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The border war
Richard Linde, Updated November 2003, November 2006, October 2009, October 2012

To their fans, the bitter rivalry between Washington and Oregon is unparalleled in college football; for them, winning the annual game can make or break a whole season.

Over the years, the border battle has been symbolized by a college town dressed in green, a white uniform, a wooden hook, dog biscuits, a trick play, and a purple and gold bridge.

The conflict is marked by vituperations exchanged between opposing coaches, the fans and players, all of whom, in the past, have been singed and burned by the heat of the conflagration.

But when did the off-field hostility and intense gridiron battles begin?

Mark them, three eventful years that rhyme with hate: 1908, 1948, and 1958.

1908: Gilmour Dobie

In my opinion, the intense feud between Washington and Oregon had its strident start in 1908 when Gilmour Dobie replaced Victor Place as Washington's head football coach.

In nine-years' time, by simply being the best he could be, Dobie fomented the first of the bitter feelings now entrenched, which have been layered upon over the years.

He was the undisputed czar of west coast football, he never lost a game, he developed a legendary trick play, and on occasion, he dictated the time and place of games against his opponents.

The cigar-smoking martinet was accused of cursing his players in practice and signaling in plays from the sidelines, the latter criticism never substantiated, the former readily validated by historical accounts. [Borland]. In his early days at Washington, the contentious Scott almost duked it out with the mayor of Seattle.

A dominating force on the gridiron, his teams won eight Northwest Conference championships and the very first Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) championship in 1916, much to the chagrin of his rivals. His teams were likened to finally-tuned machines by the reporters who covered them.

He accumulated a 59-0-3 record at Washington, according to biographer Lynn Borland, who has laboriously traced Dobie's days with the Purple and Gold and admirably corrects the official record, formerly 58-0-3. [Borland]. Also reference Meet the Real Gilmour Dobie. Are you listening UW?

Starting the 1916 season, coach Dobie was "vastly unpopular" in the state of Oregon, having posted a 6-0-0 record over the Web feet. Prior to that season, Oregon men (claimed) he (had) purposely avoided dates with them that would have meant his defeat. Oregon had its way with Washington before the Dobie era, holding a 4-1-1 advantage over the Purple and Gold in a period extending from 1900 to 1907.

UW and Oregon went unbeaten in 1916, having played each other to a scoreless standstill; the Purple and Gold were crowned PCC champions because of an ineligible player Oregon had used during the season. [Borland]. However, Oregon went to the 1917 Rose Bowl because of traveling cost considerations; reportedly, it was $215 cheaper to travel to Los Angeles from Eugene by train than it was from Seattle. Oregon defeated Pennsylvania 14-0 in the Rose Bowl.

1948: The Rose Bowl vote

With the bitter feelings between the Huskies and Ducks temporarily put on hold -- between 1918 and 1947 -- the feud erupted again in 1948, the putative date of the rivalry's beginning, when California and Oregon tied for the Pacific Coast Conference crown.

To determine the Rose Bowl representative, a vote of the conference schools was taken to break the tie. It was assumed that the four California schools would vote for California and that the six northwest schools would vote for Oregon. Washington voted for California and encouraged Montana to go along with its vote. California went to the 1949 Rose Bowl, only to lose to Northwestern 20-14. Norm Van Brocklin, one of the greatest quarterbacks and coaches in NFL history, quarterbacked the Ducks in 1948, and Oregon fans, the older ones, feel it's a darned shame he never got to play in the Rose Bowl.

The war escalated on the football field when Oregon beat Washington 63-6 in 1951 and Washington beat Oregon 49-0 a year later.

1958: The dissolution of the PCC

Then in 1956, after he was fired, Washington Coach John Cherberg revealed that Washington football players were being paid by a downtown “slush fund," called the Washington Advertising Association. Cherberg's revelation led to a two-year probation for Washington in 1956. It was determined that 27 Washington players received an average of $135 per month, instead of the allowed $75. The PCC banned post-season competition for all of its athletic teams. A domino effect followed in Los Angeles, when UCLA and USC were placed on probation for slush fund irregularities. 

In part, the harshness of the punishments led to the dissolution of the PCC and the formation of the AAWU (1959-1968), which excluded the so-called "cow colleges" (WSC and OSC) along with Oregon and Idaho. Note that Montana left the old PCC in 1950.  

