Rivalries are a compelling part of all sports and play an important role in every team’s season. The Oregon Ducks have cultivated their share of rivalries; some include a storied history, while others have developed more recently. No matter how long its existence, a rivalry makes the week preceding the game that much more fun.
The sign in the photo above is just a small piece of evidence of the hatred displayed between the two fan bases every time the teams play. Although the rivalry has no official name (it is sometimes referred to as “The Border War”), it is recognized across the country for the intense feelings it inspires between the fan bases. The week leading up to the game is filled with insults, name calling and divided households — in the rare case a Husky and a Duck happen to be a part of the same family.
So, what made this rivalry so intense, and how long has it been going on?
The University of Oregon played the University of Washington for the first time on December 1, 1900, in a game that resulted in a 43-0 Oregon victory. The two teams have met 106 times since then, and Washington (sadly for now, but hopefully for not much longer) leads the series 58-42-5, in one of the longest-played rivalries in the NCAA.
Unfathomable to today’s Duck fans, Washington held four- to nine-year-long winning streaks for close to 70 years, with occasional Oregon wins thrown in to break them up. As any Duck and Washington fan knows, the Ducks have won the last 10 games to cap a ”Decade of Dominance,” which is an unprecedented streak in the rivalry.
The Huskies debuted a new coach over the off-season with the hiring of Chris Petersen from Boise State, who, it appears, has a shared history with Oregon coach, Mark Helfrich their careers have crossed paths twice before. They first met in 1997 when Helfrich was a graduate assistant at Oregon and Petersen was a receivers coach. Their paths crossed again in 2000 at Boise State.
In a Pac-12 football coaches’ conference call soon after his hire, Petersen joked about Helfrich, “We used to be friends. No, I’m just kidding … I think Mark’s a great guy.”
Even though both fan bases might not always want to be friends, it appears our head coaches will be.
Throughout the history of the rivalry, several specific games and events played a major part in making the rivalry as intense as it is today.
One such event was the vote for the 1948 Pacific Coast Conference’s bid to the Rose Bowl. That year, Oregon and California tied for the crown, and it was put to a vote to determine who received the Rose Bowl invitation.
It was unanimously assumed all the California schools would vote together while all the Pacific northwest schools would vote together for Oregon. So it came as a surprise when Washington voted for California and convinced Montana to do the same. This sent California to the 1948 Rose Bowl and marked the beginning of the true hatred within the rivalry we now know.
The dissolution of the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) in 1958, also added fuel to the fire when Oregon (along with Washington State and Oregon State) was left outside of the newly formed Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU). The conference disbanded after a scandal erupted, in which coaches and many major members of the conference, were accused of misusing funds by giving athletes more money than NCAA regulations allowed.
The AAWU successfully negotiated with the Tournament of Roses to send its champion to the Rose Bowl, beginning in 1961. In 1968, the universities came together to strengthen bonds weakened by the dissolution of the PCC and became the Pacific-8 Conference, with the addition of the previously-excluded threesome, and became the predecessor of the Pacific 10 and Pac-12 Conferences.
Adding further insult to injury, in the 1962 game, Washington fans rushed the field and tackled Oregon wideout Larry Hill as he was attempting to catch what would have been the game-winning catch, ending the game in a tie. After the game, Oregon head coach Len Casanova said, “I don’t know if it made any difference, but you can’t run a very good pattern with 1,800 kids on the field.”
In 1973, an Oregon team widely considered less talented than its opponents, beat Washington 58-0 in Eugene. Mad and vowing to score at least 59 points on the Ducks, Washington coach Jim Owens left his starters in until the fourth quarter of the 1974 game.
Though the Huskies won the game 66-0, they lost their starting quarterback to a broken ankle and their star running back to a separated shoulder.
The Pick: The play that changed the course of both teams’ trajectories for the past 19 years. It’s one of Oregon fans’ favorite ways to irritate Washington fans and even now, almost two decades later, you find t-shirts and posters all over Eugene referencing the play. Oregon’s Kenny Wheaton intercepted Washington’s Damon Huard and returned the ball 98 yards for a touchdown to upset then-No. 9 Huskies. The Ducks went on to play in the Rose Bowl that year — and ”The Pick” became the program’s Renaissance moment.
The behavior of the teams and fan bases in the next few years emphasized the true strength of the rivalry.
In 2003, the Huskies beat the Ducks 42-10 and proceeded to return to the field after to game to dance on the “O” at the 50-yard line, for 30 minutes.
That was the last time the Huskies beat the Ducks. Apparently Oregon didn’t take too well to the excessive celebration on our “O.”
In 2011, the Huskies were hoping to give the old Husky Stadium a memorable send-off before its much-needed face lift, but instead closed out the stadium with a 34-17 loss — to Oregon.
Both teams now have coaches who know how to win and we can only assume this rivalry will grow more competitive as Washington struggles to become a stronger, more rivalry-worthy program. Here’s hoping for some great games in the future, with the Ducks coming out on top — of course!
Top photo by Kevin Cline