Sports rivalry between UW-WSU-UO hard to fathom

Thursday, October 6, 2016by  Jon Osterberg
This week in a Seattle Times poll, 71% of voters said Oregon is a bigger rival for the UW Huskies than the WSU Cougars, who earned just 29% of the tally.
     This irks Jim Moore, ESPN 710 Radio personality and longtime Seattle P-I columnist, who's perhaps best known as a fervent Coug fan, alum, and dog (not Dawg) lover.
     On Tuesday's "Danny, Dave and Moore" radio show, Moore said, "That bothers me. If you had the same poll for Cougar fans, it would be 100% that we can't stand the Huskies and that you're our biggest rival. This week, we want Oregon to win in the worst way."
     UW grad Danny O'Neil said that, except for when they play the Huskies, "I generally root for the Cougs."
     "Well, we don't want you to like us!" Moore said. "It's Washington and Washington State. You're in the same state, so it's a natural rivalry."
     I've never understood that mentality. But I want to, because Moore's view seems pervasive among WSU alumns.
     My own thoughts match O'Neil's. I'm a Seattle-area native who loves the rural nature and feel of Eastern Washington. I always have. Yes, I've cheered for the Huskies all my life and graduated from the UW. And many of my school friends growing up moved to Pullman and became Cougs.
     So why wouldn't I wish them good fortune?
     Except for Apple Cup week, why wouldn't I pull for Wazzu? It's a university in my beloved state with people from my own community enrolled, for goodness' sake.
     Yet Moore's sentiment is not unique. "We don't want you to like us."
     That mindset doesn't feel like a friendly rivalry. It feels hostile, perhaps petty. It's a messy rivalry, kind of like a relationship between siblings who compete for their parents’ time, attention and affection.
     Let me be clear that I enjoy Moore and love his work. And I have good friends who share his mindset.
     I dug around to learn about the psychology of sports rivalries and found a Wall Street Journal story titled, "The Science of Hate in College Football.
     “Rivalry is fundamentally related to competition, but it’s competition over time,” said Harvard psychologist Mina Cikara. That, she said, provides an “opportunity for attitudes and emotions to become more polarized and entrenched.” Makes sense.
     The article quoted another expert who said the "oomph" in every rivalry comes from similarity, proximity and history, and sports rivalries are stronger when their historical records against each other are closer.
     Hmmm. The UW and WSU are both state universities, somewhat close at 284 miles apart. Their football teams have battled since 1900. But it's been a lopsided series, with UW leading 70-32-6. So the historical records aren't all that close. 
     Eugene is actually a hair closer, 283 miles from Seattle. The Huskies and Ducks are both state universities and Pac-12 North rivals who also began play in 1900, with UW leading the series 58-45-5. So their historical records are closer.
     Washington's enmity for Oregon is somewhat recent, dating to 1994, when a 4th-quarter interception turned a certain UW victory into a Duck win and Rose Bowl berth. The following year in Seattle, UW missed two field goals that would have sent the Huskies to the Rose Bowl. Afterward, Husky quarterback Brock Huard recalled, Oregon players invaded the stadium tunnel leading to the locker rooms and smashed pictures and memorabilia honoring UW's football heritage.
     That's when the tepid rivalry reached a boiling point, fueled further by the Huskies' frustration at losing 12 straight games since then by lopsided scores.
     But that in itself seems to play against a principle noted in a New York Times article titled, "Sports Rivalries Fill a Tribal Need." The author, a University of Texas professor, wrote, "The teams have to be well-matched. It is hard for fans to sustain enthusiasm for games in which one team is always the winner."
     Which brings us back to the lopsided UW-WSU series. Perhaps Moore's mentality reflects an underdog Coug mindset: resentful of UW's success, compelled to command respect.
     I've read more than once that Cougs see Huskies as patronizing and arrogant. Ouch. That perception is fueled by people like the guy who called in to ESPN 710 to say Coug fans suffer from an "inferiority complex that makes them hate the Huskies." (Webster's definition: an unrealistic feeling of general inadequacy caused by actual or supposed inferiority in one sphere, sometimes marked by aggressive behavior in compensation.)
     I doubt it's that simple.
     And I really do want to understand.
     If you can help me see the light, please comment.

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