Costello had Abbott. Hardy had Laurel. Stimpy had Ren. Butthead had Beavis. Mrs. Doubtfire had Robin Williams.
Good comedy partnerships usually need a foil. The Apple Cup once had some of it when the Huskies’ Don James was the period and the Cougars’ Jim Walden was the exclamation point.
“Everybody needs something to hate, and the Huskies make it nice,” the bombastic Walden once said. Usually James was reticent, sometimes deferential, as when defined their relationship for eternity: “I’m a 2,000-word underdog.”
But sometimes the straight man delivers the topper.
I’ve always felt that being a Cougar prepares you well for life,” James said. “You learn not to expect too much.”
But in the 30-some years since James and Walden sparred, big-time college sports have become more corporate, more sanitized, more Pac-12 Networks-ish smarmy. I prefer more spirited and sincere dialogue, such as between the murderous Hans Gruber and cop John McClane in the first Die Hard:
Gruber: Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. cowboy?
Alas, the 112th Apple Cup Friday (1 p.m., FOX) bears no such intense repartee. This time around, it’s two awkward coaches muddling through disappointingly mediocre 6-5 seasons, playing for no stakes beyond the right to say nee-ner, nee-ner at the I-90 truck stop near Vantage.
Neither Huskies coach Chris Petersen nor Cougars coach Mike Leach are much into the traditional rhetoric of the week. They won’t soon be seen on Comedy Central. Petersen usually is as careful with words as a mother bear with cubs, and Leach is as aimless with words as a drunk with confetti; they are thrown about pointlessly.
In that regard, Petersen did, however, break form this week with a teensy little shot at Leach. The Bishop and The Pirate have claimed to be friends, but anything beyond the professional courtesies is hard to imagine.
When asked, Petersen said he’d seen Leach at the mandatory Pac-12 media session in the summer, as well as a coaches’ group trip with an apparel company. But he offered no accounts of skinny-dipping, towel-snapping and campfire ghost stories at a lakeside cabin in the North Cascades.
“It’s hard on rivalry week, because everyone wants (us) to hate the other coach,” he said, smiling. “I’m like you guys — I get a kick out of him for a while, and then I’ve got to walk away, because he can hold the mic for a long, long time.”
Leach’s free-association rambles on an eclectic variety of non-football subjects certainly charm the ESPN/FOX folk who parachute in to Pullman and giggle in supplication. But for those of us who have experienced the shtick, another exposition on, say, why a butterfly would want to leave its cocoon, tends to provoke in his audience of local media an epidemic of wrist-turning to glance at watches. It is good to know that Petersen joins us as sentient beings.
But as a tactical maneuver, Leach’s eccentric meanderings have merit. They serve as distractions, which in this week is particularly helpful in order to avoid talking about Washington State’s six-game losing streak to Washington, by numbers normally used to describe nuclear throw-weights.
With Leach’s Air Raid passing game, the Cougars have vexed Oregon, Stanford and numerous other opponents of more stout means. But every year, it seems, Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake rushes three linemen, drops eight defensive backs and waits to see Leach make a counter-move.
Invariably, he does not.
Last year as the snow piled upon him at Martin Stadium, Leach stood implacably with arms across his chest as the Huskies pulled away to an easy 28-15 win over his eighth-ranked and 10-1 Cougars.
One-year folk hero Gardner Minshew, a Mississippi kid foreign to Arctic conditions, completed 26 mostly dump-off passes for a trifling 152 yards and no touchdowns. Apparently, it never occurred to anyone in crimson to try running the ball.
Fortunately for the weather-sensitive Cougars, the Montlake forecast calls for sunny and calm conditions, with the temperature in the low 40s. For late November, it never has been better.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, they still have the same coach. Also unfortunately, the Cougars do not have the same secondary they had two weeks or two months ago. The Spokesman-Review in Spokane reported this week that in the previous 365 days, WSU’s defensive secondary has lost 12 players to graduation, transfer, dismissal or other reasons, including three in the past week.
As erratic as the Huskies’ passing game has been this season, if QB Jacob Eason can’t slice up a defense giving up 31.5 points a game — and capable of blowing a 32-point lead against UCLA — he might want to turn his professional attention to the start-up XFL season that begins in February instead of the NFL.
Petersen won’t acknowledge it, but ending the Apple Cup win streak against this particular version of the Cougars would be the worst outcome of his UW tenure. Worse than even sitting through an entire Leach riff on his bewilderment over why people hate cats.
Huskies 30, Cougars 17. Petersen cannot abide Leach holding the mic a long, long time.