Oregon and Washington have played one another in football over a hundred times dating back to the 19th century with the Washington currently owning a 61-48-5 lead in the overall series. But the Ducks have had the best of the Huskies in the 21st century. Oregon has won 15 of the last 20 meetings, though they did lose last year’s thriller at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon took the first meeting between the schools by a decisive score of 43-0 on December 1st, 1900 in Eugene. It would be until 1903 until the teams played again, a 6-5 Washington victory in Seattle. Following this first home and home, the two schools played 35 games from 1904 to 1942, with Washington having a slight overall edge 17-15-3 during this span.
Following the end of World War II Washington beat Oregon twice in the 1945 season and again in 1946 before the Ducks took two in a row in the 1947 and 1948 seasons. Head coach Jim Aiken’s 1948 Oregon team went 9-1 in the regular season, ending tied with Cal in the Pacific Coast Conference standings. As the Ducks hadn’t played the Bears that season, the conference decided which of the two teams would receive the bid to the Rose Bowl by a secret ballot among university presidents. Most assumed the vote would fall along regional lines with the northwest members (Idaho, Montana, UW, WSU, UO, OSU) voting for Oregon while the California schools (UC Berkeley, Stanford, USC, UCLA) voted for Cal. The president of Washington instead decided to vote for Cal and lobbied Montana to do likewise, leading to the Bears going to Pasadena. The vote was so divisive the conference made an exception to its policy that no football team would participate in any other post season game besides the Rose Bowl. The Ducks accepted an invitation to the Cotton Bowl where they lost 21-13 to an SMU team led by running back Doak Walker himself. This incident opened a wound between the two programs and fan bases that has since festered into the vitriolic rivalry we know today.
Following the Huskies’ betrayal of their southern neighbor, the series took a decisive turn in Washington’s favor. From 1949 to 1993, the Ducks played the Huskies every season but Washington dominated the series 34-10-1. Further, the Ducks never went more than two years in a row without losing to the Huskies. Head coach Rich Brooks took over the Oregon program in 1977 and only beat Washington once in his first ten tries, a major upset of the eventual Pac-10 Champion Huskies that was their only conference loss of the 1980 season. With the aid of quarterback Bill Musgrave, Brooks led Oregon to consecutive wins over Washington and head coach Don James in 1987 and again in 1988 on their way to the Ducks first bowl birth in 35 years. The 1988 team was James’ worst of the decade, but the hall of fame coach quickly got his program back on track. James would not lose to Oregon again before retiring following the 1992 season.
James’ successor Jim Lambright took over a team the Pac-10 conference had placed under a two year post-season ban following revelations of improper booster involvement with the program. It didn’t seem to bother the Huskies when the Ducks went to Seattle as Washington beat Oregon 21-6 in 1993. The next year in 1994, the Ducks were 2-1 in conference having beaten USC and Cal and lost to Washington State. With the head to head tie breaker over highly rated USC, Oregon had legitimate Rose Bowl aspirations. But on October 22 the Huskies came to Autzen stadium ranked #9 in the country after defeating a highly ranked Miami team in south Florida during non-conference play.
A back and forth affair led to Oregon trailing 17-20 in the 4th quarter. After returner Patrick Johnson slipped when fielding a kickoff Oregon took over at their own 1 yard line. Fourth year starting quarterback Danny O’Neil had never led the Ducks to a second half comeback victory during his career to that point. But 99 yards later, Oregon led 24-20 with 2:40 left to play. But the Huskies went on a drive of their own, even converting on 4th and 10 in order to arrive at the Ducks 8 yard line with 1:05 left on the clock. Oregon fans were seeing the same story they had seen so many times before, so much potential ruined by a late defensive collapse. But when all hope seemed lost, there was a most unexpected finish to the football game. The 31-20 victory is still regarded as a singular turning point in the history of the Oregon football program.
