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Thursday, November 4, 2010
Ducks-Huskies: Just another game?

By Ted Miller

Woody Hayes was a rivalry guy. When he was Ohio State's head coach, he wouldn't even say "Michigan." He said, "that team up north." He famously refused to fill up his gas tank while on a recruiting trip in Michigan. When Jim Tressel was hired to fill that legacy, he immediately endeared himself to Buckeyes' fans by promising something special "in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Mich., on the football field."

Oregon coach Chip Kelly is not a rivalry guy. The hated Washington Huskies visiting Kelly's Ducks on Saturday? Pffft.

"We have 12 rivalries," Kelly said.

Chip Kelly
Don't tell Oregon coach Chip Kelly that Washington is a rival. Kelly contends the Ducks have 12 rivals.
Kelly previously said the Ducks play "12 Super Bowls," so his "every game is critical" philosophy is at least consistent.

Fact is, the Huskies-Ducks rivalry, long one of the nastiest and most underrated in the nation, has dramatically shifted. Washington was once the power that barely even noticed Oregon, which hated the Huskies sense of entitlement -- and winning -- in the Northwest (and a certain UW vote in 1948 on who goes to the Rose Bowl was a bit of an issue, too). But in the mid-1990s, things started to change. Oregon became competitive, and Huskies' fans didn't like that. The rivalry may have peaked when Rick Neuheisel became Washington's coach in 1999. Ducks fans already disliked Neuheisel from his days of Colorado, so it was a perfect stir to an already boiling pot.

Those were fun times because both programs were national powers. The rivalry mattered.

Now? Not so much. Oregon has won six in a row in the series, each by at least 20 points. The Huskies appear to be headed toward an eighth-consecutive non-winning season. They are coming off an embarrassing 41-zip loss to Stanford inside a stunned Husky Stadium. Moreover, struggling quarterback Jake Locker, the unquestioned face of the program, will be out Saturday due to a broken rib, and redshirt freshman Keith Price will make his first career start in boisterous Autzen Stadium.

Uh-oh.

Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, therefore, fielded no questions about the glorious rivalry with the Ducks during a lengthy news conference Monday.

"I think more important for our program right now is focusing on us and not necessarily on the Oregon Ducks," Sarkisian said.

Meanwhile, Oregon, after finishing ranked in the top-11 the previous two seasons, is a national title contender. It's got bigger things going on than trash-talking a team that it's favored to beat by five touchdowns.

"Every game in this league is a challenge for everybody," Kelly droned. "Our concentration is solely on next week's game and that's playing Washington."

Oh, but the Huskies-Ducks hatred is still there among the fans.

Guess what's being celebrated -- again -- at Autzen on Saturday? Yep, "The Pick," the 1994 pick-six interception by Ducks cornerback Kenny Wheaton of Huskies QB Damon Huard, which is widely considered the most important play in school history. Wheaton will be at the game, appearing at PK Park from 10:30 a.m. to noon (PDT), signing autographs, including a T-shirt commemorating the play.

By the way, guess who is the new color guy on Huskies broadcasts? Huard. And guess who's an analyst for the ABC telecast? Damon's younger brother, Brock, also a former Washington QB. And guess who's going to be Brock Huard's co-analyst? Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti.

How fun is that? How can you not smile about all that!

Said Kelly, "Harrumph." (We just made that up, but that's a fair translation of whatever he would say).

So do the Huskies have a chance? The short -- and practical -- answer is, no. But, folks, in college football, everyone has a chance, even when a team is missing its starting QB and brings one of the nation's worst defenses into the nation's most hostile venue to face the nation's best offense.

Said Kelly, "They've got really good athletes."

He then spit and let out an mocking laugh.

No, he didn't, but wouldn't it have been fun if he did?