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Entries in oregon football history (21)


November 9, 1940 – Oregon 18, UCLA 0

We’re back! Miss us?  We missed you too.

Click here for a new entry in The Program Project:  the 1940 UCLA game at Hayward Field.


October 17, 1931 – USC 53, Oregon 0: The Joe Lillard Story

Look. See that mirage? There he is, on page three of the 1931 USC program. “Happy” Joe Lillard, he’s tagged. He’s on the roster, there’s a posed action shot, but when game time rolled around he wasn’t on the field. The short version: Lillard, a halfback recruited by Oregon head coach Doc Spears at Minnesota who followed Spears to Oregon in 1930, had been declared ineligible by the Pacific Coast Conference earlier in the week. He had been accused of playing semi-pro baseball, in violation of conference regulations. Without his star player, Doc’s team had about as much chance of success against Howard Jones’ eventual national championship USC team as Joe Lillard had of making it as a black player in the white football world of the Thirties.

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Wisconsin and Oregon. Separated at birth?

Unlike Oregon’s other recent Big Game opponents, teams with significant winning traditions and great pedigrees, the 2012 Rose Bowl saw the Ducks playing a team that was in many respects a mirror image of itself.

Not in the style of play or physical attributes – the differences between Oregon and Wisconsin on the field are well documented, and a subject of great debate on other sites – but in their histories, and what they’ve put their fans through over the years.

If Oregon’s dividing line between The Suffering and success is 1994, Wisconsin’s equivalent Year of Demarcation is 1993, when the Badgers, in Barry Alvarez’s third season, broke a 30 year Rose Bowl drought and a string of eight straight losing seasons.

As close chronologically as the teams respective Years of Demarcation are, their respective records during the preceding Decades of Suckitude, and subsequent Ages of Enlightenment, are also eerily similar:








1965 – 1993






1964 – 1992






1994 – 2011






1993 – 2011






It would be difficult to intentionally manipulate the performance of two teams to generate records this similar over almost identical periods.

There are so many similarities in Oregon and Wisconsin’s histories that it’s almost easier to find the differences. (There, one can start with Camp Randall Stadium, with almost twice the capacity of Autzen, and the legendary fanaticism of football fans in Wisconsin. Fan support for the Badgers is so solid that in 1968, when the team was suffering its second consecutive winless season, the stadium was still filled to 54% of capacity.  Only during the Don Morton era did attendance regularly dip below 40,000 – a major factor in his termination; he was replaced by Barry Alvarez in 1990. By contrast, during the years of abject apathy for the Ducks, in the mid-70s, the stadium was regularly half-empty, or worse… and Oregon has never gone winless once, never mind twice.)

Now, those similarities…

Separated at birth?



Modern Rose Bowl drought

37 years (1958 – 1995)

31 years (1963 – 1994)

9+ win seasons, 1945 - 1993

1 (1948)


9+ win seasons since 1993



Bowl appearances,
1900 – 1963 1



Bowl appearances, 1964– 2012



Losing seasons, 1964 – 1993



Losing seasons since 1994



Longest losing streak

15 games
(10-5-74 to 10-18-75)

24 games
(9-23-67 to 10-4-69)

Ten horrible but representative pre-1994 losses

(* = home)

1972: 68-3, Oklahoma

1974: 61-7, Nebraska

1974: 66-0, Washington

1975: 5-0, San Jose St *

1976: 53-0, USC *

1976: 46-0, UCLA

1977: 54-0, Washington *

1982: 10-4, Fresno St *

1983: 21-15, Pacific *

1985: 63-0, Nebraska

1968: 20-0, Utah St *

1974: 52-7, Ohio St

1975: 41-7, Kansas *

1977: 56-0, Michigan

1978: 55-2, Michigan St

1978: 42-0, Michigan *

1988: 24-14, Western Michigan *

1988: 62-14, Michigan *

1989: 51-3, Miami FL *

1990: 24-18, Temple *

Swan Dive Season


(6-1 start; 0-5 finish)


(5-0 start; 0-6 finish)

Immovable Force Offense


(103 points in 11 games)


(86 points in 10 games)

Irresistible Object Defense

1977 (allowed 377 in 11 games)

1969 (allowed 349 in 10 games)

Minor bowl appearances that felt major to the teams at the time, considering

1989 Independence (W)

1990 Freedom (L)

1992 Independence (L)

1981 Garden State (L)

1982 Independence (W)

1984 Hall of Fame Classic (L)

Brief period of optimism


(winning seasons with John Becker as offensive coordinator)


(three bowls in four years under head coach Dave McClain)

Setback after brief period of optimism

Probation, 1980-1982
(for various offenses under John Becker as offensive coordinator)