The fact that all of  Washington’s athletic teams were placed on probation, rather than just the football team, was the center of contention. Although most of the conference members voted for the sanctions, Orlando Hollis, dean of the Oregon law school, was the chief prosecutor in cases against UCLA, USC, California and Washington. He was particularly disdainful of the corrupting climate of southern California, and he was a target of the local media in Los Angeles and Seattle.

During the border war’s long history, some notable incidents have occurred:

  • 1908: Gil Dobie is hired at Washington. Dobie fires first shot in feud, blanking Oregon 15-0 at Kinkaid Field. Although the weather was not a factor, the field had been covered with 4 to 6 inches of sawdust. Dobie blamed Oregon's track coach, Bill Hayward, who was a trainer for the football team, for the incident, fearing the slow field would intimidate his freshmen dominated team. Later, quarterback "Wee" Coyle would credit Dobie for the team's victory. “Boys, you’re going out and get licked, and I can’t help you, but I’ll be ashamed of you if you don’t go out and fight ’em and fight ‘em hard," were Dobie's inspiring words.


  • 1909: The triple pass play. Washington surprises Oregon in a 20-6 victory, using a triple pass play (Dobie's version of the modern-day flea flicker) to score two touchdowns, both of them ending up in the hands of left end Warren Grimm. In 1909, an incomplete pass of less than 5 yards resulted in a turnover.


  • 1911: The Dobie Bunk Play. UW wins 29-3 in Portland, using a trick play orchestrated by Coyle, who pretends his leather helmet is the football. All of Oregon's defensive players chase the helmet-lugging Coyle, while on the opposite side of the field, a lonesome Wayne Sutton carries the real pigskin over the goal line.

  • 1911: The Washington Hook. UW yell leader Bill Horsley introduces the  Hook, a 10-foot by 3-foot wooden replica of a hook -- which Washington fans carry to every game as a symbol of its dominance in football. It was first carried to Portland at the end of the 1911 season. Its appearance at games and in downtown Portland antagonize both O. A. C. and Oregon fans alike. [Dorpat].

  • 1912: Touchdown under the bleachers. UW blocks a punt, the ball going behind the Oregon end line and coming to rest under some temporary bleachers. The ball is recovered by Washington and is ruled a touchdown under the rules of the day. UW wins 30-14. [Borland].

  • 1915: Attempt to derail dynasty. Oregon and the cow colleges (Oregon State Aggies and Washington State Aggies) refuse to schedule Washington in hopes of ending Dobie's unbeaten dynasty.

  • 1916: The moral victory. It is said that Dobie (59-0-3) meets his match when Oregon holds his charges to a scoreless tie on a field (in Eugene) that resembles a lake. Oregon covers herself with glory and mud, and her students that night celebrate a "victory" in Portland, lauding the heroes who hold Dobie's eight-year champions to an even break and foretell his fall "as undisputed czar of football in the Northwest." [Oakland Tribune, Nov 4, 1916].

  • 1917: Rose Bowl. Oregon beats Pennsylvania; taking 95 years to win another RB is a source of catcalling by UW fans.

  • 1918-1947. Spinning tales by the fireside. While there is a 29-year span of inactivity from 1918 to 1947, undoubtedly the old folk kept the rivalry alive in that interval, still feuding, fussing and fighting among themselves, while retelling their bitter stories to all the attentive young ones sitting by the fireside.

  • 1948: The White Uniform, a Symbol of Dominance and a Reminder. In a game played at Husky Stadium on a field that resembles a quagmire, Norm Van Brocklin leads Oregon to a 13-7 victory over Washington. Standing out among Oregon's muddied uniforms, the pristine white uniform of the "Dutchman's" stays spotless throughout the rainy day.


  • 1948: The Rose Bowl vote. Cal goes to the Rose Bowl in lieu of an expectant Oregon team.


  • 1951: Escalation. The war escalates on the football field when Oregon beats Washington 63-6 in 1951 and Washington beats Oregon 49-0 a year later.


  • 1956: Orlando Hollis. Orlando Hollis, dean of Oregon law school, is chief prosecutor in slush-fund cases against Washington, USC and UCLA.

  • 1958: AAWU. Formation of the AAWU, to the exclusion of Oregon, among other PCC members.

  • 1962: Larry Hill incident. Washington fans, who rush onto the field, tackle Oregon's Larry Hill who is attempting to catch a pass in the end zone to win the game. [Smith].

