SEATTLE (OSV News) — More than 2 million watched the Nov. 25 Apple Cup football game between the University of Washington Huskies and the Washington State University Cougars at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
But two Catholic parishes on opposite sides of Washington state also were watching a related rivalry — a bet on the game’s outcome between Father William “Bill” Heric, pastor of St. Bridget Parish in Seattle, and his youngest brother, Father Paul Heric, pastor of the St. Thomas More Catholic Student Center at Washington State University in Pullman.
“It’s a fun brother thing,” Father Paul said. “We’re trying to bring some levity to it.”
St. Bridget is near the University of Washington campus, while Father Paul is chaplain of the Cougar football team. He attends team meetings, conducts Bible study with the athletes, travels with the team, provides chapel services before every game and is on the sidelines with the coaches and staff during the game.
The brothers met on the Husky Stadium field before the game to make their bet official. The brother whose team lost was to don the opposing jersey and stroll around their own team’s campus for an hour.
Ahead of the Apple Cup, a news release from St. Bridget Parish said the sibling priests had placed their wager “with the spirit of friendly competition, reinforcing the notion that even in the heat of rivalry, unity and brotherhood prevail.”
In what sports reporters described as “a down-to-the-wire game,” the Huskies beat the Cougars 24-21 and held on to their undefeated title.
There was no wearing of a jersey though, according to Father Bill.
“The ending of the game was especially emotional for Cougar fans including my brother, so I amended the bet to have Father Paul wear a Husky hat at a restaurant we were having dinner at after the game,” he said afterward. “The place was packed with Husky fans so he had to swallow a big piece of humble pie.”
The brothers don’t have a long-standing rivalry over football teams. They grew up in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood — Bill the oldest of seven children, with Paul 10 years younger. They later moved a bit north, but the family always lived in the greater Seattle area. Neither brother attended WSU or the “U-Dub,” as the University of Washington is popularly known.
It was not until 2019, when Father Paul was assigned to the Newman Center in Pullman, that the light-hearted Dawgs vs. Cougs ribbing began. Father Bill had been appointed to St. Bridget the previous year.
“To be honest, the ASB Bulldogs are my favorite team in all of sports,” said Father Bill, referring to the Catholic Youth Organization teams at Assumption-St. Bridget School.
The 2023 Apple Cup came after the University of Washington’s decision to leave the Pac-12 college football conference, which also is home to WSU. It is joining the Big 10, although the UW and WSU have agreed to play in the Apple Cup through 2028.
Money, especially from television revenue, is the motivation for the change. Father Paul lamented the increasing role money plays in school sports.
“The real story is how sports has moved away from good-hearted, fun school rivalry,” he told Northwest Catholic, the publication of the Archdiocese of Seattle. “For a lot of these guys, football is their way out — not to get into the NFL, but just to get into college.”
It is somewhat rare, Father Paul said, for a Catholic priest to serve as a college sports program’s chaplain. So, what advice does he give to the players?
“The football coach (recently) gave a rousing speech about honor. And that was all good and fine,” Father Paul said.
“What I said after was: ‘You are the beloved son of the Father. Your identity might be a football player. That is what you do and what you take pride in. But you are always primarily a beloved son or daughter of that Father.'”
Jeffrey M. Barker writes for Northwest Catholic, the publication of the Archdiocese of Seattle.