Sudden death of head coach (Dave McClain died of heart attack during offseason, 1985)

Coach named Don who was fired after 3 years of blowout losses and declining attendance, who won a national championship in a lower division

Don Read

(fired 1977; won D 1-AA title at Montana in 1995 )

Don Morton

(fired 1989; won D-II title at North Dakota State in 1983)

Athletic Director who replaced a Hall of Fame legend

(and damn near ruined everything)

Norv Ritchey
(replaced Len Casanova, 1969)

Ade Sponberg
(replaced Elroy Hirsch, 1987)

Athletic Director who saved the program

Bill Byrne (1982-1992)

Pat Richter (1990-2006)

AP poll appearances, 1964 - 1992

13 of 361 polls (.036)

9 of 361 polls (.025)


Celebrated 1994 conference championship by naming field after coach with losing record who bailed after winning conference championship

Celebrated 1993 win over Michigan by hospitalizing 73 fans after stampede to field

Signature win that finally ended The Suffering (or whatever Wiscy calls it)

Washington, 31-20, 1994

Michigan, 13-10, 1993

Established team as national power in his only Division 1 head coaching job, then became Athletic Director

Mike Bellotti

Barry Alvarez

Quarterback who threw for a zillion yards and set multiple Rose Bowl offensive records, despite losing

Danny O’Neil (1995)

Ron Vander Kelen (1963)

Longtime, bitter rival that has been utterly dominated for years

(14-4 since 1994)

(15-3 since 1994)

1 Oregon was ineligible for bowl games other than the Rose Bowl from 1916-1958 and 1963-1974, but was granted an exception in 1948 season to play in the Cotton Bowl. From 1959-1963 Oregon played as a “Western Independent” and was eligible for other bowl appearances. As a member of the Big Ten, Wisconsin was ineligible to appear in any bowl game other than the Rose Bowl until 1977, when the conference relaxed its postseason rules.






Dammit, Stanford.

Oregon’s post-WW2 record vs Stanford is competitive, with the Ducks holding a 30-27 edge in the series since 1945.

But the record doesn’t show that time and again, the CardIndianals have shot an arrow/sprung a sharpened tree branch into the hearts of Duck fans - either ruining the chances for a bowl bid or otherwise destroying the hopes for a season.  And, strangely, it doesn’t seem work the other way nearly as often.

By my reckoning, there have been eight nine instances since WWII that Stanford has, in one fashion or another, ruined Oregon’s season… and three times Oregon has returned the favor.

  • 1954 – Oregon is ranked #16 in the AP poll and has an eye on a Rose Bowl bid. With future #1 pick George Shaw at QB, the senior-laden Webfoots are seen as ten-point favorites to knock off Stanford in Multnomah Stadium. But versatile fullback Jasper McGee broke a rib in practice and missed the game; Shaw pulled a thigh muscle in the opening victory over Idaho and wasn’t 100%. Stanford, the only team coached by high-tops, was led by future NFL stalwart John Brodie. The Indians scored quickly, took advantage of three Duck fumbles, and held on for an 18-13 win despite being outgained almost 2-1 by Oregon.
    The game was marred by numerous penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct on both teams, and after the final gun a battle royal erupted on the field, with Stanford players engaging Oregon partisans from the stands, resulting in a trip to the hoosegow for one of the visitors. Ducks fell out of the Top 20 the next week and wouldn’t return for two years, finishing the season at 6-4.
  • 1964 – Len Casanova’s best team came into the Stanford game 6-0 and ranked #7 in the AP poll. They hadn’t lost since the previous November 2nd. Never mind that the gaudy record had been earned against teams with an aggregate record of 12-20-3; Eugene was gripped with Rose Bowl fever, and the three upcoming games were seen as mere tune-ups before a Civil War that would decide the conference title. Stanford was 2-4, had just lost to #2 Notre Dame 28-6, had lost seven straight to the Webfoots, and hadn’t won a road game in two years.

    Statistically the game was a blowout – for Stanford. The Tribe outgained Oregon 374-73, had a 21-5 edge in first downs and ran off 78 plays to Oregon’s 45. But Stanford’s drives kept stalling in the red zone; they missed three field goals, allowing Oregon to keep it close. Oregon led late in the 4th quarter, but a short punt from horrible field position gave Stanford the ball on Oregon’s 39 with 54 seconds left. As they’d done all day, the Oregon DBs failed to cover their men; Stanford’s Dave Lewis found HB Bob Blunt streaking down the sidelines, giving them a first down at the Oregon 12. Two plays later, Stanford K Brad Beck’s final attempt was true, giving the Indians an improbably 10-8 victory.
    It’s hard to say with certainty that an Oregon win would have put the Ducks in the ‘65 Rose Bowl regardless of what happened in the Civil War. What can’t be disputed is that the Stanford loss made a CW win absolutely essential for a return trip to Pasadena… and of course that didn’t happen.

