This marked the seventh time that I have watched a Washington-Oregon game in Eugene, and it was by far the most quiet I have ever heard it.
But that isn't all. I was ensconced among longtime Duck season ticket holders, and the level of complaining I heard from them really took me aback.
On the radio after the game, one Duck fan after another called up to vent loudly their frustrations with: (1) the play calling, (2) the sloppy performances of certain players, and (3) the lack of crowd noise at Autzen. From several of the callers, it was anguish along the levels of people who had just lost their life savings at the racetrack.
The surreal reality was that all of this howling angst was pouring forth following a 31-6 Duck victory over the despised Washington Huskies. I didn't hear a single caller who was happy with the victory. If you had just tuned into the post-game show and didn't know the score, you would have sworn that Oregon had lost and looked atrocious in doing it.
It has been 10 years since the 1994 Kenny Wheaton interception and Oregon's trip to the Rose Bowl. And it is clear that their honeymoon period is starting to fade. Like a heroine addict, Duck fans need to see doses of bigger and better things, because just winning isn't giving them the high anymore. They feature sparkling and impressive facilities. They have cultivated the general expectation of consistent growth that aspires to higher and higher levels of accomplishment. I'm not saying Bellotti has accomplished what Don James did, but it was when James was into his 11th season at UW that he had the 7-5 record. Washington fans and media started to question his abilities and wonder why he was so conservative with the offensive play calling. When James was hired, he was told to "just be competitive". But suddenly starting in 1985, that wasn't good enough. That sense of unfulfilled expectations is starting to develop now for Oregon fans. By natural extrapolation, look for Bellotti to be on the serious hot seat by the end of next year. But Oregon's current "plight" also shows us a model for the cyclical nature of success. In looking at the Ducks now, in a way we are looking back at the 1985 Huskies.
Which brings us to the topic of Washington football. There has been a lot of speculation the last two years as to what has made the Husky fan base so late arriving and lethargic. The change has been noticeable even as far back as the 2001 Rose Bowl, when the Huskies didn't sell out their allotment of tickets and those fans that did attend weren't anywhere near as enthusiastic as Purdue's fans.
From a decade ago, what was once a Husky fan base powered by a full tank of enthusiasm and energy is today running on fumes from the distant memories of a bygone era. In order to revitalize the remaining core of season ticket holders and draw in a new generation of fans, the program needs to be burned to the ground like a failed crop. It needs a new logo, renovated stadium and a new attitude. It needs to get local grade schoolers to idolize the Huskies again. It has got to get them wanting to grow up to be Dawgs. It has got to rejuvenate the image in the community. Washington needs to be mindful of its tradition, because it is a big selling point. But along with the current image of a laughingstock, we also have the reputation of being outdated and soft. No recruit cares what we did 5, 10, 20 or 50 years ago, if they know that earlier this year some San Jose State players compared our players to female genitalia.
A series of bold changes will begin immediately following the Apple Cup. Right now behind the scenes of the Washington Athletic Department, there are some intriguing possibilities developing that are in the embryonic stage. If the stars and planets align right, it could make for a happy Holiday season; brimming over with optimism for the 2005 campaign.
Derek Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gridiron Theory of Relativity
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