'The Pick' set Ducks on new winning path

Twenty years ago, a crucial interception in a tight football game reversed the fortunes of the Oregon Ducks, triggering their transformation into a national powerhouse.
   With 1:02 left in the 1994 game and the UW Huskies driving for a game-winning touchdown at Autzen Stadium, Oregon cornerback Kenny Wheaton picked off a Damon Huard pass and returned it 97 yards for the clinching 31-20 score.
   Huard jokes that he might be the most popular quarterback to ever come through Oregon.
   "They all love me," Huard says of his Oregon friends. "I'm still waiting for the statue to be built down there."
   History shows that The Pick kindled a series of events that transformed Oregon not only into the dominant team in the UO-UW battles, but into a Pac-12 and national juggernaut:

  • Washington had been 17-3 versus Oregon the previous 20 years. In Seattle, UW vs. UO was not perceived as a rivalry.
  • From 1995 through 2003, the Ducks went 4-4 against the Huskies.
  • Oregon now has won the past 10 meetings in a row.
  • Oregon's 1994 win led to a Rose Bowl appearance, after which coach Rich Brooks left to coach the NFL St. Louis Rams.
  • That opened the door for assistant coach Mike Bellotti, who later said he'd been on the verge of leaving Oregon for another head coaching job.
  • The 1994 season, and UO's 1995 Cotton Bowl appearance, also enabled new athletic director Bill Moos to court Nike founder Phil Knight, who then donated $8 million to Oregon athletics. More funds followed, as did new facilities, and more success.

   Read The Seattle Times features about the pivotal 1994 game, and also how that game seeded a dynasty, as judged by 1970-87 Eugene Register-Guard columnist Bud Withers.

by  Jon Osterberg

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