As Oregon Ducks, we are obligated to hate the University of Washington — North Tacoma. I’m pretty sure all Oregon fans can agree to that statement wholeheartedly. While we may hate Alabama and the SEC, or Florida State, or even those dastardly Beavers, it is nothing like the righteous fury we feel toward Washington.
But for many of us, this vitriol is likely something that we simply were taught without any real context of where it comes from. While there are numerous instances that we could point a finger at, our friend Benzduck from Duck Downs, has tracked down the seeds of this ill will that go all the way back to 1916.
Having been 99 years since this transgression, I’ll excuse you if you don’t know the story by heart.
A long time ago, in a time far, far away, the University of Oregon was unofficially known as the Webfoots and the University of Washington was known as the Sundodgers (get it –rainy Seattle — yeeaaah!).
At this time, Washington was the team that had the unprecedented success and the “great” head coach. Washington’s coach Gil “Gloomy” Dobie had gone undefeated through nine seasons, and despite clearly stacking his schedule in his favor via inferior competitition, he was considered a great coach with a powerhouse program.
This is where it gets interesting. With a game against Oregon that would decide which school would take the West Coast slot in the new Tournament of Roses East-West Game, Dobie decided yet again to stack the deck in his favor.
Rather than simply playing the game and letting the winner be decided by football on the field, good ol’ Gloomy decided he would try to get Oregon’s star halfback Johnny Parsons declared ineligible to play in the game — and we thought Steve Sarkisian was bad!
Parsons had originally gotten to Oregon in 1911, but because of a typhoid attack he wouldn’t play until 1912. After playing in ’13 and ’14, he ran out of money and took the 1915 season off before coming back for his last season in 1916.
Because there was no NCAA and no sanction outside of four years of eligibility, this hadn’t been a problem — until Dobie decided to try to take him out of the game. As a result of the new rules put forward by the PCC (Pacific Coast Conference) in 1915, stating that a student athlete had to play his four years of eligibility within five years of first entering college, Dobie did actually have a leg to stand on.
Dobie went so far as to purposely put forth players on his roster who wouldn’t be eligible under this rule and set up a situation where either all of the players from both teams would play or none of them would. In the end, Parsons was allowed to play, and Dobie, likely as he had always intended, benched his “ineligible players” as a PR stunt.
If this had been the end of it, then perhaps this would have been just another footnote in the history of Washington vs Oregon — just another case of Washington having a real piece of work as its head coach – But it gets better —
Good ol’ Gloomy, still not content to fight fairly and let the better team be decided on the field, decided to try another tactic to get Parsons disqualified. As Benzduck tells it,”It wasn’t over yet. Dobie proffered a new charge on Saturday morning, just hours before the game: somehow, his detectives had discovered that Parsons had withdrawn during his last semester at Oregon in 1915, not before, and was by rule ineligible to compete during the 1916 season because of incomplete scholastic work from 1915.”
With this latest claim being lodged mere hours before the game, there was not sufficient time to actually do anything about it, and what may have been an attempt to strong-arm the PCC into action backfired.
Even though the PCC officials did find Dobie’s charge to be true and were going to declare Parsons ineligible for the game, they thought better of it when they got to the field and realized the teams had already lined up to play. Likely trying to avoid a riot of Oregon fans, the officials decided to announce his ineligibility the next day — after the game had concluded.
As for the game itself, it was a 0-0 tie. In the end, Oregon would be the true “winners” of this tie, as the Webfoots would get the bid to the Tournament of Roses East — West game after all, while Gloomy and his Sundodgers stayed home in gloomy Seattle. A few weeks later, an incident in which Washington tackle Bill Grimm was caught cheating on a test wound up getting Dobie fired because he ”failed to instill character in his charges.”
While there are many incidents across the history of the Oregon-Washington rivalry, few of them are as interesting as the one that started it all the way back in 1916.
Between a coach trying to work the rules in his favor and Oregon likely getting the trip to the tournament more because of cheaper bus fare from Eugene to Pasadena than from Seattle to Pasadena, this has all the makings of a folk tale for the ages.
So come October 17th and the week leading up to it (Husky Week), remember why we hate those boys from Seattle clad in purple. Husky or Sundodger, we always smile a little bigger when our beloved Ducks ‘Win The Day’ against Washington.
Top photo from University of Oregon Libraries
Article inspiration from Duck Downs