  • 1973 and 1974: Piling it on. Oregon beats Washington 58-0 in 1973 and Washington beats Oregon 66-0 a year later. Not only are the 66 points a modern school record, but the swing of 124 total points is believed to be the largest in consecutive games of a series by any team.

  • 1968: Recruiting war. Bobby Moore (Ahmad Rashād), out of Tacoma, enrolls at Oregon, as the story goes, because a relative of his (Donny Moore, 1965, ‘66) was dismissed from Jim Owens' football team. This further inflames the rivalry. According to Oregon’s official website, the Seattle Times ranks Bobby Moore as Washington State’s fourth greatest running back of all time. Ironically, the Seattle Times ranks Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart, out of Lacey, as the state’s fifth greatest running back of all time. Stewart, who enrolled at Oregon in 2005, could have been soured on UW, in part, by the clouding miasma of the NCAA investigation of 2003, which eventually cost the NCAA $2.5 million in a lawsuit settlement it made with former UW coach Rick Neuheisel. UW fans wonder if the snitch, who anonymously refers to himself as Peter Wright and who emailed the NCAA about Neuheisel’s auction activities, is an Oregon fan.

  • Rock pelting in the 80's. "You're utterly defenseless when both hands are on your horn and you're focusing on playing music. A Duck fan randomly pelted me with a rock, while I was in the band back in the 80's.  I was completely shocked because I thought things like that were only done by preschoolers who didn't know any better," says a former UW band member about her first trip to Autzen.
     
  • 1994: Kenny Wheaton touchdown. Dan Raley of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes, "Emotions boiled over and competitive lines blurred in '94, spiking the rivalry. That season, redshirt freshman Kenny Wheaton's last-minute 97-yard interception return for a score off UW quarterback Damon Huard secured a 31-20 victory at home and propelled the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl in 37 seasons.

    "The combined quacking and woofing -- or was that bleating and whimpering -- had never been louder. Wheaton's play was immortalized on Autzen's big screen and in an oversized photo hanging in the lobby of the Wild Duck Restaurant. Huskies had to live with it." [Raley].

  • 1995: Jim Lambright's lobbying. Washington's head coach Jim Lambright lobbies for his team's selection in the Cotton Bowl instead of the Ducks. He is unsuccessful; however, Seattle Post Intelligencer columnist Bud Withers writes that Lambright's actions "invited a least another half-century worth of bile from Oregon fans."

    Former Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, who coached Colorado at the time, calls for a fake punt against the Ducks in the Cotton Bowl, with the Buffs leading 38-6.

  • 1998: The facilities war. Oregon formally dedicates the Ed Moshofsky Sports Center in August 1998, an indoor practice facility. Washington's Dempsey Indoor Practice Facility opens in September 2001. In 2002, UO finishes its $90 million renovation of Autzen Stadium. Husky Stadium's $280 million renovation was completed for the  opening game of the 2013 season.


  • 1998: Death threats. According to the mascot's owner, Washington's AD puts out a memo forbidding his mascot, (Prince Redoubt), from attending games in Eugene due to multiple death threats.

  • 1999: Quiet-day violations. Husky fans believe that Oregon turned Washington in for the quiet-day rules' violations that occurs in 1999 when Rick Neuheisel takes over as its head coach. [Smith].

  • 1999: The Mike Bellotti factor. After the quiet-day visits in 1999, Gary Barnett and several other coaches, as reported by the press, sign a letter "protesting what the punishment might be for Washington." Barnett is quoted as saying they "petitioned the NCAA to make this punishment fit the crime, because it won't. They'll get their hands slapped and they'll be reinstated. That's just the way it's done. I just think that's ridiculous." Later, two of the coaches reportedly signing the letter deny doing so. The press had mistakenly reported that Mike Bellotti, Oregon's coach, was one of the coaches signing the letter. The fact that he didn’t sign it doesn’t mollify Husky fans; the whole thing was unfair in their minds.

  • 1999: The throwing incidents. In addition to throwing dog biscuits at them on a yearly basis, Duck fans throw cups of urine and dog feces on Husky players at Autzen Stadium in 1999, this according to a Husky staff member. [Smith].


    2001: Jumbotron incident. With potential Washington recruits in the house at the Oregon/Oregon State football game (Eugene, 2001), a video clip of Rick Neuheisel is juxtaposed with a scene from the movie "Airplane" that shows a woman vomiting. It is shown six times on the Jumbotron. Of course, the partisan crowd whoops it up each time. The Oregon athletic director apologizes for the incident. [Seattle Times].


