BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 11/29/2012

Thiel: Every 30 years, Cougs land a double wallop

As Washington was hit hard in the game, so was Austin Seferian-Jenkins afterward — just as it was 30 years ago, when UW QB Tim Cowan was sucker-punched by a WSU fan.

Andrew Furney kicks the Apple Cup game-winner in overtime Friday at Martin Stadium in Pullman, where 30 years earlier a similar win began a Cougars football renaissance. / Greg Davis Photography

Dumbfounding as was the Apple Cup outcome Friday, the parallels to the game 30 years earlier at Martin Stadium in Pullman were equally jaw-dropping: Heavily favored Huskies sleepwalk through a second-half rally by the lowly Cougars, who take advantage of a late-game miss on a field goal to pull the upset of the conference season.

But that isn’t nearly the most palm-to-forehead part:

As thousands of Washington State fans swarmed the post-game field, a presumably drunken Cougars fan punched out a premier Huskies offensive player, who was knocked upon his helmet-free head by the assailant, who fled anonymously into the melee.

Friday, it was tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Thirty years earlier, it was quarterback Tim Cowan.

Who said tradition is vanishing from college sports?

“He squared up on me, hit me with a right and knocked me down,” Cowan said. “Hit and run, and he was gone.”

Just like Seferian-Jenkins, clobbered by a fan who kept running, sharing the trait of sucker-punching cowardice that is now a Cougars hallmark.

Cowan was already woozy from a late-game sack and fumble that set up WSU’s final score, a field goal securing the 24-20 victory that restored the rivalry after eight Washington wins in a row. He was being escorted off the field by tackle Ray Cattage and kicker Chuck Nelson.

As the two picked up their bewildered but otherwise OK comrade, Cowan will never forget the remark of the dry-witted Nelson, who five minutes earlier missed wide right, from Cowan’s hold, his first field goal after a then-record 30 successful makes.

“Tim,” he said, “now might be good time to put your helmet on.”

Cowan laughs now at the re-tell, but it wasn’t until a gathering at the Washington Athletic Club’s 101 Club a few years ago that he had occasion to tell the story for the first time that will now be added to the legacy of football and civic mayhem that attends the annual smackdown.

“I don’t know that I even thought about it after the game or brought it up later,” Cowan said. “When I told the story, everyone said they had never heard it.”

Now they will know it, because of history’s habit of repeating. Neither Washington nor Washington State is saying much about the episode with Seferian-Jenkins, who, like Cowan, never spoke up about it in the post-game interviews.

These days, video is everywhere, including the grainy record of the field chaos first posted by cougcenter.com Saturday (see the GIFs lower on the page). It’s probably not sufficient evidence to identify the attacker. By now, however, the wuss who knocked down the 6-foot-7, 270-pounder has giggled it to his friends. But disclosure would require some guts, probably hard to find in that crowd.

Seferian-Jenkins’ only public comment so far has been on his Twitter account: “I prayed for that man that struck me. He must have some issues #prayingforhim”

Cowan, 52, director of business development for Lovsted-Worthington financial services firm in Seattle, recalled the whole week leading to the 1982 game was odd. The 9-1 Huskies, who spent seven weeks atop the Associated Press poll before a loss to Stanford and John Elway, were 24½-point favorites, having beaten a good Arizona State team on the road and UCLA at home.

But the Wednesday practice was so bad that coach Don James climbed down out of his coaching tower and screamed at his assistant coaches, “Get these players off my damn field!”  Stunned, the coaches finally moved the players to the locker room after James shouted the order again.

Cowan couldn’t believe practice would end that way, but it did. The vibe was off.

“On Friday, I remember saying to somebody that this isn’t the correct environment,” he said. “We were way too relaxed.”

The came Saturday, the first Apple Cup in Martin Stadium after 28 years in Spokane.

“One of our guys came screaming into the pre-game locker room — he had been hit in the head with a bag of dog poop,” Cowan said. “I told myself I had to keep from laughing.”

The Huskies were up 17-7 at halftime, but WSU quarterback Clete Casper led a second-half rally with two touchdown drives that put the Cougs up 21-20 before Nelson missed his fateful kick with a little more than four minutes remaining. After Cowan threw an interception with 56 seconds left, a big chunk of the sellout crowd massed on the lower bleachers, then swarmed the field. Within an hour, the goalposts were in the bottom of the Palouse River, and the Huskies’ hopes for a repeat appearance in the Rose Bowl were equally submerged.

The victory was the Cougars’ first of three in the next four Apple Cups, a run that helped the Cougars gain parity with Washington — over a 13-year period starting in 1982, the Huskies won seven games, the Cougars six.

