Monday, October 31, 2011
Oregon-Washington: Competitive again?
By Ted Miller
Oregon at Washington on Saturday: Is this the year hate becomes tethered to meaning and competitiveness once again?
I've been pondering this for years. While Huskies and Ducks fans insist that I favor the other, I really only root for the game to be relevant and meaningful. What I want is two ranked teams hating each other. It makes my job -- standing in the middle, fanning the flames -- much more fun.
I, a transplanted Southerner, first learned about the rivalry's intensity in 1999 by being ignorant of it, as I recounted here. Note to future Huskies beat writers: Don't write a laudatory piece about the Oregon coach your first year in Seattle.
I once spent an evening in Eugene wearing a purple mock turtleneck with a big gold "W" on the front and giant foam Husky hat just to see what would happen.
I was there when things seemed most bitter. And I've pondered a potential renaissance with the Huskies hiring of Steve Sarkisian, a guy who clearly can coach.
But the media can only do so much. The problem with the rivalry has been simple: Oregon has been putting a footprint -- webbed -- on the Huskies foreheads for the past seven years.
Huskies, don't get mad. It's a fact: The Ducks have won seven in a row, their longest streak in the series, by at least 20 points. The average margin of victory during the run is 26.4 points.
What can you possibly say to that?
Well, Washington fans do have some arrows in their quiver. Chief among them: When did Oregon last win the Rose Bowl?
Then Ducks fans observe Huskies fans are living in the past, and Huskies fans -- fully knowing they have been doing exactly that, at least since 2000 -- use a variety of rhetorical tricks in order to yield no ground, as every college football fan should.
I miss the glory days, which can be loosely defined as 1994-2003, starting with Kenny Wheaton's game-clinching interception return for a touchdown -- "The Pick," as Ducks fans lovingly call it -- and the Huskies last win in the series, when Oregon safety Keith Lewis trashed talked before the game and got in a fight late in the 42-10 loss.
"Raw animosity," said former Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel of the feelings among the fan bases.
That's why our friends at Addicted to Quack warmed my heart Monday with this: "Happy I Hate Washington Week." Ahhh... they still care enough to talk about their hate.
The fact is the Pac-12 will get more respect nationally and become a better conference in a real, measurable way if Washington-Oregon becomes an annual measuring stick in the Pac-12 North. In other words: A game that conference TV partners salivate over and broadcast in a primetime slot.
Many college football fans -- Pac-12 and otherwise -- hate USC. They hate USC because it's won so much. In the 1980s and '90s, Pac-10 fans started to really, really hate Washington. Why? Washington won a bunch of Rose Bowls and a national title. Over the past few years, Oregon hate has reached a high-water mark. Why? Because the Ducks are looking for a third consecutive conference title and have been stomping foes while wearing loud uniforms.
And there is a rumor that, well, Oregon fans are a bit obnoxious. Not saying that's what I believe. No way. Would never even suggest it. But someone else might. Not me, though. Someone else.
Easy there, Washington fans. There are plenty of whispers about you, too.
This is not to say California or Oregon State rising in the national polls wouldn't be good for the conference. It's just that unadulterated hate moves the needle, and Huskies-Ducks is the Pac-12's only nuclear-powered rivalry.
If Ducks-Huskies on Saturday matched top-10 teams, with say Chip Kelly's ludicrous speed offense against a Huskies defense similar to the Don James years, let's just say that LSU-Alabama would share top billing.
I know the rest of the Pac-12 is going, "No way... screw them." But you're not really thinking that. You know where I'm coming from. You've seen it.
It makes me think of the Col. Nathan R. Jessep's speech in "A Few Good Men."
And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.
Jessep was the villain of the movie. But that speech was absolutely right.
The thought of Oregon and Washington lording over the Pac-12 North might sound grotesque to you, but the truth is deep down in places you don't talk about at tailgates, you want their mutual hate to matter, you need their mutual hate to matter.
Or at least I do.