College football and college football fans have grown accustomed to faceless voters dictating which team is the best in all the land. Before the BCS added computers to the game, the AP poll determined college football's national champion. Even since the advent of the BCS, national polls are a major part of the national championship equation. Perhaps that's why there is so much pride associated with conference championships in college football: it is the one championship decided simply by the outcome of games played (and sometimes puzzling, yet predetermined, tie breakers). But that was not always the case.
For those of us that can remember 1948, and there are few, California and Oregon tied atop the Pac-12 conference standings. Cal won the tiebreaker and went to the Rose Bowl and so began "The Border War" between Washington and Oregon. How you might ask? Well, in 1948 a tie was broken by a vote. Although Washington had no dog in the fight--pun intended--UW lobbied the University of Montana to vote for Cal, thereby leaving the Ducks at home and the Bears at the granddaddy of 'em all. That is the type of lore that sets the backdrop for all great rivalries. It's the type of history passed down through generations of fans that breeds a legacy of simmering disdain or smug pride, depending on which side of the border you dwell.
Rivalries are forged in the heart break and unbridled joy of the fans. Rivalries only become rivalries as we look back; as we remember shared agony, the sting of close calls, near upsets, and the unfettered jubilation of a game winning drive or a last second field goal. Rivalries are "the band is on field" and "Kenny Wheaton's gonna score!" Rivalries are what bring out the best (and the worst) in College Football. They are the games circled on calendars and for which fans form a "Jager Circle;" the games for which plans and pilgrimages are made. But above all else, rivalries are for the fans.
After all, no one suiting up on Saturday in Autzen likely remembers 1994, let alone 1948. In fact, Chip Kelly was recently quoted as saying, "If you talk 10 years ago, [these players] were 7 and 8. At 7 and 8 they were into "SpongeBob SquarePants"; "they weren't worried about Joey Harrington." But that makes no difference for the fans.
The fans are the ones who remember the Huskies of the 80's and early 90's. You think Eugenians have forgotten arrogant Husky fans traveling down I-5 from Seattle to gloat about their National Championship before handing the Ducks their tail in the early 90's? What about the fact the Ducks managed a win against the hated Huskies just twice between 1981 and 1993? If you were a Duck fan, you might choose to forget about it, but you definitely remember when Kenny Wheaton picked off Damon Huard in 1994, raced 97 yards the other direction for a TD, and changed the entire narrative of the rivalry. If you don't, just pay attention to the last highlight on the Jumbo-tron ("Duckvision") right before the Ducks take the field tomorrow night. I bet Kenny Wheaton scores.
Maybe the players on the field tomorrow look past the Border War. Maybe Oregon's 8 straight wins against the Huskies (their longest winning streak against any Pac-12 foe) makes the game seem a bit irrelevant to them. Maybe that's just Chip Kelly's "faceless opponent" dogma coming through. Whatever the case, you can bank on the fans showing up with all the history and folk lore of the Border War behind them.
In Eugene, "I Hate Husky Week" is coming to a close. Across Oregon, cars, vans and RVs have begun the drive to Eugene with duck flags strapped to the windows and flapping in the wind. If you were a fly on the wall at Max's, Taylor's, or Rennies you'd be tired of watching shots thrown back to the shouts of "HUCK THE FUSKIES!" by noon tomorrow. They'll be trucks and cars lined up all around Autzen-- from the Science Center to the Masonic Lodge--by midnight tonight.
Tomorrow will be a crisp and sunny fall day in college town. Eugene will be the epicenter of a day filled with fans, tailgates and pigskin, all set against a rivalry a century in the making. In short: football paradise.