Only a Game

The Apple Cup is a pretty big deal in Pullman, mostly because of what happens off the field.

Fans like these help infuse hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy. Then many puke it up. - TIFFANY HARMS
Tiffany Harms
Fans like these help infuse hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy. Then many puke it up.

Last weekend, for the 103rd time in 110 years, the Washington Huskies and the WSU Cougars met for a good ol’ game of football. The Apple Cup happens annually, of course, but it’s only held over here in alternate years. Fans say that watching the Cup at Martin Stadium is special. They say the fishbowl of Pullman makes it that way.

Pullman has about 28,000 residents — 20,000 of them students — packed into a small-town footprint that seems to get smaller every year. As it is, the quaint downtown often sees rush hours you’d expect in a city the size of Spokane. For Apple Cup, take those everyday conditions and add a swell of thousands of fans — Cougs and Huskies alike.

Then get many of those people drunk.

Located in the heart of College Hill is the Cougar Cottage, known as the Coug. On game weekends, the tavern becomes Pullman’s pancreas — you may not be conscious of its importance, but without it, game day just might shrivel up and die.

Like all bars on the hill, last Saturday night brought a near-constant line of people waiting to get inside the tavern — a warm room slightly larger than your average living room, covered in graffiti, illuminated with Christmas lights and big-screen TVs, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with a sea of characters adorned in purple and gold, crimson and gray.

They were all holding pitchers or glasses of beer. Some were chugging Boone’s Farm right from the bottle. Despite the alleged rivalry, everybody was friendly.

Standing stoically off to the side, towering above the crowd with an empty pitcher of beer balanced on top of his head, was Duane. If his height didn’t make him stand out, his knitted beard and Fu Manchu mustache did.

“It’s a beard hat. It keeps my face warm in the cold,” Duane says.

He has a degree from WSU in chemical engineering.

The bits of conversation heard in the bars or on the street give the effect of someone spinning a radio knob at rapid speed. From those bits, it seems like many people’s internal filters had become clogged with booze.

One Coug fan opined that “Guns are like metal dicks — if you push them wrong, they’ll explode in your face.”

People’s speech gets a little naughty on Apple Cup weekend, and so does their behavior. It’s something the police see coming. But foresight only gets you so far.

“Can you ever prepare for Apple Cup?” Cmder. Chris Tennant of the Pullman Police asks, laughing. “It’s a beast and nature of its own.”

What’s a beast for residents is a cash cow for local businesses. According to a Pullman Chamber of Commerce report from early 2009, hotel rooms in the area alone rake in about $154,000 in two days.

The report quotes someone from the Daily Grind coffee shop noting, “This weekend keeps us going for the rest of the year.”

Businesses that sell alcohol seem to fare especially well. Located down the hill from the Coug is Don’s Midway, one of two mini-marts on the hill where students can score booze. Red Muratsuchi, an employee who was working during the game, says the tiny store raked in around $2,000 in cash and $4,000 in credit charges on Saturday from 7 pm-1 am. On a regular Saturday night, says Muratsuchi, they might make half that.

Over in Martin Stadium, the game ended with the Huskies winning 35-28, after a heart-stopping last-minute drive. Few on the streets seemed to notice.

Outside Don’s, the sidewalks were coated with a thick layer of compact snow and ice. Two girls fell down and then chose to slide on their butts instead of risking another fall.

“Watching people eat shit on black ice is awesome,” says Skyler, a former Spokane resident — who seemed to be neither Husky nor Coug — standing nearby. “You don’t get that at UW.”

But it’s more than the weather that creates the distinctiveness of Apple Cup: Pullman Edition. It’s the fishbowl effect — the idea that a single day, a single game, can grind an entire town to a halt, then keep it going for the rest of the year.

“This is a college town,” Skyler says. “Seattle’s just a city.”

Nick Swardson @ Spokane Comedy Club

Sat., May 28, 7:30 & 10:30 p.m. and Sun., May 29, 7:30 p.m.
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