It’s that time of year. Most of the leaves have fallen. Air is chilly. Frost on the ground. Not quite cold enough to break out all winter coats, but definitely, need to wear something when you get up and go to work, or better yet, support your favorite football team.
I played football growing up in Spokane. My little Catholic school, St. Patrick’s was too small for us to field our own team so we had to merge with St. Al’s and St. Xavier. We barely had enough with all three of those schools together.
My dad wouldn’t let me play football until at least the 6th grade so between him and Mrs. Casey (I think Mrs. Hildebrandt and Mrs. Mrzygod too but don’t quote me), my buddies from St. Pat’s would carpool over to St. Al’s for “B Squad” football.
In Spokane, there are enough Catholic schools where you can play for your own school. A lot of other areas, including the West side of the state, have you play your youth sports through CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) if you went to Catholic school. It didn’t mean you couldn’t play Pop Warner, or Little League or whatever, it was just kind of that much cooler to play with the kids that you grew up with and who you went to school with as a parochial school kid.
Most of the boys in my small class played football (I actually can’t think of any that didn’t). We played 5 or 6 games all the way through the 8th grade (“A Squad”) and most of our games were played on the hallowed grounds of Gonzaga Prep, the only Catholic high school in Spokane. It was a big deal lining up against kids from All Saints and Cataldo (South side cake-eaters), the two valley schools, St. John Vianney and St. Mary’s. Throw in Trinity (formerly St. Anthony’s where my dad went), St. Charles, St. Thomas More, and Assumption and you had a pretty good little football league sponsored and organized by the Knights of Columbus.
You ever see the movie, Rudy? That early scene where the family sits down to eat in front of the TV on a Saturday watching college football was just like our little home. My dad was that dad. We only watched the WSU Cougars and of course the University of Notre Dame.
The weekdays were kid football. Sunday’s were reserved for the Seahawks, but Saturday’s were all about two teams: the Cougs and the Irish.
I grew up a Coug. Loved the crimson and gray. Why? Well because my dad did, and that that is how it goes usually. Jack Thompson, Timm Rosenbach, Reuben Mayes. Great Cougs.
On Apple Cup Saturday, the Spokesman-Review (where my dad worked for 30+ years), would have a special section in the sports page focused on the Apple Cup. It wasn’t so much about the narrative (keys to the game and such) but the front page cartoon-like Dawg vs. Cat fight (see image). I loved those things. To me, especially when I was young, that was the pinnacle of football. Dawgs and cats fighting for pride and of coure statewide bragging rights.
Then something changed.
When I was a senior the college counselor at G-Prep called me in and asked me what schools I wanted to appy to. I honestly only had one and still to this day not exactly sure why but I told Mr. Kukuk: the University of Washington. He looked at some graph and checked my grades and SAT score and said that I probably had a chance to get in. I applied, they sent me a letter several weeks later and as they say, the rest is history. I was a dawg. Sorry, capital D, DAWG.
Soon after that letter landed at our little home in Spokane, something strange happened. All of the excitement for the cougs (lower c) left.
Later that same Spring (1992), one of the great football coaches at G-Prep followed me to the job I had at that time at ABCVille, a daycare run by some family friends of ours. He hollered across the playground “Dynamite!” (my nickname on the G-Prep football team). I looked back and Coach Pederson was there trying to get to me. He had said that he had talked to one of the Assistant Coaches of the then defending National Champion Husky football team, Chris Tormey. Tormey was a G-Prep grad and he had connected our coach at Prep with the guy who ran the equipment room at the UW. He basically scouted out a job for this little guy from North Spokane. Coach Pederson said if I called the guy back, he might offer me a job. I did. He did.
You ever hear the phrase “God works in mysterious ways?” Well that is exactly what happened. God literally worked out a job for me to work for the UW football team and I spent the next 4 years bleeding purple and gold. My entire life was shaped as a result of those four years.
That first night game at Husky stadium against Nebraska? Unbelievable. Week before they hoisted the National Champ flag from the prior year? Never seen or experienced anything like it. We had guys named Hobert, Brunell, Bruener, Huard (x2), Barry, Bryant, Pauhkoa, Kennedy, Garcia, Kaufman and so many more young men that wore those classic gold helmets with the purple W.
Like so many others, college was flush with memories, most of them cool as ever. A big part of my life at that time was The City Church, which I will write about another time, but my experience with the “snarling dawgs of Montlake” was like nothing else.
One of the most memorable games (for the wrong reasons as a Husky), and gets played over and over come Apple Cup weekend, especially in Pullman, is that ’92 game where Drew Bledsoe picked us apart in the snow. Our guys just didn’t seem like they wanted to be there. Cold, snowy, miserable, but awesome if you were a Coug.
My sister also ended up at the UW and since my folks stayed in Spokane, they of course remained faithful to the Cougs. We gave my dad a “House Divided” sticker for his Oldsmobile where half of the sticker was UW and the other WSU. It always made for a fun week.
When I had my own kids, they too rooted for the teams that their dad did. They root for the Huskies and Irish. Gramps has engaged each of them in a friendly bet, usually involving a trip to Burgermaster for the winner. Me? As I got older I would bet a bottle of Guinness, a beer that both of us enjoy.
The Apple Cup does that. It brings people together. Families. Friends. Memories. Almost all in good fun.
That one late November Saturday (or now sometimes Friday) will always be special to me and my family.