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When did the Border War begin?
Rich Linde, 24 January 2010

In my opinion, the Border War -- 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 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 sportswriters who wrote about 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.

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, this its only victory in the Rose Bowl, which is a source of torment by Washington fans, especially after the Ducks' loss to Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl. You know, 93 years and counting.

As the series between the Huskies and Ducks evolved, another shot in the feud occurred 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.

To substantiate my historical claim, here are some notable events that occurred in the feud's early history:

  • 1908: Gil Dobie is hired at Washington. Dobie fires first shot in feud, blanking Oregon 15-0, and Oregon hunkers down for the next nine years.  
  • 1911: The Legendary Dobie Bunk Play. UW wins 29-3 in Portland, using a trick play orchestrated by UW quarterback "Wee" 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. Dobie schedules Cal (home-and-home) and Colorado in their place.
  • 1916: Moral Victory. It is said that Dobie 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: Ninety-three years and counting. In 1917 Oregon posted its only victory in the Rose Bowl, a 93-year-old source of reminding and chiding, with the virtual hook thrown in.
  • 1917-1948. Spinning tales by the fireside. While there is a 32-year span of inactivity from 1917 to 1948, 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. 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 1949 Rose Bowl in lieu of an expectant Oregon team. Oregon goes to the Cotton Bowl, losing to SMU 20-13.

[Borland]. Borland, Lynn, "Gilmour Dobie: Pursuit of Perfection," Preliminary Manuscript, January 2010. (Not yet published).

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


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

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