  • 2001: Recruiting trip. Former Washington DE Donny Mateaki attends the "vomit" game, as an intensely pursued recruit out of Hawaii. "Coaches call you, and they bad-mouth the other coach," Mateaki tells a local television station. "I almost didn't take my trip to Washington because I went to Colorado and Oregon, and all they did was bad-mouth Neuheisel."

    "The complaint against Oregon as an institution was fine. The implication that its coach, Mike Bellotti, was only recruiting players after Washington identified them, that Bellotti did something wrong in getting Albert Toeaina and Chris Solomona away from the Huskies at the last minute seems inappropriate," Blaine Newnham of the Seattle Times writes. "No college football coach has enough credibility to obliquely criticize others."

    Also, see our spoof on the recruiting wars that takes place in 2001/2002, "A day at Castle Pacifica."

    See the article describing our experience at Autzen Stadium, "A din of inequity."



  • 2003: Celebration ploy. Preceding the 2003 game, stories in the local press make mention of the Huskies’ prolonged, 30-minute celebration after they thrash the Ducks 42-14 at Autzen Stadium in 2002.

    Visages of that raucous party haunt Oregon’s players and coaches all week, according to a mini-hurly-burly raised in the press.

    During the week, there are quotes from several Oregon players. "It wasn't ... how would I say this?" QB Kellen Clemens said. "I don't know. We will use it as motivation. It wasn't something that showed a whole lot of class."

    Oblivious to the proverbial bulletin board material, Oregon free safety Keith Lewis takes some swipes at a number of Huskies and essentially guarantees his team will be dancing on Husky Stadium's midfield "W" at the end of the game. Reiterating his comments about  QB Cody Pickett from the past season, Lewis says, "Anybody can have one good season. Cody Pickett was overrated, bottom line, in my opinion." He goes on to say that no one knew about Charles Frederick until after his game with OSU and, in the past, he had called UW's WR Reggie Williams slow.

    Along with Lewis, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti adds his two-cents during week, saying he thinks the Huskies' behavior in last season's game was in "very poor taste."

    After the 2003 game, which the UW wins 42-10, Husky players dance on their midfield "W."

  • 2004: Blame it on Ngata. Oregon's mastery over Washington, its current 9-game winning streak, begins in 2004, not coincidentally with the emergence in the rivalry of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Was skullduggery afoot in the recruiting process? [Linde]


  • 2009: Spring games. Chip Kelly, Oregon's new coach, apparently takes a shot at Washington at the conclusion of the 2009 spring game. The following is taken from Ken Woody's blog in the Eugene Register-Guard. "Kelly went on the describe the spring game: 'We’re not going to line up our best against the rest like the Huskies did in their spring game. They ran their number one offense against the number two and three defenses so Jake Locker could go 16 of 18 with two drops. And they had their number one defense up against the second and third offense so they could shut someone out. We’re going to compete. The number one offense will go against the number one defense. That’s the way it’s been all spring. Walter Thurmond III (starting corner) will be lined up against Jamere Holland (starting receiver), head to head and we’ll see who comes out ahead.'”


  • 2009: Autzen factor. ESPN's Ted Miller ranks Autzen Stadium as the toughest place in the Pac-10 to play in 2009, based on the facts that the elements will be ideal for the home team and the quality of the team matters. "It's loud. And with all due respect, Ducks fans can be obnoxious. It's as if they know Autzen Stadium's reputation and they are willing to step outside of the rules of decorum by which they live all their other days to make sure all visitors understand that reputation isn't just hype..."


  • 2009: Morrison Bridge. Although it's been five years since the Dawgs have beaten the Ducks, Washington fans bridge the gap by lighting up the Morrison Bridge in downtown Portland with purple and gold colors. ("Huskies hope to light it up against Ducks...")


  • 2010: "Scoreboard, baby." "This week it was Boulder, where the fans would chant 'Ri-cky, Ri-cky' ever time his team screwed up ... After that it would be Eugene, where fans would throw duck (feces) at him." [Armstrong, Perry]. Huskies wonder whether the authors of the referenced book aren't Oregon fans.

