I’m not in the habit of asking myself which game I most want to win because I want to win them all.
In 2021 there is the Apple Cup of course... We’ve also got scores to settle with Cal and Stanford... And we meet old foe Michigan once again in a Big 10/Pac 12 matchup that harkens back to days of yore.
Up until now I’ve never wondered to myself, “Which game do I want to win the most?” But since you’re asking...
My high school American Literature teacher Mr. Stein was a big Hemingway fan. Whenever we had a midterm or a final, it would be but one question, written out on the chalkboard at the front of the classroom. ”Just answer the question, nothing more”, was his mantra. I’m reminded of him now, and how if I followed his philosophy, the article you’re reading would consist of one word and one word only: Oregon
But that wouldn’t be much of an article. So this article is really not about WHO you most want to beat, but WHY. I don’t think Mr. Stein would mind me breaking his rule. After all, he doubled as the school’s Athletic Director and understood what sports rivalries are all about.
So now, after 3 weeks of countdown articles laden with stats and facts - this one comes from the gut. Mostly. I’ll try to use my head a bit too. But in any case, the only stats that matter here are W’s and L’s. There are no moral victories in this rivalry. There is no trophy or clever name like Apple Cup or Civil War. The Oregon/Washington rivalry transcends any cutesie trappings, and has come to be rooted in a mutual hatred.
As a kid, with Don James’ Huskies humming along during the 1980’s, I thought the Ducks’ name and logo denoted a team and fan base that didn’t take itself, or winning, too seriously - perhaps out of necessity owing to decades of failure. I was young and I’d never met a Duck fan. I don’t remember seeing Oregon stickers or anything having to do with the Ducks as a kid growing up in the South Puget Sound.
Even in the late 90’s I was at a bar in Bellingham and Oregon was playing somebody on TV. Oregon hadn’t been relevant long enough to dislike them yet. They were flashing new uniforms and I remember thinking, “Good for them. They’re finally moving up in the world.”
Then Oregon fans started coming out of the woodwork. It went downhill from there.
The saying “History is written by the victors.” is often attributed to Winston Churchill, but its origins lie further back in human history. With UW/Oregon this phrase is borne out in the different narratives trumpeted by each side. For Oregon, it all really started in 1994 didn’t it? ...reaching its zenith with twelve wins in a row over the Huskies. At Washington, we point to both the entire body of work (UW leads the series at 60 wins, 47 losses, 5 ties), and to 2016, where a 70-21 shellacking put an emphatic end to Oregon’s 12-year run.
The victories are what writes the history.
For a rivalry that has gone on so long - with 112 meetings beginning in 1900 - it’s striking that there have been so few stretches where both teams were good at the same time. The decade after Oregon beat UW in 1994 did see a trading of (figurative) punches between teams, up until UW head coach Rick Neuheisel was fired for... being Rick Neuheisel. Then the wheels began to come off under Keith Gilbertson before Tyrone Willingham drove UW football straight off the cliff. The ensuing years in the rivalry were one-sided.
But this is all ancient history... depending on who you talk to.
These days, UW and Oregon are vying for not just Pac-12 North bragging rights, but the conference as a whole. It’s hard to say that this year or any year matters more than another in such an emotional rivalry - but nowadays with both teams competing for the conference, the stakes are that much higher.
Fine. But why do I want to beat Oregon?
Like the kid in high school who suddenly inherits loads of money, buys a ridiculous car and becomes insufferable (I actually saw this happen), Oregon demands that you pay attention to them - that you admire their eye candy and their gadgets. A history of irrelevance suddenly turning around on the wallet of one of the world’s richest men has zapped Ducks fans’ brains into thinking that the world is their birthright. The thing is - people generally don’t like the spoiled rich kid.
Oregon strikes me as living in that tumultuous phase of post-adolescence - where they’ve mostly figured out what to do with this strange new thing they’ve grown into, but are unsure quite how they fit into this big, crazy world.
But Oregon’s on-field product no longer bugs me like it did under Chip Kelly, when his offense - built on the same philosophy as a pitcher who’s decided to throw fastballs while the hitter still has one foot outside the batter’s box - was touted as revolutionary.
As for that other migraine-inducing component of Oregon football - fortunately, I think we reached peak Duck-uniform-glut several years ago, and now it’s nothing new or remarkable. You really can only take such window dressing so far.
I don’t hate Oregon. They just annoy the hell out of me. Let them do the hating. You could even argue that hating the Huskies is their raison d’etre. Why else do they show that Kenny Wheatley pick before each game? It must be exhausting carrying around such a large chip on your shoulder for as long as Oregon has. I don’t envy them.
The Huskies never squared up against their two biggest rivals last year, exacerbating the uncertainty over what this team is truly made of, and foiling the yearly bloodletting that rivalry games allow. Oregon - of all people - capitalized on UW’s untimely Covid outbreak to not only avoid UW (who were deemed the official Pac-12 North champions) but take their place in the Pac-12 Championship game. Good times.
For Jimmy Lake, the months since his ascension to head coach have seen exceptional levels of bizarre. Lake was forced to leave port and sail his ship directly into an unprecedented storm, all the while fulfilling the Husky fanbase’s high expectations that he keep the ship steady, excel at recruiting, and embrace those elements of college football that Chris Petersen would rather stow in the war chest. A tall order, but I think he’s up to the challenge.
By the time Oregon and Washington clash on Montlake this November, each team will have played 8 of their 12 games, the season will have taken shape, and the conference standings will have shaken out to some degree. Setting aside the specter of injuries, this should be as even a matchup as you could ask for, and should do much to establish the top dog in the Pac-12 North. What’s more, there won’t be any bye-week funny stuff, as both teams’ week-off will have come four weeks earlier (much to the Ducks chagrin).
This year is not just a battle to defeat thy mortal enemy (although it is ALWAYS that) but to prove who is best in the Pac-12 and who is the pretender. And with a lot - but not all - of the national pundits picking Oregon to win the Pac-12 this season, Jimmy Lake and co. have a golden opportunity to start the Lake era (last year was a dress rehearsal in my book) in the grandest of fashions.
Question: Which game do I want to win the most this year?
Which game do you most want to win?
This poll is closed
Oregon (see above)
Washington State (we’re going to have our Apple Cup win streak broken by Nick Rolovich? After that offseason?!?!)
Michigan (the chance to finally win a premier non-conference game)
Stanford (because last year was really frustrating)