Rivalry gets better with age

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Saturday, September 30, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

EUGENE. Ore. – Not play this game next year?

What, are they nuts?

They’ve got to play this game every year. Oregon and Washington is a must on any Pac-10 football schedule.

But conference rules dictate that the Ducks and Huskies pass on one another in 2001.

Not that one year off is going to make the UO-UW rivalry any less intense when they play again in 2002.

There’ll still be a huge buildup the week before the game. Husky coach Rick Neuheisel will still get R-rated cards and e-mails from Duck fans. And all the barking and quacking that goes on before, during and after the game between the players will take place again.

That’s what feuds between old foes are all about. And this one is 94 years old. It gets better with time.

Take Saturday’s game at Autzen Stadium. Oregon won by a touchdown, 23-16, but it shouldn’t have been this close. The Ducks got the ball a couple of times inside the Husky 20 and couldn’t even score a field goal.

That happens in games like this. Expect the unexpected. Expect the expected, also.

Like the pleasantries these teams exchange after a year apart. When the Huskies came onto the field 35 minutes before the game, some of the Duck players were standing there in the end zone to greet them. What was said we’ll never know but if the body language is any indication, it wasn’t “welcome, Huskies.” Not when coaches have to step between players. Better to save the body-banging for after the whistle blows, everyone agreed, and the Huskies jogged to the other end of the field.

The fun was just beginning.

Neuheisel had remarked early in the week, “I used to like being on the road. The crowds are more into it.” No place are they more into it than at Autzen Stadium when the Huskies come to town.

The place seats only 41,600. They squeezed 46,153 in here Saturday. To the Husky players, it must have sounded like 146,000.

Duck fans never shut up. Besides that, they had these inflated plastic tubes and they beat them against one another every time the Huskies had the ball. It made it nigh impossible for the Huskies to call audibles.

Last week, the noise was so loud that the UCLA Bruins couldn’t hear their quarterback and had a half-dozen false starts, including three in a row.

“It’s difficult,” said Husky offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson. “You can’t hear on the field and you can’t hardly call a play from the press box.”

Duck partisans didn’t need a kickoff to get revved up. They came in here with a buzz. Which, of course, gave an extra shot of adrenaline to the players on both sides.

Before warmups, the home team gathered in the middle of the field and jumped up and down on the big Duck emblem. Not to be outdone, the Huskies did the same thing after they finished warmups. Which didn’t go over well with the home crowd.

Then the Husky marching band got into the festivities. After playing both school fight songs, it was warmly embraced with a shout of ” (bleep) the Huskies” from the host fans.

They were going bonzo by the time the teams came back on the field and they really lost it when the Ducks were led by their mascot on a motorcycle.

All of which is the way it should be when old rivals come together to slug it out. Not that it was a dirty game. Far from it. Oh, now and then a player got a bit carried away, as when a Husky player was seen beating on the helmet of a Duck player on the opening kickoff, but an official quickly intervened and ushered the Washington player off the field. “The officials said they would call it close because of the talk before the game,” Neuheisel said, “and they did.”

There is always going to be mouthing off between players, but Husky nose tackle Larry Tripplett swears he didn’t hear much. Of the Oregon linemen, he said, “They were respectful. They weren’t talking as much as some of the other guys on the squad. They were just doing their jobs. They did their jobs well today.”

Did they ever. They punched enough holes for their backs to get 229 yards rushing and they kept the Husky defenders off quarterback Joey Harrington for the most part.

“It’s the best-coached offensive line I’ve faced,” Tripplett said. “It wasn’t necessarily that they were more physical than we were. They were just coached better than some of the offensive lines we’ve faced.”

The Ducks paid close attention to Tripplett, who came into the game with five sacks. He didn’t have any Saturday as the Ducks double-teamed him.

“I was dreaming of a one-on-one (battle), then when I got it, I wasn’t expecting it,” he said, “so I just started storming in hard as much as I could.”

The one player the Huskies couldn’t stop was Maurice Morris, the Duck tailback. But then, nobody else has been able to contain him either.

Morris, a slippery 6-foot, 205-pound junior, ran for 152 yards on 31 carries. On successive plays in the first quarter, first Harrington and then Morris broke tackles or pulled away from hand-grabs to gain 31 and 16 yards, respectively, on the Ducks’ first touchdown drive.

“He’s fast, he’s difficult to tackle because he gets his knees up,” Tripplett said of Morris. “He runs north and south. It’s hard to get an angle and a good hit on him.”

With that kind of land-grabbing rushing game, it’s no surprise that the Ducks held onto the ball 11 minutes more than the Huskies. “I felt like a boxer,” Tripplett said. “I was just going into the ring and fighting and I wasn’t getting my break, like last year, when our offense had the ball the whole game.”

This game, of course, could have a major impact on who wins the Pac-10, and the players went at it with that kind of seriousness. When Duck fullback Josh Line went down like a shot ox after catching a 22-yard pass in the first quarter, he stayed on the ground for a few minutes. When he got up and started to walk off the field, he pumped his fist, sending Duck fans into another frenzy. He was back in the game before the quarter ended.

Fans like that kind of toughness. And Duck fans love it when their team gets the best of the Huskies as they showed by rushing onto the field to congratulate their heroes as the final second ticked off the clock.

One fellow turned his attention to the Husky fans in the east end zone and mildly taunted them. They couldn’t have missed him in all that humanity. He was shirtless and wore a barrel strapped on his shoulders.

And they’re not going to play this game next year.

For shame.

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