Washington-Oregon is an ancient football rivalry made combustible by an equal measure of bitter feelings and sour memories.
A scrunge typical of a game between the Huskies and Ducks involves cussing, taunting, baiting, hair-pulling and sucker-punching.
And the players can get pretty nasty, too.
We all know about Damon Huard and the pick-six pass that landed in the hands of Oregon’s Kenny Wheaton. Sure, that 1994 touchdown return will live in infamy, symbolic of the Ducks’ emergence as a Pacific Northwest power. But tensions were simmering long before Wheaton’s interception.
The Huskies had a pivotal role in keeping Oregon’s 1948 team out of the Rose Bowl. Washington exerted its influence not on the field – the Ducks, behind quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, beat Washington, 13-6 – but off of it. With the Rose Bowl bid riding on a league-wide vote between co-champions California and Oregon, Washington dissed its Northwest neighbor and cast a ballot for the Bears.
Huskies fans had a pivotal role in keeping Oregon’s Larry Hill out of the end zone in 1962. They stormed the field at Husky Stadium before Hill was able to break a 21-21 tie with a last-second touchdown. If a film clip of The People of Washington v. Larry Hill had been preserved, the scene would be a staple of a football follies video.
Bad blood? In 1973, the Ducks embarrassed the Huskies, 58-0, in Eugene. In 1974, UW coach Jim Owens returned the favor – and then some – by declining to rest his starters during a 66-0 victory in Seattle.
Another Huskies coach, Jim Lambright, enraged Ducks fans by pronouncing his 1995 team to be more deserving of a Cotton Bowl invitation than Oregon. Lambo’s lobbying effort failed, and the Huskies found themselves matched in the Holiday Bowl against Colorado, coached by Rick Neuheisel.
When Neuheisel was hired at Washington, the already serious rivalry with the Ducks turned, well, really serious. The Huskies’ 2002 victory dance on the midfield logo at Autzen Stadium pretty much assured that diplomatic relations between the schools – which first faced each other in 1900 – would be strained for the next century or so.
“I think the teams have respect for one another, and do things in the correct way,” Neuheisel, who has moved on to UCLA, said the other day during a conference call with Pacific-10 Conference reporters. “But with the fans, there’s some raw animosity …
“It’s an open wound.”
The Washington-Oregon rivalry has everything, it seems, but a name and a trophy symbolic of an entrenched border-state feud.
When Oklahoma faced Texas last weekend in Dallas, for instance, fans recognized the showdown as the Red River Shootout. (University administrators prefer to call it the “Red River Rivalry,” but either designation beats “Oklahoma versus Texas.”)
Arkansas and LSU had 95 years of history with each other until it was decided, in 1996, that the teams vie for the Golden Boot. At 175 pounds, it’s the heaviest trophy in college football and quite possibly the coolest, depicting, in 24-karat gold, the boot-shaped outline of the two states.
Wyoming and Colorado State play for the Brass Boot, which isn’t worth as much as a 175-pound, 24-karat gold boot, but at least it represents the rivalry.
No trophy presentation follows Georgia’s annual game against Florida, informally known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Which is just as well. A 175-pound flask would look out of place in a trophy case.
The Big Ten leads the nation in border-state trophies. There’s the Floyd of Rosedale for Minnesota-Iowa. (Floyd of Rosedale is a bronze pig designed to replicate the original Floyd, once awarded to the winning team by a wager by the governors.) There’s the Old Brass Spitoon for Indiana-Michigan State, and the Little Brown Jug for Minnesota-Michigan, and the Heartland Trophy – a brass bull – for Wisconsin-Iowa, and Paul Bunyon’s Ax for Minnesota-Wisconsin.
The ax is 6 feet long, with the scores of each game engraved on the handle. Players from the winning team parade the ax around the field, and if ownership of the ax changes hands, the victors are permitted, by tradition, to seize it from the opposition’s sideline.
Hey, it beats dancing on the other team’s midfield logo.
The Washington-Oregon series doesn’t need a wooden ax, a brass boot or a bronze pig to legitimize the rivalry. It’s been legit since volcanoes helped carved the course of the Columbia River, gazillions of years ago.
Still, Washington-Oregon has achieved a rivalry status deserving of a postgame award presentation, or at least a snappy nickname.
Hmm. The World’s Largest Outdoor Hissing Match? Raw Animosity? The Battle of the Open Wound?
On second thought, maybe a 24-karat gold trophy would be enough. Something simple, something elegant. Something like a peace sign, with half of it missing.