Flashback Friday: The pick that turned the fortunes of Oregon football

Saturday, the Oregon Ducks will host the Washington Huskies in a game that will bring back significant memories for the Ducks. Earlier this week, the Ducks announced they would wear throwback uniforms in honor of Kenny Wheaton’s memorable interception, which sparked the turnaround of Oregon football as we know it.

The year was 1994 and Oregon was 4-3, hosting the No. 9 Washington Huskies. With 1:05 left in the game, Oregon led by four points, but the Huskies were sitting on the Ducks’ eight-yard line and looked poised to score the go-ahead touchdown.

What happened next has become part of Oregon tradition and folklore, and is so revered in Eugene that it is shown on “DuckVision” before the Ducks run on the field at each home game.

Here’s what happened:

Since that play, Oregon has had only one losing season. The Play sparked the turnaround of the program. That year, coach Rich Brooks led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1957.

Mike Bellotti would take over the reins from Brooks in 1995 and lead the Ducks to 12 bowl games in 14 years. Chip Kelly took UO to the next level by making the Ducks a perennial top-10 team: He finished his short four-year tenure as head coach with a 46-7 overall record (including a 33-3 conference record), paving the way for Mark Helfrich.

It’s interesting to look back at one season, one game, and — in this case — one play, and how it has impacted a school. Without this play, would the Ducks have folded against Washington and seen their season go down the tubes? If the ball would have bounced differently or a player made a different decision, how would that have impacted the team’s fortunes?

In this case, a freshman, Kenny Wheaton, made a play that not only changed the trajectory of a game, but the trajectory of the Oregon-Washington rivalry, the Oregon season, and ultimately the direction of the path the Ducks have taken. One play helped make Oregon one of the teams to beat in today’s world of college football.

About Kevin Causey

Dry humorist, craft beer enthusiast, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Comeback.