Seven years. That's how long it has been since the Huskies defeated the Ducks in a game of football, the longest streak in the 111-year history of the rivalry. And it's no fluke. Over those same seven years, Oregon established itself as a powerhouse program and nearly won a National Championship, while UW compiled a pathetic 36-68 record and didn't even appear in a bowl game (let alone win one) until last season's triumph over the Nebraska.
Headed into tomorrow's match-up at Husky Stadium, Oregon is ranked in the top 10 and favored to win by at least 16 points. The home team is a respectable 6-2, already bowl eligible. But so loathed are the Ducks by the Dawgs that even if the latter were to win the rest of their games -- including the Apple Cup and that all-important bowl -- the season would still have to be considered a disappointment. And here's why.The Husky apparel stores sell t-shirts that say "Beat Oregon, Nothing Else Matters," and it's safe to say a majority of the Washington faithful agree with that sentiment. Both the Oregonian and Seattle Times ran stories this week that tried to trace the origins of the enmity, with the former calling the game a "grudge match" and the latter listing 14 reasons the two sides "can't stand each other."
A personal anecdote to illustrate the hatred Washington has for Oregon: earlier this year, when Colorado was visiting Husky stadium, I watched as a couple clad in Buffalo gear made their way to the end of a row in the stadium's upper deck. They got some friendly ribbing -- nothing too harsh -- and the guy responded by shouting, "Oh yeah? Go Oregon!" The mood changed instantly, and he almost ended up coming to blows with the people sitting behind him. Seated beside the Colorado fan, my buddy offered a smuggled beer as a peace offering and calmly explained the magnitude of the offense. The couple left at halftime.
As Seattle Weekly editor (and fellow UW alum) Mike Seely observed recently, the UW-Wazzu game is an afterthought in comparison to Oregon, especially since the Apple Cup will be played at Century Link Field this year rather than Husky Stadium, a setting that almost gives the matchup the feel of "a soccer friendly." (Though many Coug fans are unlikely to be so friendly.)
The Oregon players told reporters earlier this week that the Huskies are just another "faceless opponent." Whether that is a wise attempt to avoid bulletin board fodder or the actual sentiment is up for speculation, but either way the men of Montlake simply can't afford to feel the same way.
An eighth consecutive loss -- especially a drubbing -- would mean that UW is still incapable of competing with the conference elite, and that the 65-21 mauling by Stanford was no fluke. It would mean Oregon will continue luring prized recruits from the Evergreen State. And it would mean another year of the school with the ridiculous uniforms, Nike bankroll, and roster that seems to accumulate as many misdemeanors as touchdowns yet again gets the bragging rights.
So will the upset happen? Oregon is lighting up scoreboards with its vaunted spread-option, hurry-up offense, but their defense seems like it could be vulnerable to Chris Polk runs and Keith Price passes. But it will take something special -- multiple Duck turnovers, or perhaps a Husky special teams touchdown -- to break the losing streak this year.
It's worth noting that the stars seem to be aligning for UW. It is the final game in Husky Stadium before the facility closes for a year to undergo a $250 million renovation, the 20th anniversary of the 1991 National Championship team, and the University's 150th birthday.
If their team loses, Husky fans will spend another year taking solace in the fact that Washington still far outpaces Oregon in Rose Bowl wins (UW 7, UO 1), Conference championships (UW 15, UO 4), National Championships (UW 2, UO 0) and the all-time series (UW 57, UO 40.)
But come Saturday night, the final score is only one that matters.