In 113 years of Ducks-Huskies, Oregon’s time is now

Jake Locker is just one of Washington's star players to falter against Oregon

As the Ducks and Huskies get ready to renew a rivalry that began in 1900 (with a 43-0 Ducks victory), there is a lot to play for, be it for this year’s squads with bowl and championship dreams, or as another chapter in a more than century-long conflict. Perhaps more than any other program, Washington seems to represent for the Ducks a kind of measuring stick as much as a rival: the lone other Pacific Northwest team with a winning tradition, the one-time Goliath to Oregon’s David that has been surpassed for now yet still has a bigger trophy case.

So after beating the Huskies for eight years in a row going into this game, and having a 13-4 record against Washington since the dramatic 1994 game sealed by Kenny Wheaton’s interception, where does Oregon stand in the long run against its northern rivals?

Even the most hardcore green and yellow partisans among us know that Washington is a proud team with a lot more victories and titles over the 20th century than their neighbor to the south. And though it’s not something we Duck fans like to admit, Oregon’s glory days of the present and recent past have not yet collectively matched the legacy of Washington’s past, particularly  the Don James era – although we seem to be catching up quickly.

Yes, Oregon is the defending Rose Bowl champion, and yes the Ducks came within a wrist of winning the national championship in 2010. But Washington has seven Rose Bowl wins in its history and, depending on how you measure it, either one or two national championships. (The Huskies defeated #1 Minnesota in the 1961 Rose Bowl to earn the Helms Foundation national title, but in those days the final AP and UPI polls were conducted on the last day of the regular season.) Oregon may well be on its way to overtaking Washington’s legacy, but there is still more progress for the Ducks to make. We’re gonna need a BCS title and another January bowl win or three to surpass the Huskies in all-time achievement. All in good time, right?

In their 113 years of history against each other, playing almost every season, Washington holds a record of 58-41-5 against Oregon. But that lead was padded by a lot of wins that happened 20 years ago or more. Since 1990, for example, Oregon is 13-8 against the Huskies. Since 1980, Oregon has won 17 games and Washington 15.

Let’s take a look at individual decades since 1945. In the 1940s after World War II ended (play was suspended for the 1943 and 1944 seasons), Washington won three games and Oregon two. In the 1950s, the Huskies admittedly dominated the Ducks, taking all 10 contests. In the 1960s, the first four games were split, but Washington still wound up with a 7-2-1 advantage for the decade. The 1970s followed a similar pattern: each team taking two of the first four, only to have Washington win the rest of the decade, finishing with an 8-2 record against the Ducks. The 1980s again went to the purple and gold, with Washington going 7-3.

But by this time the tide was about to turn. Indeed the Huskies won five in a row between 1988 and 1993, but Oregon winning back-to-back games against Washington in 1987 and ’88 behind quarterback Bill Musgrave (the first set of consecutive Duck victories over the Huskies since 1947-48) was a harbinger of success to come. On October 22, 1994, Kenny Wheaton’s pick-six against Damon Huard didn’t just seal the game for the Ducks or propel the team to the Rose Bowl. It changed the balance of power in the Oregon-Washington series in a way that, 18 years later, hasn’t changed back.

"And it is....INTERCEPTED!!!"

Looking through the list of 104 games over the years, it’s incredible to see the blend of close games and blowouts. Take the early 1970s, for instance: For three years, no team’s victory (two for UW, one for UO) came by more than six points. But then the following two games were a 58-0 Oregon win and a 66-0 Washington victory.

In the 2000s, there hasn’t been a single close game, with the Huskies taking the 2002 and 2003 games by an average of 30 points and then all of Oregon’s eight straight victories since by margins of at least two touchdowns (and all but last year’s game, a 34-17 Ducks win, having a margin of 20 points or more). Since 1945, 22 games have been decided by less than seven points: three in the 1990s (all Oregon wins), three in the 1980s (two Oregon wins), five in the 1970s (with four Washington wins), six in the 1960s (four Washington wins and one tie), two in the 1950s (both Washington wins), and three in the 1940s after WWII (the Ducks taking two). Add it all up, and Washington has won 12 of these close games to Oregon’s nine.