  • 1972 – A rare Oregon upset of a good Stanford team. The 1-5 Ducks, in Dick Enright’s first and penultimate season, hosted the #13 “Cardinals.” 17 point underdogs to 4-1 Stanford, the Ducks, who had given up over 2,000 yards rushing over its last six games, held their guests to 25 rushing yards, led 15-0 at halftime with the help of an 85 yard run by Donnie Reynolds, and held on for a 15-13 victory. The two-time Rose Bowl champions, sporting a new, less-racially-insensitive nickname and mascot, never recovered from the humiliation, going just 2-5 in conference.
  • 1976 – Oregon was on a five-game losing streak, and had been outscored 151-39 including the last game, a 0-46 pasting at UCLA. Don Read needed a win over Stanford to keep his job. The stats were there; Oregon outgained the Cardinal, 425-265, and forced 10 punts. But Jack Henderson threw four interceptions, leading to 21 Stanford points, and the team couldn’t crawl out of its self-created hole. Played before a crowd very generously estimated at 18,000 in Autzen, Read’s final home game was a 28-17 loss. It was a testimony to the state of the sport in Eugene that nobody really cared. Read was fired a week later.
  • 1987 – Oregon was 4-2 in Bill Musgrave’s freshman year, and although some of the bloom came off the Rose the previous week (a 41-10 loss to UCLA, where Oregon lost its first national ranking in 16 seasons), the ‘87 campaign could still have lead somewhere. Their upcoming opponents, other than ASU, were mired in losing seasons. This included Stanford, at 2-4. If the Ducks could get to 8-3, they’d see that first bowl bid since 1963. And, again, the stats were solidly on their side – outgaining the Cardinal 332-185, controlling the clock.
    But as usual, Oregon killed itself against the Tree, with four turnovers – three in Stanford’s red zone. And when Brad Muster scored from the three yard line with 39 seconds left, giving the home team a 13-10 victory, you could hear the air coming out of Oregon’s season all the way from Palo Alto. The Ducks managed wins over lowly Wazzu and OSU to finish at 6-5, but there would be no bowl in 1987.
  • 1989 – On the Farm again, and another heartbreaking loss. Oregon was 2-0 and coming off a shocking 44-6 victory at Iowa. Stanford was 0-2, on a seven game losing streak, and had just lost to Oregon State for only the third time in twenty years. Feeling their oats, Duck fans bought up shirts that said “RESPECT – DEMAND IT!” Unfortunately, respect must be earned … and this year Oregon didn’t earn any from the Cardinal, blowing a 17 point fourth quarter lead and losing on a last-second field goal, 18-17. At least this loss didn’t keep Oregon out of post-season play, but the then-unproven-as-a-bowl-team Ducks might have looked much more attractive to games other than the Independence Bowl at 9-2 than they did at 8-3.
  • 1993 – One of the most snake-bitten teams in Oregon history still had an outside chance at a bowl bid, but only if it could get past Stanford and OSU in its last two games. It couldn’t. Stanford came into Autzen, ran out to a 22 point lead and held on for a 38-34 upset victory behind QB Steve Stenstrom, who lit up the beleaguered Oregon secondary for 407 yards, leading to boos and catcalls from the home fans, and more calls for Rich Brooks to be replaced.
  • 1995 – There was no way to know this at the time, but the late September upset of the #12 Ducks , 28-21, in Autzen by Ty Willingham’s Stanford team kept Oregon from repeating as conference champions. The Ducks only lost one other conference game in 1995 (to ASU); if they’d beaten Stanford, they would have been 7-1 and jumped over USC and Washington in the league standings. (Yes, the same would be true if they’d beaten ASU. Sue me.)
  • 2001 — An upset loss at Autzen to the Cardinal keeps Oregon out of the national championship game.
  • 2010 — #4 Oregon gives #9 Stanford its only loss of the season, 52-31.
  • 2011 — #7 Oregon gives #4 Stanford its only loss of the regular season, 53-30.
  • 2012 — #18 Stanford returns the favor from the past two seasons, giving Oregon its first regular season loss in overtime and derailing the Ducks’ national championship hopes.

Now that’s a rivalry.


Oregon vs Colorado: A prehistoric series, part V

A look back at another game in the Oregon - Colorado series, this one the 1978 season opener in Boulder, when Rich Brooks was ebullient about some highly touted recruits, but rode into Colorado as a 20 point underdog.

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