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Oregon-Washington rivalry supercharged 70 years ago by a vote

Washington and Oregon don’t like each other, as you probably know. They’ve been playing since 1900, and are regional foes first and foremost.

But a moment back in 1948 injected the rivalry with all kinds of animus that still lingers.

The ‘48 Ducks — or Webfoots as they were called at the time — were pretty good.

The team was powered by Norm Van Brocklin at quarterback, who still holds the NFL record for single game passing yards.

They were the third Oregon team to win nine games, a feat that wouldn’t be equaled until 1994. And they marched through the season unbeaten in Pacific Coast Conference play, but their one loss, to eventual national champion Michigan in early October, would loom large.

Oregon finished with seven conference wins, and Cal finished with six. But both were undefeated in league play, so history remembers them as co-champions. (Many conferences didn’t start playing uniform numbers of games until somewhat recently.)

The Bears were also 10-0 overall. The winner of the PCC would be sent to the Rose Bowl, the most prestigious bowl in every era of college football.

Reportedly, the Bears declined to play a playoff game against the Ducks to settle things once and for all.

The Rose Bowl bid went to a vote, and Washington broke ranks against Oregon.

If the vote had been a 5-5 tie between PCC member schools, the Ducks would have gone, thanks to a rule that sent the school with the longest absence from the Rose Bowl.

It was mostly assumed that the schools in the Pacific Northwest would vote as a bloc (Idaho, Montana, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, and Oregon State) against the four California schools (Cal, USC, UCLA, and Stanford).

But as the story goes, Washington flipped and convinced Montana to do the same. It might not have taken that much convincing, as the Grizzlies were already upset about their place in the PCC pecking order up against bigger schools who didn’t want to travel to Montana. They were especially ticked at Oregon, because the Webfoots had dropped them from the schedule. Montana would leave the PCC after the 1949 season.

So if Montana had already planned to vote against Oregon, that’d mean Washington made the deciding vote and kept the Webfoots out of their first Rose Bowl since 1919, all despite losing to them on the field.

The news of the Rose Bowl snub wasn’t well received in Eugene.


The Milwaukee Sentinel

Oregon would play in the Cotton Bowl against SMU and lose, dropping their season record to 9-2. The Mustangs got out to a 21-6 lead in the game, and a Van Brocklin-led comeback fell short. He would reportedly never forget the slight from Washington.

And Oregon hasn’t either, especially as it made only one Rose Bowl between 1948 and 1994.

There have been other moments in the series, including another bowl-lobbying controversy …

In 1962, Larry Hill, of Oregon, was tackled by Washington fans who had rushed onto the field while he was trying to catch the game winning touchdown.

In 1995, Washington head coach, Jim Lambright, lobbied for the Huskies to be selected to play in the Cotton Bowl instead of the Ducks.

Rick Neuheisel was already hated by Oregon before Washington hired him in 1999. That Neuheisel celebrated a Husky win by taking photos and jumping up and down on the “O” in the middle of the field after a win against Oregon at Autzen Stadiu only inflamed matters more.

… but the bedrock of hatred was installed in the ‘40s with a vote.

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