The Cougars’ win Friday certainly did much to restore credibility to a flagging program in the first year of Mike Leach’s tenure that was 2-9 and winless in the Pac-12. Blowing a 28-10 lead to a team missing several of its top players was a huge kick in the shorts to Washington under Steve Sarkisian.

“Big win for him; big loss for us,” said Cowan, who follows Washington closely, although sons Joe and Patrick played for UCLA. “Our program was not in position to lose a game like that. Sark said this was a year to take the next step. I didn’t see it happen.

“Usually, teams form an identity over the course of the season. From the outside looking in, I don’t see where they found that identity. I thought we’d be further along under his leadership.”

The Huskies will have a bowl game in which to get a little redemption — the odds favor an appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl Dec. 22 against the Mountain West Conference winner, probably Boise State — but it can’t make up for allowing the rival to salvage a season at Washington’s expense.

The lesson of history did not linger for the Huskies — whenever you wear purple in Pullman keep your head on a swivel, and in a helmet.


YourThoughts

  • Big

    Art, slow day at the Daily Planet? My fur got up a bit with your scholarly sarcasm, however I enjoyed the read. Perhaps a Cougar Cage should be constructed to keep uncivil Cougar fans from storming the field.

    • art thiel

      When Cowan told me the tale this week, the coincidences were irresistible. I’m certain the Huskies fans have committed their share of misdeeds, but the chances are fewer because the crowds are rarely inspired to storm the field after beating the Cougars. Then again, I expect to hear from fans who were Maced after a game under orders from then-UW AD Mike Lude.

      • Big

        My friend and fellow Cougar fan Billy Bob Stagger says the Coug Cage with razor wire wouldn’t keep fool kids from rushing the field. Best the players keep their helmets on and form a wedge when leaving the field of play.

  • Bayview Herb

    State neede the win, UW didn’t End of story.

    • art thiel

      Herb, you gots to do better than that.

  • Irritated

    Your generalizations are disgusting. You, and all of the Huskies you represent, should be embarrassed to have someone as ignorant as you speaking for them. Two incidents in 30 years, you’re right, there’s an epidemic of Huskey-punching. But of course you conveniently forget all of the violent incidents that have occurred in Seattle during Apple Cup. After all, despite your petty name calling and outlandish generalizations, you Huskeys are morally superior, better people, right? It’s a rivalry, with drunken, overzealous fans on both sides, get over it.

    • art thiel

      Wait until the Huskies find out I’m one of them. They’ll have the place fumigated.

      Not sure about the moral superiority bit, but I’m guessing they’re a little better at spelling Huskies

      • Irritated

        You’re right, my careless, minor spelling mistake was far more grievous than your article which perpetuates the same stereotypes and general hatred that inspired the acts of violence in the first place. So glad you took the time to point that out.

        • art thiel

          Wow. I inspired hatred and acts of violence? I thought that was done by guzzling liters of Fireball.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1599001255 Adam Lewis

    In another life, I was a 13-year-old WSU fan that attended a game between the Dick Bennett-coached WSU basketball team vs. the powerhouse Huskies team lead by Nate Robinson, Bobby Simmons and Will Conroy at what was then Hec-Edmundson Pavilion. After Josh Akognon miraculously hit a game-clinching three as time expired, I erupted into joyous celebration (I think that was WSU’s seventh win of the season).

    As I was walking down out of the rafters with my family, a UW fan no younger than 71-years-old stuck out her foot and attempted to trip me down the stairs. Momma Lewis had to be restrained from knocking out an old woman.

    The moral of the story: There are deep divisions between Huskies and Cougars that stem from social, political and cultural differences. This ASJ episode was no doubt ugly, but to say that the punk fan is representative of Cougs is going WAY to far… It would be just like saying that old woman who tried to end my young life (our seats were pretty high) is representative of every Husky out there.

    • art thiel

      Fan to fan abuse has been part of sports culture forever. Not cool at all, but not especially news. When a fan runs onto the field of play and sucker-punches a player to the ground, that’s news. Bad news. Shameful news. Dangerous news. I mocked it as a “tradition” in the faint and foolish hope that some of his buddies might realize what damage this ass-clown did to the school’s reputation and turn him in.

      Assaulting athletes is intolerable because they have been trained to tolerate abuse without resorting to violence. Because if they weren’t trained to resist the temptation to swing back, there would be stadium riots, and we’d have a lot of dead ass-clowns. Which, come to think of it . . .

  • Not believing your bs

    I love to read the rationalizing written here by WSU fans. Anyone can make stuff up, sad.

  • Random_acct

    “…sharing the trait of sucker-punching cowardice that is now a Cougars hallmark.”

    Perhaps you were being sarcastic though.

    Come on Art. Two guys do this in 30 years and it’s somehow a “hallmark”?