I’ve witnessed 27 Oregon-Washington football games live (maybe it’s 28; the mind glazes over after awhile). A few of them were spent sitting in the stands, but perhaps 90 percent were as a slack-jawed sportswriter frequently dumbfounded at what happens around the games. Not just in them.
Herewith, 14 recollections of what I’ve seen over the years, working at papers in both cities. A confession: I’ve only caught two of the games in person in the past decade (Husky fans tell me I haven’t missed much).
1. 1973: A newspaper colleague in Eugene, Neil Cawood, caught up with Husky running back Pete Taggares in a phone interview. This was during the dreadful final couple of seasons of the Jim Owens era, and Taggares was pretty clear about how the morale was bad and the program was sliding. When the story came out, Taggares backtracked on it. I’ll put my money on Cawood, now retired.
2. 1973-74: It’s very likely the biggest turnaround in the history of college football. Oregon won 58-0 in Eugene in ’73, and the Huskies returned the favor, 66-0, in 1974 in Seattle. I was told as the score mounted in the return game, Owens paced the sideline, muttering, “58-0, 58-0.” Afterward, Oregon coach Don Read apologized to all Oregon fans. They’d have felt better with a few points rather than the apology.
3. 1977: This was Rich Brooks’ first year at Oregon, and the game in Eugene was a watershed moment for Don James’ third-year program at Washington. The Huskies were 1-3, James hadn’t gotten traction yet, and the matchup was seen as one the Ducks could win. Instead, Washington cruised, 54-0, and went on to win the Rose Bowl that year. Somebody told me Brooks, walking from the locker room to a subdued alumni function afterward, was intercepted by his wife Karen. A direct, no-nonsense sort, she’s supposed to have greeted him with: “What the hell happened?”
4. 1979: In a bit of positive thinking, somebody put roses in the Oregon locker room in Eugene, and for most of the Sept. 22 game, the Ducks played like they were worthy of them, leading 17-0 at one point. But two late Washington touchdowns, the second on a 53-yard punt return by Mark Lee, stunned the Ducks into submission, 21-17.
5. 1980: Oregon got a pound of flesh at Husky Stadium, 34-10, and just about the time future NFL cornerback Steve Brown picked off a pass and ran it in for a touchdown to ice it, an Oregon assistant coach up above pounded on the partition separating him from UW athletic director Mike Lude – I’ve heard this story too many times not to believe it – and yelled, “Take that, you (bleeping) Huskies!”
6. 1984: Against the Orange Bowl-bound Huskies, Oregon allowed three first downs (you read that right) to Washington and lost 17-10 because – in fairly typical Don James fashion – the Huskies had an interception and a punt return for a touchdown. (The next week, the same Oregon defense – at home, yet – allowed WSU’s Rueben Mayes to run for an NCAA-record 357 yards.)
7. 1985: This one didn’t even happen in an Oregon-Washington game. It was after the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim won by the Huskies, 20-17, over Colorado. There was a controversial fumble call in the game, and I asked James about the possibility someday of instant replay, mentioning that Brooks had brought it up because of a similarly hairline play earlier in the year. Said James, applying the needle, “Rich thinks he loses about three games a year because of the officials.”
8. 1994: “Kenny Wheaton’s gonna score!!” That’s about all you need to know. The day before, Husky assistant Dick Baird sought me out at the UW walk-through at Autzen Stadium and said, “The guys are pissed at you for picking Oregon.” Indeed, I did go with the eight-point underdog Ducks. Sorry Dick, better to be right than popular.
9. 1995: Oregon won a cliffhanger, 24-22, at Husky Stadium, in Mike Bellotti’s first season as head coach. This is about as acrimonious as I ever recall the rivalry, with the teams exchanging barbs during the week and accusations that some Ducks had spat upon the laminated plaques in the UW tunnel that commemorate bowl games. Days later, Jim Lambright made his infamous pitch for the Huskies to be selected over Oregon for the Cotton Bowl, citing everything from bigger newspaper coverage to population to a bigger stadium to prettier sunsets (well, I exaggerate) in Seattle. The unplugged Lambo, of course, didn’t mention that Oregon won the head-to-head matchup and the Ducks went to Dallas.
10. 1996: The week of the game, I wrote about Corey Dillon in his first (and only) Oregon game. “I don’t know ’bout no rivarlies,” Dillon said. And yes, he said “rivarlies.” Then he went out and ran for 259 yards against the Ducks, third on the all-time UW list.
11. 1999: In what was an electric atmosphere for a night game at Husky Stadium, the UW won 34-20. Actually, that wasn’t as interesting as what happened in the stands, as Husky linebacker Jeremiah Pharms’ wife and girlfriend got into a fight.
12. 2000: What would become a Rose Bowl season got off to an inauspicious start as the Huskies lost 23-16 to Oregon in pre-remodel-days Autzen. It might be the loudest crowd, aided by thundersticks, that I’ve ever heard. Said UW tight end Jerramy Stevens, “I never heard a snap count all day.”
13. 2002: On national-letter-of-intent signing day, UW coach Rick Neuheisel chides Oregon for negative recruiting tactics. Seems the Ducks had been showing on their video board (between clips of Kenny Wheaton’s touchdown), a shot of Neuheisel, followed by a woman vomiting. Before the dust settles, the Pac-10 reprimands both Oregon and Washington.
14. 2002: After the Huskies romp over the Ducks, 42-14, at Autzen, Neuheisel allows his team to retreat from the locker room back to the field, and engage in an over-the-top celebration marked by all manner of dancing, hooting and cavorting. It would be Neuheisel’s last Oregon-Washington game. But surely not the last grenade hurled in the rivalry.