Had the streak against Washington ended last year, no one would have batted an eye.
It would have been natural conditions for it to end: game in Seattle, the Huskies with a winning record, coming off a big win at ranked USC the week before. For the Ducks, it was the first season in nearly a decade where Oregon didn’t look like Oregon, with a 3-3 record and coming off a loss the week before at home to a Washington State team that had won just five of its previous 18 games, and had not won in Eugene in a dozen years. Both teams were thought to be trending in opposite directions. Washington was favored by three, and had the Huskies won, while disappointing, it would have fallen under the outcome of the more likely statistical probability.
Instead, Oregon got starting quarterback Vernon Adams back from an early season injury, built a 23-6 lead and withstood a late Washington comeback to win, 26-20. Washington went on to lose four of its next five, and Oregon used the win to vault to a perfect 6-0 second half of the regular season. With the Ducks finishing with nine wins for the ninth straight season, and the Huskies losing at least six games for the 13th time in 14 seasons, many wondered if Oregon had survived its moment of vulnerability, if Washington had missed its window of opportunity and whether conditions would remain constant for Oregon to continue The Streak.
One year later, each respective team’s momentum is reminiscent of last season, although as much more exaggerated versions of their respective positions. Washington is coming off a huge win over a ranked team, only instead of beating an inflated USC team that was in the process of absolutely melting down and whose ranking simply had not yet caught up, they were busy destroying the defending conference champions for the biggest win in series history. Meanwhile, Oregon made it two losses in a row to Washington State, making them 1-3 against FBS opponents this season and very much in danger of missing a bowl game.
With Washington as nine-point favorites in Autzen Stadium, if Oregon can’t keep the streak alive, last year’s win will feel less like a hiccup survived and more like a minimum payment on a credit card, punting the bill for another year only to have the final payment be that much greater.
The Streak is a hallowed mark for Oregon fans, especially ones old enough to remember the years where Washington dominated the rivalry, often while making Autzen half-purple. The Huskies won 17-of-20 games in the rivalry from 1974-1993, winning six conference titles and a half of a national championship during that time. To best symbolize how repressive Washington’s dominance was for Oregon fans during that span, consider that video of a single play from a win over Washington 22 years ago is not only shown just before kickoff of nearly every home game, but still draws the loudest applause.
Symbolically, Kenny Wheaton‘s interception in 1994 is obviously more than a single play, but rather is viewed as the catalyst for the inversion of each school’s place in the rivalry. Since then, the Ducks have won 17 of the past 21 against Washington since 1994, just as Washington had won 17 of the 21 games prior to “The Pick.”
Both periods of extended supremacy followed the same script: the lesser team being terrible for the first part of the dominance, then as the lesser team began to improve, they continued to find themselves unable to assert any control over the rivalry because their rival had ascended to national prominence just as the lesser team became competitive.
The timelines for these periods of dominance, though, have only been visible through the retrospection of time. When Oregon’s current win streak began in 2004, it was during the only season in the past 22 years that the Ducks had a losing record. There was zero indication that year that the win would trigger the longest streak in the history of the rivalry, or serve as any predictor of the type of success Oregon was destined for over the next decade plus. Oregon was just happy to get its first win over the Huskies in four years.
The results of this season have triggered the deepest fears for Oregon fans – not just the concern about slipping from national prominence, but of Washington ascending in its place. While there can be the fear of the teams’ respective roles switching in a single year, it never happens that quickly.
From the end of Washington’s dominance in 1994 to the beginning of Oregon’s series record streak of 12 games, were 10 years of match-ups that pushed the rivalry to the peaks of its hatred: Washington’s failed Cotton Bowl campaign, “Scoreboard, Baby!” and the vomit video; the dancing on the midfield “O.” For a decade the rivalry was fierce, and rarely fruitful for the favored team.
From 1994-2002, one of the teams was ranked going into each matchup, yet the higher-ranked team won just two of the eight games during that span. (Neither team was ranked in 2003, but Oregon finished with a better record, so of course, they lost.)
Those two wins by favored teams were both ranked in the twenties and playing at home: No. 23 Washington in 1996 and No. 21 Oregon in 1998. Washington won just one of its five match-ups as the higher-ranked team over that span. Even better, the Huskies are 0-3 against Oregon as a Top-10 team since 1994, losing two of those three games in Eugene. The Huskies are ranked fifth in the nation coming into Saturday’s game.
So how does Oregon prevail on Saturday, despite being more-than-a-touchdown underdogs? As you may have heard discussed this week, the ’90s are back in college football. The Ducks need to fully embrace this ’90s trend and do whatever it takes to make Autzen feel like 1994!
Don’t worry if they were worn the last time the Ducks played Washington at home, that’s what they did in the ’90s, too. They worked in 1994 just like they worked in 2014. And if you want to wear something different, dress like 2000, a year when they kept the Huskies out of the national championship.
Either way, instead of dressing like Cal, dress like a time symbolic of when the goal for the Ducks was to take down a highly-ranked Washington.
That is the goal for Saturday. If they can channel 1994, they have a chance to keep The Streak alive.
Top Photo by John Giustina