While the winning football tradition may not be as storied at the University of Oregon as it as at Ohio State or Notre Dame, Oregon has had great success in the past two decades creating many memorable games. Here is my list of the top 10 football games from the last 20 years in Oregon history.
10. Oregon Ducks vs. Oklahoma Sooners 2006
This game is one of the most controversial games in the country in recent memory. People were heading for the exits when Oklahoma had a 13 point lead with under two minutes left. But the Ducks scored twice, “recovered” an onside kick, and shock Adrian Peterson’s Oklahoma Sooners 34-33.
Dennis Dixon threw the final touchdown pass to Brian Paysinger and Bob Stoops vowed to never play a Pac-10 team on the road again (even though he played Washington last year in Seattle). The Ducks went on to have a mediocre year but that game went down in history as the game that you either stayed or lost your diehard fan status.
9. Oregon vs. Texas Longhorns 2000 Holiday Bowl
The Longhorns were led by Major Applewhite and Oregon had Joey Harrington at the helm. The game was a back and forth affair With the Ducks taking the early lead and Texas storming back.
After Major Applewhite’s Hail Mary attempt hit the ground, the Ducks had their first ten win season ever and a 35-30 victory over Texas. The highlight of the game was Joey Harrington’s performance. He became the first player in the history of the Holiday Bowl to run, throw, and catch a touchdown in the game.
8. Oregon vs. Oregon State Beavers 2008 Civil War
Still fresh in the minds of many Duck and Beaver fans, the first thing that comes to mind is 65-38. The Beavers had a Rose Bowl berth on the line and were playing in Reser Stadium where the Ducks had not won since clinching their own Rose Bowl berth in 1994.
From the opening kick the Ducks seemed to have control of the game. Jeremiah Johnson had 200 yards rushing in the first half including an 80-yard scamper that set up on of the Ducks four first half touchdowns.
The defense also got in on the action. Walter Thurmond III and Spencer Paysinger had interception returns for touchdowns and the Beaver fans went home licking their wounds. In the end the Ducks tallied 695 yards of total offense, by far the most ever given up in a Civil War. It was a great win for the program and revenge for knocking the Ducks out of the Rose Bowl in 2000.
7. Oregon vs. USC Trojans 1999
The roles had been reversed for the past five to ten years as Oregon was the power program and USC was struggling. Carson Palmer USC team came into Autzen Stadium looking to beat the high-flying Ducks.
Oregon cornerback Steve Smith picked off Palmer to give the Ducks an early lead but USC was not phased. They stormed back and tied the game in regulation, sending it into overtime. After both teams made their field goals in the first overtime, both kickers missed in the second overtime. Finally in the third overtime, at approximately 11:45 at night, the Ducks put it through the uprights and gave themselves the win 33-30.
6. Oregon vs. Arizona Wildcats 1994
Teddy Bruschi and the Desert Swarm defense invaded Eugene ranked number seven nationally. The Ducks had beaten a good Washington team earlier in the year but were in for a much more defense battle this time around.
It was a wet and rainy day at Autzen Stadium, which definitely played into Arizona’s hands. With the score 9-3 in favor of the Wildcats, quarterback Danny O’Neill led the Ducks on a drive that summed up the season. Converting big play after big play, O’Neill dropped back and threw a fade route to the corner of the end zone. Tight End Josh Wilcox caught the perfectly thrown ball and gave the Ducks the 10-9 lead and eventually the victory.
5. Oregon vs. Illinois Fighting Illini 1995
Simeon Rice and the Fighting Illini were in town for the first televised night game in Autzen Stadium history. The Ducks fought against a good Illinois team but could not get over the hump all night. But late in the game, the Autzen magic struck again.
With Illinois pinned deep in their own territory, their quarterback dropped back to pass. Nick Alliotti had called a blitz bringing safety Jaiya Figeuras off of the corner. Figeuras got to the quarterback in the end zone and swung him down. Most fans in the stands that he had sacked him, but not only did he sack him, he forced the fumble and recovered the ball in the end zone. When it will all said and done the Ducks won, 34-31, and Figeuras became a star.