The Ducks won again in a 24-22 squeaker in Seattle during the 1995 season when Washington missed a possible game winning field goal as time expired. The win proved critical in the conference race as both teams finished with 6-2 Pac-10 records, but the Cotton Bowl invited Oregon by dint of the head to head victory. Oregon lost in 1996 but took the next two games, including a major upset in Seattle in 1997 when Akili Smith found Patrick Johnson in the end zone late in the 4th quarter to regain the lead for good. Lambright was let go by Washington following the 1998 season, and his replacement was a figure Oregon fans didn’t think they could despise any worse... until he donned Husky purple.
Rick Neuheisel continued the winning streak over the Ducks he had begun as head coach of Colorado in 1999, as his Washington team beat Oregon 34-20 at Husky Stadium. Duck fans were eager to finally welcome the “Golden Boy” to Autzen on September 30, 2000 when the Huskies were undefeated and ranked #6 in the nation. The Ducks took an early lead and held on down to stretch, breaking Neuheisel’s hold on the team by a score of 23-16. It would be Washington’s only loss of the season.
Pac-10 scheduling oddities in the days of only eight conference games meant the teams did not meet in 2001, and Neuheisel led the Huskies back to Autzen on November 16, 2002. Oregon had started the year on a winning streak but was struggling down the stretch, and Washington began peaking at the right time against their northwest rivals. The Ducks were humiliated 42-14. Husky players poured salt on the wound by coming back out onto the playing field after both teams had gone to the locker room following the game and taking photos of themselves dancing on the “O” at midfield. Oregon players made remarks about doing the same to the “W” at midfield in Seattle in 2003 (Neuheisel had already been fired before the season when it was discovered he had placed bets on NCAA basketball tournament games). The Ducks would have to wait for payback, as a mid season slump continued in an even more lopsided 42-10 loss in Seattle. Accusations were made of Washington players harassing their Oregon opponents as they left the field.
An otherwise disappointing 2004 season for the Ducks saw one cause for celebration: the beginning of a 12 year win streak over their northern rivals. A series of underwhelming, at best, coaching hires by Washington led to each Oregon victory from 2004 through 2014 being by at least a 17 point margin. The arrival of head coach Chris Peterson at Washington began to turn the Husky program around though, and it took the return of injured quarterback Vernon Adams and suspended wide receiver Darren Carrington to escape Seattle with a 26-20 win in 2015.
The 2016 season saw the nadir of Oregon football in the 21st century up to now. Desperate for a spark, head coach Mark Helfrich gave true freshman QB Justin Herbert the start against a 5-0 Washington team at Autzen on October 8. The Ducks fumbled the opening kickoff but managed to recover the ball. On the first snap from scrimmage, Herbert threw behind his intended receiver and was intercepted. It didn’t get any better from there for the Ducks, and the Huskies took out a dozen years of frustration in a 70-21 beat down. A series that had “The Pick” (1994) and the “The Catch” (1997) for Oregon now had “The Point” (2016) for Washington. The Ducks next trip to Seattle fared no better, as without an injured Herbert Oregon’s offense sputtered and the Huskies won by a score of 35-3. Duck fans began to fear a reverse of the 12 year streak may have begun.
On October 13 2018, the 5-1 and #7 ranked Huskies came to Eugene to take on the 4-1 and #17 ranked Ducks. Mario Cristobal’s first Oregon team kept it close throughout regulation, forcing overtime at 24-24 after the Huskies missed a potential game-winning field goal as the clock hit 0:00. Washington had the ball first, and faced with 4th and goal from the Oregon 3 yard line chose to take the chip shot field goal. The Ducks took advantage, as Herbert found Dillon Mitchell to convert 3rd and 11 from the Washington 26 to keep their own field goal team on the sideline. Later in the drive, with 3rd and goal from the Washington 6, running back CJ Verdell redeemed himself for a critical late fumble against Stanford two weeks earlier, taking advantage of perfect blocking to rush for a touchdown and the win.
Cristobal’s teams never lost to the Huskies, but new Washington coach Kalen Deboer is 1-0 against the Ducks. The stakes have never been higher, and in the swan song of the Pac-12 today’s victor will have the inside track to the conference title game. Will today’s game live on in Oregon glory? Or infamy?