There’s no question that “The Point” played well in the Huskies’ locker room at the time and won Browning cred points that still exist to this day, even if he later called it "pretty dumb." Expect this year's UW-Oregon game to be raucous at Autzen Stadium.
In the long, frenzied history of the Washington-Oregon football rivalry, 110 years strong, there have been numerous flash points.
Washington voting for Cal, rather than Oregon, to break a conference tie and land Cal in the 1948 Rose Bowl — the de facto start of the interstate hostilities.
Hugh McElhenny and the Huskies running it up on Oregon, 63-6, in the 1951 game, much to the ire of legendary Ducks coach Len Casanova.
The booming collision between Oregon All-American Mel Renfro and Washington’s Charlie Browning on a kickoff in 1963.
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The dueling routs, Oregon crushing Washington 58-0 in 1973, and the Huskies coming back the next year to beat the Ducks, 66-0, in 1974 as Jim Owens happily poured it on in revenge.
Kenny Wheaton’s epic interception return of 97 yards for Oregon (forever known as “The Pick”) as Washington was driving toward a seeming victory in 1994, credited with jump-starting (along with Phil Knight’s financial largesse) a golden era of Ducks football.
Jake Browning’s “point” at Oregon linebacker Jimmie Swain in 2016 after scoring the first of eight touchdowns he would account for in a cathartic 70-21 Husky win that snapped the Ducks’ 12-game winning streak in the series.
That play — which earned Browning a 500-pushup punishment from Chris Petersen for poor sportsmanship, and the undisguised respect of every Husky teammate — still resonates on both sides of the rivalry two years later. And like Wheaton’s pick — still the last highlight shown on the JumboTron before every opening kickoff at Autzen Stadium, to a rapturous reception from Ducks fans — it’s never going to be forgotten.
Husky fans revel in the sheer audacity of the gesture, which symbolized a shift in the balance of power after more than a decade of sheer domination by Oregon. Washington came back last year to crush the Ducks again, 38-3, in Seattle.
Oregon fans — and one can presume, Ducks players — have been eager to give Browning and the Huskies their comeuppance. And there would be no better place, from their perspective, than Autzen Stadium on Saturday, Washington’s first appearance in Eugene since “The Point.”
“I think for the fans and the players that were there when that happened, like (senior safety Ugo) Amadi, it will be a lot more meaningful and fuel for fire than anyone not there,’’ said former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, now a Pac-12 Network analyst.
“I’m sure Oregon talked about that, particularly the seniors. It’s something that kids will do. But I’ve been around a long time. This game comes down to blocking, tackling, execution and how the teams have prepared all week.”
The atmosphere in Eugene is bound to be, well, highly charged. One of the beauties of this rendition of the Huskies-Ducks rivalry is that both teams are rolling, which hasn’t been the case very often lately. Washington won 17 of 20 games over Oregon from 1974-93, Oregon won 17 of 21 from 1994 to 2015, and Washington has won the past two by a combined 108-24 margin.
Not only could either team win it this year, but much is on the line. Both are ranked in the Top 20 and come in with just one defeat. The victor will be in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12’s Northern Division, and maintain a shot at a spot in the national playoffs. The loser will be greatly diminished in the former quest, and eliminated in the latter.
Husky coach Chris Petersen has been studiously sidestepping any acknowledgment that the rivalry adds import or extra emotion to the game. He barred Browning from doing any interviews. First-year Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, on the other hand, has embraced the passion that Husky week brings.
“It’s as important as it gets,” Cristobal told reporters earlier this week. “The intensity of a rivalry like this is through the roof, it’s off the charts. You could talk about it, write about it, explain it, and it still doesn’t capture the true fire and intensity, the true passion that goes behind something like this.
“Our players understand it and our players have seen it and they know the history of this series.”
Looking back last year, Browning called his finger wag “pretty dumb” and said he got carried away in the emotion of the moment. There’s no question, however, that “The Point” played well in the Huskies’ locker room at the time and won him cred points that still exist to this day.
“I think that’s going to be a picture (of Browning) that’s going to be around forever in terms of this Oregon-UW battle,’’ since-departed UW defensive back Kevin King said last year. “They talk about The Pick? Nah, they’re gonna talk about the finger wag.”
Browning’s current top target, wide receiver Aaron Fuller, said Wednesday: “That’s not something we do in this program, but it also shows Jake’s character, and he’s a competitor. He likes to make plays, especially in big-time moments.”
To offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan, who was UW’s wide receivers coach in 2016, Browning has never had to prove his fire.
“I guess I’ve never not seen him as a fiery and competitive guy,’’ Hamdan said. “He’s always been that way. From maybe an emotional side, he’s never too high, never too low, but from a competitive standpoint, he’s always been on fire.”
Speaking of which, the atmosphere on Saturday at Autzen will most certainly be en fuego. To Aliotti, the game comes down to whether Oregon’s defense can slow down Washington’s diverse attack, and whether Washington’s vaunted secondary can neutralize Oregon’s outstanding quarterback, Justin Herbert.
“It’s going to be rocking and rolling in that stadium; count on that,’’ Aliotti said. “But you can only rock and roll so long, if you’re not playing well.”
Washington’s goal is to play well enough, early enough, to take Oregon’s crowd out of the equation. Considering that Duck fans, a raucous bunch under any circumstances, have been waiting two years to vent about the 2016 debacle, it’s a valid Point.