because of conference realignment – the ’Huskers were in the Big Ten while the Buffs were off to the Pac-12.
Nebraska’s 22-year history of playing the Friday after Thanksgiving looked to be just another college-football tradition doomed to the archives when it reached an agreement to face Iowa in a border-state game rich with rivalry potential. The Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes face each other this morning.
Colorado, by the way, will tackle Utah today in another border-state rivalry created by conference realignment. Over the past few years, Saturdays haven’t gone well for the Buffaloes, so you can understand if they’re fired up to play on the Friday after Thanksgiving. A simple scheduling date provides a change of scene to a football program in need of it.
How does the Friday-after-Thanksgiving football experience work on a campus abandoned for the holiday? Anybody familiar with the Territorial Cup – Arizona State versus Arizona – will assure you the experience is special. The Wildcats are home tonight at Tucson, where they’ll turn another page in an intrastate rivalry foisted into prominence by its annual Friday date on the schedule.
Arizona’s geography and late-November weather conditions are different than those of Washington. And just because Nebraska and Colorado are crazy about Thanksgiving Friday football is no reason to think UW and WSU will be similarly enamored.
But the closer it gets to kickoff, the more my wondering is taking on a positive vibe. The Apple Cup, on a Friday afternoon, one team going to a bowl and the other defending its turf on an empty campus.
It could be a classic. It could be a dud.
It will be different.