Classic Portland Road Show
Friday, April 20, 2001
Oregon-Washington: 'We know they hate us'
By Shelley Smith
Special to ESPN.com
Just as our College Gameday show was about to go on the air from just outside Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., the crowd of fans that had gathered hours earlier began yelling in unison: "Huskies suck! Huskies suck!"
Now, realize this is a familiar chant in Oregon, where the rivalry between the Ducks and the Washington Huskies goes back almost 100 years and is filled with plenty of colorfully nasty anecdotes. The fans from these two schools genuinely despise one another, so it really wasn't much of a surprise to hear the chant only a few hours before kickoff. Except it was a few hours before the UCLA kickoff -- the Washington game was still a week away.
"We know they hate us," says Larry Triplett, a Washington defensive tackle. "There's no secret about that. I've had this game circled since beginning of season. It's a big-time game."
And now that the Washington game is finally imminent -- Saturday at Eugene -- watch out. According to a Husky staffer, fans threw cups of urine and dog feces at the Husky players and staff two years ago when Washington visited Autzen. And they've thrown dog biscuits for years.
"It's definitely safer to stand on our sideline than theirs," advises Oregon quarterback Joe Harrington. "People tend to go a little crazy when Washington is in town."
The rivalry supposedly began back in 1948 when Oregon and Cal tied for the best record in the Pac-10 Conference and the Rose Bowl participant was decided by a vote taken from conference members. It was generally assumed that the four California schools would vote for Cal and the Northwest schools would vote for Oregon. But Washington voted for Cal and recruited Montana to vote for Cal as well, and the Bears got the bid.
It's something Oregon quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, who went on to lead the Rams and the Eagles to NFL championships, never forgot or forgave -- being denied the chance to play in what, back then, was the premier bowl game.
In 1995, Washington coach Jim Lambright, lobbied hard for his Husky team to be chosen for the Cotton Bowl over the Ducks. He lost and as Seattle Post Intelligencer columnist Bud Withers wrote, "invited at least another half-century worth of bile from Oregon fans."
There were other incidents in between, too:
In 1962, Oregon's Larry Hill was attempting to catch a pass in the end zone to win the game, but was tackled by the Washington fans who had rushed onto the field.
In 1994, Oregon's Kenny Wheaton ran an interception back 97 yards to beat the Huskies.
Think there hasn't been any needless scoring going on? In 1973, Oregon won 58-0. In 1974, Washington won 66-0.
And now, there's the Rick Neuheisel factor. If being the head coach at Washington wasn't enough, Oregon fans remember how Neuheisel, as coach at Colorado, called for a fake punt against the Ducks in the 1996 Cotton Bowl -- even though the Buffs were leading 38-6.
And Washington fans believe it was the Oregon coaches who turned in Neuheisel to the NCAA for recruiting during dead period once he arrived at Washington in 1999.
Not exactly a love fest.
"I think we're clearly aware of what kind of home crowd Oregon possesses," Neuheisel says. "I think we played in a similar situation (at Colorado), maybe not as hostile as it might be this weekend, although it would be difficult to imagine anything more hostile than it was."
And, yet, all the Colorado fans could think of to yell was, "Where's your sweater vest'" and blame Neuheisel for anything either team did wrong. (Example: when a CU player dropped a pass, fans yelled: "That was your recruit.")
"Our coaching staff always reminds us of what happened in past," Triplett says. "I'm getting ready for anything."
Part of the problem at Autzen is the proximity of the crowd to the players -- there is barely eight feet from field to stands -- and fans are allowed on the field to get to their seats and, when the game is over, to exit the stadium. Basically, it's a security disaster waiting to happen.
Last week, several UCLA players, taunted and surrounded by Duck fans, took off after the most serious trash talkers, before being restrained by several of the Bruins position coaches.
It certainly didn't help that many of the Oregon fans had been tailgaiting since 6 a.m., some just to get a glimpse of the Gameday set, and were well primed for the game. Beer cans whizzed over the UCLA players on the sidelines and onto the field.
"I think there's going to be violence between the fans," says Oregon running back Maurice Morris, a junior college transfer who says he was stunned to see how loud and obnoxious the Oregon fans were at the UCLA game. "I hear it's going to be a lot worse."
"It's definitely up there in the top two rivalry games we have," said UW's Elliot Silvers. "I try not to pay attention (to the hype). I don't watch it on TV, don't read the articles. You just go to practice and focus on what you have to do and go from there."
Years ago, Lambright accused Oregon coach Mike Bellotti of "preaching hate." He backed off a year later and the coaching staffs from both schools have tried to downplay the hatred between the fans and emphasize the mutual respect between the teams.
"Much has been made of rivalry between Washington and Oregon," Neuheisel says. "We are two proud programs that happen to neighbor one another. It's a big game, like big games around the country who have a border war contest."
Tell that to the fans.