4. Oregon vs. Oregon State Civil War 2001
A year after the Beavers had knocked the Ducks out of the Rose Bowl the Ducks had revenge on their minds. Oregon was ranked No. 3 in the national polls and had a great shot at making the national championship if they won. It was an awful day with pouring rain and heavy winds.
At the beginning of the season Sports Illustrated had ranked the Beavers No. 1 in their preseason poll, but they had floundered and were 5-5 heading into the Civil War. The Beavers fought tough, but after Keenan Howry returned a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, it became clear that Oregon would not be denied. Rashad Bauman intercepted Oregon State quarterback Johnathan Smith with less than two minutes left and the Ducks left their fate up to the computers.
Oregon was held out of the National Championship game (Rose Bowl in 2001) in favor of Nebraska, who didn’t even win/play in their conference title game. Miami crushed Nebraska in the championship game and many were left wondering what could have been if the right team was there.
3. Oregon vs. Michigan Wolverines 2007
Many people believed that the Ducks would be a mediocre team and would struggle to win in the Big House. Michigan had lost to Appalachian State the previous week taking some of the luster out of the game but many people still believed Michigan would take care of business.
It was evident very early that Chad Henne, Mike Hart, and Mario Manningham would struggle with Oregon spread offense. The Ducks made the Wolverines look silly lighting them up and embarrassing them with two statue of liberty plays, one of which Dennis Dixon strolled in for a touchdown after the entire defense ran with Johnathan Stewart. Dixon threw for touchdowns to four different receivers and Oregon destroyed Michigan, 39-7.
This game vaulted Oregon into the national picture and they stepped up to the challenge before Dixon went down with a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament later in the year.
2. Oregon vs. Colorado Buffaloes 2001 Fiesta Bowl
An estimated 40 million people tuned in around the world to watch two of the hottest teams in college football battled it out on New Years Day. The Ducks brought a high-flying air attack while the Buffaloes led by Andre Gurode and Daniel Graham brought a powerful running game.
The teams shook off some rust early but behind the efforts of current Dallas Cowboy defensive lineman Igor Olshansky, the Ducks shut down the Buffs running game. The speed also proved to be too much for the Buffs. Joey Harrington threw four touchdown passes, the game changer being his 80-yard strike to a streaking Sammy Parker.
Cornerback Steve Smith had three interceptions and the Ducks held the formidable Buff rushing game to 49 yards. Ducks fans had been used to nailbiters going down to the wire but this game was over by the end of the third quarter. Daniel Graham caught a touchdown for the Buffs to make it look respectable but Oregon physically dominated the Buffs winning, 38-16.
The Fiesta Bowl win gave the Ducks their first ever 11-win season and their highest finish in the national polls at No. 2.
1. Oregon vs. Washington Huskies 1994
In a game that will forever be the game and play that changed the history of Oregon Football, the Ducks and Kenny Wheaton knew they had a mighty task coming in.
Washington had beaten Miami in Little Havana two weeks previous and were ranked number four in the country. Washington was led by coach Don James and quarterback Damon Huard and were thinking national championship.
Like many previous games with Washington, the Ducks played hard and took an early lead. But like always, the Ducks struggled in the second half and let the Huskies climb back into the game. With under two minutes left the Huskies were at the Oregon three yard-line. Damon Huard called for an out route and Oregon safety Kenny Wheaton remembered that in watching film he knew that Washington loved to run out routes in these situations.
The rest is history. Wheaton picked off the pass creating pandemonium at Autzen Stadium for both the fans and radio announcer Jerry Allen. Oregon went on to go to the Rose Bowl that year and many fans will point to that game as the beginning of success for the Ducks. They had success before that game, but the bounces and games started going more Oregon’s way after Kenny Wheaton’s interception.
Here are the game that didn’t quite make the cut:
Oregon vs. Michigan 2003
Oregon vs. Wisconsin 2001
Oregon vs. Arizona State 2007
Oregon vs. USC 2007
If there is one constant about big games that the Ducks participate in, they always leave you hanging on the edge of your seat. Oregon plays fun style of football and if you have not seen them, I would encourage you to do what you can to see a game.
There are bound to many more great games in the future for a program with a seemingly bright future.