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Originally published Sunday, April 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Moving the Apple Cup to Qwest Field is the right thing to do

The concern is understandable. The Apple Cup is part of this state's sporting fiber. It is the Saturday circle on the November calendar...

Seattle Times staff columnist

The concern is understandable. The Apple Cup is part of this state's sporting fiber. It is the Saturday circle on the November calendar. It is the richest rivalry we have.

From Dennis Fitzpatrick to Spider Gaines, from Drew Bledsoe to Reuben Mayes, it is thick with heroes and memories.

Since 1980 it has been a home-and-home party, so the wincing and whining, the hyperbole and the angst are natural as news of a plan to move the Apple Cup to one location, for six years, was leaked.

Instead of playing at Martin Stadium one year and Husky Stadium the next, the idea that is gaining momentum and moving close to reality is to park the game at Qwest Field, beginning in 2010.

And despite all of the arguments to the contrary, it is the right, sober, economically sound thing to do.

I have all the respect in the world for former Washington athletic director Mike Lude (he was, after all, an assistant football coach at my alma mater), but I think he is wrong to call the idea of moving the Apple Cup to Qwest "a tragedy."

The state of the economy is a tragedy. Near double-digit unemployment and massive statewide budget cuts are tragedies.

Moving a classic football rivalry to a jewel of a football stadium, a stadium that is funded by tax money and was promoted to be a people's park during the campaign to fund it, is a smart solution to a financial crisis.

The state of the economy demands creativity, and this is a creative answer to the economic tsunami that is hitting everywhere and eroding sports budgets.

Of course, all of us would like to believe sports are immune from the troubles of the world. We'd like to think of it as the great escape, but in bad economic times, sports traditions suffer. It's inevitable. Rivalries get tweaked.

And in the case of the Apple Cup, the numbers trump all the other arguments.

When the game is played at Husky Stadium, the UW and WSU make $800,000 a piece. When it is played at Martin Stadium, the two programs realize about $240,000 each. If the game were played at Qwest Field the schools would earn as much as $10 million over six years.

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End of argument.

And let's be honest, Martin Stadium isn't exactly Michigan's "Big House." It isn't some hallowed place like Notre Dame Stadium or LSU's Tiger Stadium, or the "Horseshoe" at Ohio State.

And although there is all the nostalgic talk about the magic of snow games on the east side of the mountains, and the advantage it gives Washington State, it's more myth than reality.

Sure there was the remarkable Bledsoe Apple Cup in 1992, when he threw for 259 yards in the snow against a demoralized Huskies secondary. WSU wide receiver Phillip Bobo sliding into a snowbank in the back of the end zone, at the end of a 44-yard touchdown pass, is classic video.

But there also was the 1974 game at Joe Albi Stadium when Washington quarterback Fitzpatrick slipped and slid to 249 yards on the icy turf. Fitzpatrick weathered the east-side weather quite well.

And for people who think this switch would forever dilute the intensity of this rivalry, I would argue that it could become even hotter. Some of football's greatest rivalries are played at neutral sites: Army-Navy, Florida-Georgia, Oklahoma-Texas.

Yes, those games are played in neutral cities, but with the huge WSU population base on this side of the Cascades there is no reason to think that playing the game in Seattle would be a huge advantage for Washington. As a matter of fact, it could be a big recruiting bump for WSU.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't be talking about this. But times are tough, and the athletic programs at both schools need cash. And sometimes, out of adversity, great ideas are born. This can be one of those ideas.

From Seahawk Sundays to the new electric nights with the Sounders, Qwest Field has proved itself a worthy venue for big events.

Now, it seems almost certain that the Apple Cup is moving there.

Let's embrace the idea.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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