The Huskies were an underdog to the No. 23 Ducks on Nov. 16, 2002, but clobbered them 42-14 and then enraged them by celebrating on their midfield “O” for several minutes afterward. The Huskies haven’t celebrated a win in Eugene since.
As he took a knee — twice — to wrap up a surprisingly easy victory for the Huskies, Taylor Barton soaked in a rare occurrence at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium: Silence.
“It couldn’t have been more quiet if no one was in the stands,” Barton recalled Wednesday, 14 years after Washington’s 42-14 victory over the No. 23 Ducks on Nov. 16, 2002.
That’s not entirely true: There was plenty of noise coming from southwest corner of the stadium, where a couple thousand Husky fans stayed well after the final horn to celebrate with the team.
Washington @ Oregon,
4:30 p.m., Ch. 13
And what a celebration it was for the Huskies, who at coach Rick Neuheisel’s urging re-emerged from the visitors’ locker room after the game and returned to the field, dancing and stomping on the Oregon “O” at midfield for a solid 20 minutes — a display that has long irked many in Eugene.
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“When things are as tough and bleak as they’ve been for most of the last month, you crave an opportunity to celebrate and I was not going to deny them that opportunity,” Neuheisel said afterward.
Of course, UW hasn’t had much to celebrate in the rivalry since. Washington rolled the Ducks again a year later, 42-10 in Seattle, but the Huskies haven’t won in Eugene since that 2002 celebration.
Barton, the backup quarterback behind Cody Pickett, had come in for mop-up duty late in that game after the Huskies stormed back from a 14-0 first-half deficit.
Pickett threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns and broke Ryan Leaf’s Pac-10 record for single-season passing yards. Most of those passes went to star receiver Reggie Williams, who had 14 catches for 198 yards and three TDs. Rich Alexis had 122 yards rushing as the Huskies held the ball for more than 40 minutes.
“We didn’t just beat them, we spanked them,” Barton said. “We spanked them.”
Most important for UW, which improved to 6-5 overall, the victory secured a non-losing season. A week later, the Huskies pulled off one of their all-time great Apple Cup victories when they went to Pullman and upset the No. 3 Cougars 29-26 in triple-overtime.
That completed what Neuheisel had dubbed the Northwest Championship, with the Huskies closing out the season with successive victories over Oregon State, Oregon and WSU (after losing to USC, Arizona State and UCLA the three weeks prior). Neuheisel even had T-shirts made up with blank boxes to check off after each win.
“I thought it was a brilliant marketing play,” Barton said of Neuheisel’s idea. “It gave everybody in the locker room and in meetings new life — you know what, yeah, we can can’t play for some of the bigger things we wanted to play for, but we can win this and make a run at this. And we did.”
The Huskies wore those T-shirts as they marched back onto the Autzen Stadium turf for their postgame brouhaha.
“I know that didn’t sit well with their coaches and players and fan base,” Barton said, “but that’s what’s so great about this rivalry — no one cares. I don’t care. I feel no empathy for Oregon. And they feel no empathy for us.”
It’s an ironic position, Barton admitted, for a kid who grew up in Beaverton, Ore., rooting for the Ducks and wanting to play quarterback for them. He had that opportunity — Oregon coach Mike Bellotti recruited him out of high school — but another touted local QB, Joey Harrington, had signed with the Ducks the year before.
Barton wound up going to Colorado initially, then eventually transferred to Washington, where he learned — and loved — the other side of the border clash.
“I grew up in Oregon and knew all about the Civil War, and I came to UW and learned all about the Apple Cup,” Barton said. “But I truly feel like those pale in comparison to the Oregon-Washington rivalry.”
Barton remains in the Seattle area. He’s a football analyst for ROOT Sports and runs the Barton Football Academy, and he’s eager to see if the No. 5 Huskies (5-0) at long last can silence the Ducks (2-3) once again at Autzen Stadium this Saturday.
“I have so many family and friends that are Oregon fans, and a lot of guys I work with are Oregon fans, and there’s so much banter going back and forth. But it’s been a one-way street for the last decade-plus,” he said. “Those fans are normally so obnoxious, even they are kind of bracing themselves for what’s coming this week.”