During every home game at Autzen Stadium, the video scoreboard lights up with Kenny Wheaton’s dramatic 97-yard interception return for an Oregon touchdown against the Washington Huskies in 1994.
The clip invokes cheers every time. It’s not only that the play sealed the win and helped propel Oregon to the Rose Bowl, but the fact it was against the hated Huskies that makes it so much sweeter for Ducks fans.
Second-ranked Oregon and No. 16 Washington meet on Saturday at Husky Stadium in what could arguably be called the most acrimonious cross-border rivalry in the Pac-12.
There is no love lost between the two sides. Duck fans are known to sport T-shirts proclaiming “Ted Bundy was a Husky,” while the “Pluck the Ducks” chant used by Husky fans of yesteryear has morphed into something far more colorful. A group of Washington fans famously ruffled feathers by lighting Portland’s Morrison Bridge in purple and gold for game week in 2009.
“Growing up here, sure I know what the Oregon State rivalry means, I know what the Washington rivalry means,” said Ducks coach Mark Helfrich, who grew up in Coos Bay. “I was sitting in the stands in the olden days when the Washington fans certainly vocally outnumbered the Oregon fans, singing `Tequila,’ and all those kinds of things.”
Wheaton’s play, known as “the Pick” snapped Oregon’s five-game losing streak to the Huskies. Oregon led 24-20 late in the fourth quarter, but Washington was efficiently marching downfield — until Damon Huard’s pass was snagged by the freshman cornerback. Announcer Jerry Allen’s call: “Kenny Wheaton’s gonna score! Kenny Wheaton’s gonna score!”
“That was one of those iconic plays in Oregon lore,” Helfrich said. “It was a huge program-changer at the time, and one of the things that catapulted Oregon into ‘Oregon Football,’ so to speak.”
In 1995, UW coach Jim Lambright publicly lobbied to get the Huskies in the Cotton Bowl over Oregon, calling the Ducks overrated — which obviously didn’t go over well in Eugene. But the rancor became frenzied in 1999 when Washington hired Rick Neuheisel as head coach.
Neuheisel had earlier drawn the ire of the Oregon faithful when he was head coach at Colorado. One memorable remark came after Colorado’s 51-43 victory over the Ducks in the 1998 Aloha Bowl: Then-Oregon coach Mike Bellotti told reporters he felt the Ducks were the better team, and Neuheisel replied smugly, “Scoreboard, baby.”
Oregon got a measure of revenge in 2000, beating the Huskies 23-16. It was the lone loss that year for the Huskies, who went on to win the Rose Bowl and finished No. 3 in the final AP rankings.
Neuheisel’s final year at Washington, the Huskies defeated Oregon 42-14 at Autzen Stadium.
After initially leaving the field, Neuheisel and the team reappeared and went to midfield to dance and stomp on the “O.” Neuheisel even snapped photos and Ducks fans were horrified.
The Huskies defeated the Ducks 42-10 the next year in Seattle. It would be the last Oregon loss in the series.
Washington (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12 ) is coming off a 31-28 loss to No. 5 Stanford last Saturday night. The fallout from that game lingered this week when Stanford coach David Shaw called out Washington coach Steve Sarkisian for accusing the Cardinal of faking injuries against the Huskies.
Meanwhile, the Huskies prepared for a considerable challenge against Oregon, which is favored by nearly two TDs.
“We’re not naive to the fact that our fans, this university want to win this game, but we’re also understanding that the process that it takes, those rah-rah speeches on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, those aren’t going to help us play Saturday,” Sarkisian said. “It’s our process and our focus and our attention to detail and our understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is what’s so critical. We’re going to play really hard Saturday. We’re going to come out of the tunnel, we’ll be fired up and all that stuff and they’re going to be too. But our preparation is way more important than getting caught up in we need to avenge the nine previous seasons and all that.”