It's been a decade since the Washington Huskies have beaten the Oregon Ducks in a football game. A long, frustrating decade for Huskies fans, and a long celebratory decade for Ducks fans. At College Gameday last season, when the Huskies hosted the U of O, many a sign read "Win the Decade," an obvious homage to former coach Chip Kelly's phrase of "Win the Day."
Before I go any further, let me tell a story.
The rivalry started in 1900, when football games were largely regional and teams played every team they could, from naval crews to local YMCA clubs (the UW lost to one and subsequently hired Gil Dobie, a legend in Seattle). Sometimes Oregon and Washington played twice a year.
The rivalry wasn't that serious until 1948 and a trip to the Rose Bowl was on the line. Oregon and California were tied for the then Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) lead and the tiebreaker came down to a vote. There were 10 teams in the PCC then: Washington, Washington State, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Cal, USC and UCLA.
It was assumed that since six of the 10 teams were in the Northwest, that Oregon would win the vote and play in the Rose Bowl. However, the powers that be at Washington talked the voters at Montana into voting for Cal, spurning Oregon and sending Cal to the Rose Bowl.
That's where the hatred all started.
It over the next 70 years the rivalry has been riled up more from Kenny Wheaton's improbable pick six in 1994 to Rick Neuheisel's team dancing on Oregon's midfield logo after a win in Eugene in 2002. But the past ten years have been increasingly one-sided, with the UW not coming within two touchdowns in any game.
New coach Chris Petersen is undefeated against Oregon (2-0) and holds an overall head coaching record of 92-12 while at Boise State. But all of that is known. What a lot of people don't know nationwide - and maybe even within the conference - is that the Oregon game is the most important game to most Huskies fans.
While at a UW game as a youngster, I saw a shirt that sums the situation up pretty well. It read, "If we go 1-10 every year but we beat Oregon, the season's a success." Ending the losing streak to Oregon does twofold: it puts Washington ahead in the standings to contend for a conference - and eventually - a national title. But it also re-instills the pride and winning attitude that was such an integral part of the program since Jim Owens coached in the 50's, 60's and early 70's.
It's not going to be easy, though, regardless of Petersen's success against the Ducks. Petersen's first game against Oregon as a Husky will be in Eugene, in Autzen Stadium, admittedly one of the toughest places to play in American sport. The Oregon team is remarkably athletic and we all know the program works. That said, it's my opinion this is Washington's best chance to end the losing streak. And if not this year, it will be soon.