UW vs. UO: It's Duck eat Dawg out there
Seattle Times staff reporter
Which means, of course, that he spent most of last fall in unprecedented bliss as the Ducks completed their best football season with an 11-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking.
Still, Summers says, "something was missing."
"It was a great year for the Ducks," said Summers, whose site is called eDucksports.com, "but not having that Husky game ... "
That's how much it means to Oregon fans to play — and beat — the Huskies, that the greatest year in the team's history can somehow seem a little incomplete without it. After taking last year off for the first time since 1944 due to a quirk in the Pac-10 schedule, the teams meet again Saturday in Eugene.
"It's just something very special," Summers said. "If you took a poll among Duck fans, the team they would like to beat more than any other is really the Huskies."
The fact that Oregon has actually been successful in doing so lately — the Ducks have won five of seven against the Huskies dating to 1994 — and the glee in which their fans celebrate each victory, has caused UW fans to begin reciprocating those feelings.
"There's no doubt that Husky fans want to beat Oregon more than any other team by far," said Dave Samek, a Washington graduate and publisher of a Web site devoted to UW athletics called dawgman.com.
For Huskies fans, it's a recent phenomenon dating to 1994, when Oregon's Kenny Wheaton picked off a Damon Huard pass with 49 seconds left and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown, turning a potential UW win into a 31-20 Ducks victory.
That victory keyed a six-game season-ending winning streak that propelled the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl in 37 years and is seen by most Oregon fans as the beginning of the school's rise to its current place as one of the perennial contenders in the Pac-10.
That play looms so large in Oregon football history that it is still replayed at Autzen Stadium before every game.
"It still draws a lot of oohs and ahhs from the crowd," Summers said. "They know it is a thorn in the side of a lot of Husky fans and I think Duck fans get a lot of pleasure out of that."
But it's not just Oregon's success that drives the Huskies crazy, but how UW fans feel Oregon fans have reacted to it.
"Washington fans were kind of this way in the '80s when the Huskies first got good and were rated high," Samek said. "They didn't know how to handle success at first, so they got kind of spoiled. I guess Oregon fans are going through that now and our fans see it and have been through it before and our fans say, 'Act like you've been there before.' "
Oregon fans, though, have long-standing grievances with the Huskies that date to before most of those who will so avidly boo Washington on Saturday were born.
Some of it is envy, says UW quarterback Taylor Barton, who grew up in Beaverton, Ore.
"I think it's a situation where sometimes you don't like your buddy because he has a better-looking girlfriend than you," Barton said. "I compare that to these two programs. I think Oregon really wants to be the program that Washington is. Oregon is on the rise, no question about it, but right now they don't have the tradition and history that Washington has."
Much of it is strictly personal. Longtime Oregon fans still hold a grudge against the Huskies for casting the key vote that sent Cal to the 1949 Rose Bowl instead of the Ducks after the two teams tied for the conference title.
A generation later, tensions were stoked when Oregon beat UW 58-0 in Eugene in 1973, with the Huskies getting even in Seattle the next year, 66-0.
For the next 20 years, there were mostly Huskies wins — UW took 17 of 20 from 1974-93 — sandwiched around a little controversy. In 1984, for instance, the Huskies won 17-10 in Seattle but only after a hard Reggie Rogers hit gave quarterback Chris Miller a concussion and knocked him out of the game, proof — Oregon fans claimed — that the Huskies played dirty.
But it was largely a one-sided rivalry until Wheaton's interception return.
"Washington fans ignored Oregon until that 1994 game," Samek said.
It got even more personal in 1999 when the Huskies hired Rick Neuheisel, who at the time was the non-Washington coach that the Ducks hated the most based on two controversial bowl games against Oregon when he was at Colorado. In 1996, Neuheisel's Colorado team ran a fake punt late in a 38-6 win. In 1998, in Neuheisel's last game as CU coach, the Buffs beat Oregon 51-43 in the Aloha Bowl. When Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti pointed out that Oregon dominated the stats, Neuheisel responded "scoreboard, baby." The two have since had a few squabbles over recruiting, only adding to the tension.
And though no one at Washington wants to admit it, it is the Huskies who have in recent years sometimes looked with jealousy at what Oregon has accomplished. It was Oregon's building of an athletic center and an indoor practice facility, for instance, that helped spur the Huskies into a major renovation of their facilities.
"If Oregon hadn't done what it did, Washington wouldn't have an indoor practice facility right now," Samek said.
Players on both sides, many of whom aren't from either state, are often caught unaware of how big a deal the game is until it arrives.
"My freshman year, I was wondering why everybody was so on edge, the coaches and the players, it was like 'What is going on?' " said Oregon junior quarterback Jason Fife. "Then we have our Friday night meetings and you listen to the seniors just going off on how important it is and then you watch them play with their heart and soul. It was like 'Wow, there is so much more emotion involved.' I'm from Southern California, and I thought USC and UCLA were the big games, but those pale in comparison."
Interestingly, for all the anger that usually exists in the stands, recent games have been largely free of unsportsmanlike play.
"It's not a dirty game," said UW receiver Paul Arnold, who has played in two.
Whatever happens Saturday, however, will be debated endlessly until the teams meet again next year.
Samek, who derives much of his audience from those who visit his site's message board, says the Oregon-Washington rivalry "is like gold" with fans of both sides endlessly coming aboard to argue with each other.
"I just sit back and watch it," Samek said, "and hope that nobody commits a felony."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.