The Idaho Vandal football team is still “Moving Forward.” The uninspiring slogan dubbed by former University of Idaho president Chuck Staben has fallen short of materializing in reality, but there’s still a chance rivalries could finally make this happen. I touched on this similar topic last year with needing to make Idaho and Idaho State the Gem State’s great new game. We also know we get to battle it out again with our second oldest rival: Montana. But what about that school about 77 miles away? Could it take some of the heat and passion from our oldest rivalry with the school only seven miles away? Can we see similarities in our battles with this school as we do with that trucker school to the south?
Eastern Washington should be a solid rival! In the past, it was a rivalry game. We played them in the Governor’s Cup. Eastern has since “Moved Forward” from that game and slapped that title onto their rivalry with Montana. In a way, Eastern combines much of what we hate in our previous 3 biggest rivals (Boise State, Washington State and Montana). So could it become our most heated rivalry?
Let’s start with how it can draw on the Montana rivalry. We’ve played them 85 times. The vast majority of these meetings have taken place as conference foes. Whether it was in the Pacific Coast Conference days (the predecessor to the Pac-10 and Pac-12) or for decades in the Big Sky. Both Idaho and Montana were charter members of the Big Sky. The game often had large implications in the conference standings, the early years to avoid a last place finish in PCC and in more modern times to win a Big Sky Championships. Having to lineup against the Griz every year with something on the line led to some incredible games and some serious rivalry hate.
Much like Montana, we have played most of the 22 meetings with Eastern Washington in the Big sky Conference. The only difference is back in the day Eastern was more of an automatic win than a challenger to us for Big Sky championships. The times have since changed as Eastern has won 11 Big Sky titles. In the last 10 years the Eagles have won six Big Sky titles and a National Championship on two title game appearances. It is now on Idaho to stop being an automatic win on Eastern’s path to a Big Sky championship (Idaho is currently on a three game losing streak to the Eags, including two losses while in FBS). If we can improve then this rivalry will naturally grow in importance much like theirs and ours with Montana.
Now let’s compare them to those pesky Cougs seven miles done the road. If we are being honest the “Battle For The Palouse” isn’t going anywhere. We already have games No. 92, 93 and 94 on the schedule over the next six seasons. Though fun, and usually one of my favorite games every year we play it, it just has not been competitive since we left the PCC. Wazzu has won the last two meetings in 2016 and 2013 by a combined score of 98-6. Even in the final years of the PCC things started to get a bit out of hand. Idaho has only managed 16 wins and three ties all-time. In the last century (1919-2019) we have only gotten eight wins and two ties. It has some quirky history with the Loser’s Walk, Idaho’s first pass and the “displacement bowl.” Overall, it has become a better basketball rivalry than a football one. It’s the oldest continuous basketball rivalry in the western United States.
What really makes the Battle of the Palouse great is the proximity. Its no secret that though in different states, Pullman and Moscow function better as a united community than as two separate ones. One has better dining (Moscow), the single greatest bar in the World (Moscow), cheaper alcohol (Moscow) and lower sales tax (Moscow). The other has bowling alley/casino (Pullman), a dance club (Pullman), and, technically, the airport.
This kind of appeal is what should make our games with Eastern Washington special. It’s a game fans are able to drive to and back from in one day if you live in the Inland Northwest. Which, is possible even more so now that we play every other year in Cheney. If you live in Boise, flights to Spokane are easy to come by and there are multiple a day. Once in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area, you can drive oh, maybe 20 to 30 minutes to get to Cheney. If coming from the Moscow area it takes less than 90 minutes. Plus, we actually get home games in Moscow every other year now. Unlike in the Battle for the Palouse that hasn’t seen a contest in Moscow since 1966. Last year Eastern had to bring in extra bleachers to accommodate the fan interest on both sides. Idaho sold out their away team allotment last weeks before the game was even played. Eastern may have yet to do that in the Kibbie Dome for this upcoming Saturday. But hey, I never said they had a more devoted fan base.
I think being less than 100 miles apart is so unique and will always create animosity, as you will run into the other fan base so frequently. If you want to let go of the WSU rivalry then this is our closest rival geographically by far. Missoula is over 240 miles, Boise is 290 miles and Pocatello is on the other side of the moon. The red of EWU will be the most prominent color you’ll see if you’re a Vandal in North Idaho and eastern Washington, other than WSU’s Crimson.
(Editor note: Hot take upcoming)
Last and certainly least is Boise State. To be honest, I don’t know why we let this be considered a rivalry. We are different in every way. The University of Idaho is a Land Grant University that opened her doors in 1889 before Idaho even accomplished statehood. Most of U of I’s Greek houses have been on the campus before Boise Junior College came into existence in 1934. They didn’t even become a university until 1974. We didn’t even start playing them in football until 1971. To be able to compete with Idaho on the football field it took changing to colored turf. They have always been academically inferior. We should view them the same way a Cal or Stanford views a Fresno or San Jose State. You may share a yard, but we are not rivals.
The opposite is true with Eastern. The school opened in 1882. They been known by the Eastern Washington name since 1977. Right around the same time we started playing Boise State. If anything it makes way more sense to be rivals with Eastern than Boise State. Eastern did take one page out of Boise’s book and installed colored turf to become competitive in recruiting. So, if you hate Boise for the blue turf then it will be easy transition to hated red turf.
Eastern and Idaho is setup well to be a major rivalry not just for us, but for entire FCS to enjoy. It just makes too much sense. All it is missing is a couple years of awesome match-ups …and a name.
We can take care of the competitive games this year by ruining EWU’s season with an upset win on Saturday in the Dome. As for the name…. We vote “ The Red Scare Rivalry.”
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