How does Oregon’s current eight-game winning streak compare to some of UW’s runs in the series? The Huskies have streaks against Oregon of five straight (1989-93), six straight (1981-86 and 1965-70), but the biggest run of either team in the modern era since the end of WWII is 12 straight by the Huskies from 1949-60.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m certainly not looking to dwell on the fact that Washington clearly has the advantage in this series if measured from 1945-80 or overall. (Oregon was 16-17-4 against the Huskies from 1900-42.) But the British Empire once was so large the sun was said to never set on its flag. What is Great Britain’s level of dominance today? In other words, though no one really denies Washington is historically a marquee program, what does it really mean today? How long can a crumbling empire rest on its laurels?

The last great Washington Huskies season was 2000. There are thousands of middle-school-aged children who will be attending this Saturday’s game who weren’t alive when Rick Neuheisel’s team won the Rose Bowl that year. And honestly, the cracks were forming for the Huskies years before 2000. Since Don James left in 1992, the program just hasn’t been the same. In fact, given James’s remarkable 15-3 record against Oregon, it’s worth noting that the overall series is pretty even in the years he wasn’t coaching: 43 wins for Washington, 38 for Oregon, and five ties.

Reggie Ogburn, who led Oregon in 1979 (seen here) and 1980 vs. UW, will be the honorary captain for Saturday's game

It is interesting to see the contrast in programs over time, the role reversal that has taken place since Washington’s sharp descent following Rick Neuheisel’s tenure. In 1980 a scrappy Oregon program trying to move on from its darkest era had an improbable 34-10 victory over the traditional powerhouse of the north Washington in Seattle, led by dynamic dual-threat quarterback Reggie Ogburn. Oregon would not win another game in Seattle until 1995.

Come Saturday, Ogburn will be the honorary captain at Autzen Stadium for the Ducks, his first time back in Eugene since 1981, and in the 30+ years since that great performance he may find more familiarity with the visitor sideline than that of the Ducks. The two programs have inherently switched places, Oregon assuming the old Husky role of northern dominance and national relevancy, while Washington now fits the old Ducks profile, striving to emerge on the national scene with the occasional big upset, but lacking in any consistency…just like Oregon 30 years ago.

All of this is to say that the Ducks need to win this game, still. Eight in a row is not yet the longest winning streak in the series, and until that mark is broken (hopefully in the 2016 game), the pressure is on to make sure Washington is kept in its place. Washington’s fans would be the first to tell us that, no matter what kind of multi-year roll the team is on, nothing lasts forever. There will likely come some year where the Huskies get an upper-hand on the Ducks, something that they have not enjoyed in this decade.

There probably will be a time, be it soon or far in the distance, when the Ducks have a different coach and their deepest-pocketed booster is running with Bill Bowerman on the great track in the sky. In other words, today we are witnessing Oregon’s version of the Don James era. The greatest heights in college football can be scaled by today’s Ducks. But with that opportunity comes the pressure to succeed: both against our rivals from Seattle, and in securing championship dreams.

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Brian Libby

Brian Libby

Brian Libby is a writer, photographer and filmmaker living in Portland. A life-long Ducks football fanatic who first visited Autzen Stadium at age eight, he is the author of two histories of UO football, "Tales From the Oregon Ducks Sideline" (published originally in 2007 and now in an updated and expanded 2011 edition) and "The University of Oregon Football Vault". When not delving into all things Ducks, Brian works as a freelance journalist covering design, film and visual art. His writing has been published in The New York Times, The Oregonian, Architect, Salon, Metropolis, Sunset and Dwell, among others. Brian's photographs have been published in many of these same publications, and were exhibited at the American Institute of Architects in 2003 and 2010. His short films have won three Judge's Awards from the Northwest Filmmakers Festival in Portland; critic Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called the work "hypnotic". When not screaming his voice away at Autzen , Brian likes to writhe in a fetal position at home worrying about whether the Ducks will maintain their 35-point fourth quarter leads.

