New purple UW license plate fires up Apple Cup rivalry

SEATTLE -- As Apple Cup week reaches its pinnacle, the rivalry between the University of Washington and Washington State University is taking to the streets - literally.

KOMO News was given rare access to the brand new UW purple license plate, which was just released this week.

Deep inside the Department of Licensing headquarters building in Olympia is the door to a vault that makes a loud "clunk, clunk" sound.

"This is it," said DOL Spokesperson Brad Benfield. "This is the vault."

All of the state's specialty plates are stored in the vault, shipped directly from the Walla Walla State Penitentiary license plate manufacturing facility.

"What you're here to see," said Benfield as he carefully pulled from a stack the new University of Washington all purple plate. "They are hot off the press. These just arrived on Tuesday."

The University of Washington purple plate, starting this week, will replace the old white ones that didn't sell so well.

The U-Dub has wanted the all purple plate for years, but there were technical issues. Could police see a dark plate? Could toll cameras read it? After several years of negotiating, purple reigned.

"Everybody's happy with the final design," said Benfield.

But the number one selling specialty plate of all time is the WSU Cougar plate, selling more than double the University of Washington plate.

It is no coincidence the purple plates are debuting during Apple Cup week. The bitter rivalry now spills off the field onto the streets, where there are 18,000 Wazzu plates and 9,000 U-Dub plates.

We asked UW Alumni Director Paul Rucker if he's wants to sell more plates than WSU.

"Of course we do," he said. "We're thrilled about it. This has been a long time coming and the Huskies have been looking forward to a purple plate for years."

Why, even Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a UW grad, is ramped up.

"Because I'm told the Cougars are outselling the Huskies," Inslee said. "Now we gotta get these Huskies to get going and buy those plates. We gotta win the Apple Cup and the license plate battle."

He quickly reminds people that his wife is a WSU grad.

Twenty-eight of the $30 for the plates goes toward scholarships -- $300,000 at the UW this year alone -- to help guys like Dan Ceban, who just got $3,000.

"It does help students," he said while sitting on the stairs outside Suzallo Library. "I feel a sense of pride coming from the U-Dub. Like, I look at that plate and I see that plate helps students."

Born in Romania, Ceban's family won a green card lottery and moved to Lacey. His dad now works for U.S. embassies worldwide. Dan's going into Applied Physics.

Now when he sees a UW plate, he smiles.

"That will be me one day," he said. "I will be driving around with a UW plate."

We showed one of the very first all purple plates to other UW students on campus for their reaction. Some random comments suggest it's a hit.

"Sweet! I like it," one student said.

"Yeah, it ties the purple and gold with the Husky spirit," said another student.

Ranking just behind the bestselling WSU plate is the law enforcement memorial license plate. Benfield was asked bluntly what many buyers of this plate might be hoping:

"Does having this plate on your car really reduce the likelihood of getting pulled over?"

"I have no idea," he laughed.

The Seattle Seahawks just raised money for their foundation by selling the first 20 of the new Seahawks plates. The plate number "12" sold at auction for $47,000, Benfield said.

The worst selling plates? The Seattle Mariners are right down there near the bottom, especially when they're not winning, right next to the Square Dancing license plate which is the least selling of them all.