  • 2010: Woodward apology. University of Washington athletic director Scott Woodward issues an apology for comments he made on UW's pregame radio show concerning the University of Oregon. "It's an embarrassment what their academic institution is, and what's happened to them as far as their state funding has gone," said Woodward. "In my mind, it's a wonderful athletic facility, but they've watched it at the expense of the university go really down.

    "... Any of the rankings you look at, you watch how far (the Ducks have) dropped because of their state funding."


    Seattle Times' story on apology.

  • 2011: Double standard? In a story that won't die, the Seattle Times unearths a letter (through a public records request) sent from Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott to interim UW president Phyllis Wise on how Wise should handle the Woodward incident. In its story, the Times says, "In an e-mail to two members of her administration, Wise wrote, 'I wonder whether Larry would have pushed (former UW President) Mark (Emmert) as hard as he pushed me.'"        

Many shots have been fired during the border war, and it’s not over. Washington leads the series, 58-42-5; Oregon has won the last nine consecutive games.

The Bunk Play

Dobie used it against Oregon in 1911. Here’s how it goes. Instead of snapping the ball to quarterback Wee Coyle, Bevan Presley, the center, snaps it into his own stomach, and the two guards fall down in front of him. Coyle takes off his leather helmet, pretends it’s a football, tucks it under one arm and bolts around end. After counting to 3, Presley turns and hands the ball off to the end, Wayne Sutton, who scampers in the opposite direction from Coyle and scores a touchdown. All eleven Oregon players chase Coyle. For a moment, no one knew what happened.  Dobie won the game 29-3.

A replay from the stars

This story is dedicated to the memory of William "Wee" Coyle, who played quarterback for Gil Dobie from 1908 until 1911. He is no longer frightened of his coach. It is said they have been seen walking across Denny Field on moonlit nights, arm-in-arm, always smiling, always laughing, always upbeat.

"Run it for me, kid, just one more time. Come on, kid, just one more time, one more time for Gloomy Gil."

Eerily, likenesses of Wayne Sutton and Bevan Presley in glistening form join Coyle onto a playing field transforming into its original state. It is said that Coyle tucks his leather helmet into his gut and runs the Dobie-Bunk Play, while Sutton takes a handoff from Presley and runs towards an end zone that engulfs him in its swallowing shadow.

"Sutton, Presley, once more," Dobie shouts upwards, while Coyle dons his helmet and barks out the play that calls the slowly brightening apparitions into formation, blank faces, too, called to the fore, their wiliness then repeating itself until the tiring field deafened by the roar of the incandescent gathering returns to its present state.

In an infinite multiverse, there'll be another night to practice the bunk play, for this ardent assembly of playfulness is an inexorable amalgam of elements created by the stars.

Acknowledgement:

I wish to thank Mike Archbold for kindling my interest in researching the life and times of Gilmour Dobie. Also, Dobie biographer Lynn Borland deserves a great deal of credit for writing THE book, a landmark effort, that corrects all the factual errors replete in the Dobie literature -- accumulated from 1908 until the present time -- and that tells Dobie's real story.

References:

[Smith]. Smith, Shelley, "Oregon-Washington: 'We know they hate us,'" 20 April 2001. Special to ESPN.com.

[Seattle Times]. Withers, Bud, "Neuheisel upset at recruiting tactics of some, like Oregon and UCLA," The Seattle Times, 7 February 2002.

[Miller]. Miller, Ted, "Pac-10 Beat: Seeing purple in the land of the green: Eugene," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 15, 2002.

[Raley]. Raley, Dan, "Nothing neighborly about Huskies vs. Ducks," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 29, 2004.

[wikipedia]. Oregon-Washington Rivalry (scores)

[Condotta]. Condotta, Bob, "UW vs. UO: It's Duck eat Dawg out there," The Seattle Times, November 14, 2002.

[Borland]. Borland, Lynn, "Pursuit of Perfection," Tribute Publishing, November 2010. (Gilmourdobie.com ).

[Dorpat]. Dorpat, Paul, "Hooked on football," Pacific Northwest Magazine, 6 October 2002.

[Armstrong, Perry]. Armstrong, Ken; Perry Nick, "Scoreboard, baby: A story of college football, crime, and complicity," Bison Books, 2010.

[Borland2]. Borland, Lynn, "Legendary Gil Dobie's only loss at Washington: his legacy," The Seattle Times, 10 November 2010.

[Linde]. Linde, Richard, "Blame it on Ngata," 4malamute.com, 11 November 2011.

Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

 

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