  • FD

    Beautiful, Brian, just grrreaattt!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Libby/1098912232 Brian Libby

      Thanks FD!

  • rcs410

    Don James? He was good, but not nearly as consistent as Kelly. Sometimes, hearing how great UW was from past fans, it’s hard not to look at the rest of the nation and wonder: were they ever truly great? Alabama was. USC definitely was. And Oklahoma was. But UW is like BYU. Had to scrape for recognition, being so geographically remote. They manufactured “titles” by swaying pollsters and beating schools like Iowa, Michigan and Purdue – some of which were okay, but none of which were transcendent. Oregon is capable of building something, but let’s liken this to what the real comparison is: the SEC. Fast and physical, deep and well-coached. That’s what we’re looking for. Not linemen who are big and sluggish, and an offense that overly relied on only a couple of game-breaking threats (Kaufman). I never thought the ’91 UW team would have beaten the ’91 Miami team and – while they were okay in conference – they were never nearly as consistent a force as old fans make them out to be. They were simply good. Borderline great, but never truly great. We need a better comparison if we want to build our brand. The school recognizes this and so do the younger fans.

    • http://www.FiShDuck.com Kurt Liedtke

      in 1991 they beat Nebraska and Michigan.
      1990 their only losses were UCLA and Colorado, and CU won the national championship that year (albeit thanks to a 5th & goal vs. Missouri).
      1992 they again beat Wisconsin and Nebraska, this in the era when Nebraska was that national powerhouse.
      …and while it may not have been the 91 team,

      In 1994 Washington did travel to Miami and beat the Hurricanes.

      So maybe Washington isn’t necessarily traditionally alongside Notre Dame and Ohio State and Michigan…but they played all those teams, a lot, and beat all of them during their glory years. That shouldn’t be ignored.

      Huck the Fuskies

      • rcs410

        So they had a decent run from 1990 to 1992, and got lucky in 1994… don’t get me wrong, I think that’s great that they had a couple of really good years – what’s good for the conference is good for us – but Arizona State played alongside those three teams you named while under Frank Kush, as did Colorado under Bill McCartney. Modern fans don’t seem to “fear” those brands, and I’m not sure they should fear UW either. UW seems – at least to me – historically to belong a lot more with that crowd than with USC, Ohio State or Alabama.

        Think about it: can you apply adjectives for what UW actually was “back in the day?” I know when I think of Alabama, I think of “suffocating.” When I think of Stanford, I think “powerful.” When I think of Ohio State I think “methodical” and when I think of USC I think of “acrobatic.” Oregon, FTW, is “dynamic.” What WAS Washington?

        One of the things I like most about Oregon is that, while older fans contend UW is a barometer, Oregon acknowledges that the only true barometer is a mirror. Partially to see themselves as they truly are, and partially to see what can be fixed. For all I know, UW could provide a great litmus test this Saturday. But if they do, it will (probably) say a lot more about where Oregon is rather than where UW is. The same can be said for USC vs. Utah and LSU vs. Florida.

        And Huck the Fuskies.

        • http://www.FiShDuck.com Kurt Liedtke

          one word to describe UW past and present?
          I’d say “maddening”
          Because it made me mad when they used to beat Oregon all the time, and now I get mad when Oregon doesn’t run up the score enough on them.

  • duckofpyke

    “…the lone other Pacific Northwest team with a winning tradition….” WHAT?!?! That statement is in error. UW had one good run from 1978 to 1992 under Don “Big Cheater” James. Outside of that, look at UW’s “winning tradition”…. There isn’t one. Over the LONG course of UW football it hovers right around .500 (except for the cheating years under Don James), which is the very definition of mediocre. No, UW is not a traditional power by any means – they had one good run under one coach, and traditional powers don’t go 0-12, ever.

  • Jenna

    I love it- a Duck fan with a dose of reality. Great example of sportsmanship! Recognizing the history and still rooting for your team.