Heated rivalries don't require hated rivals.
AS A COLUMNIST, you often find yourself getting ripped by some of the nicest people, which is how I happened to meet my friend Tracy Combs, Husky fan.
Well, sort of meet.
We figure that one day we'll buy each other a beer someplace, perhaps after an Oregon-Washington football game that goes four overtimes with a berth in the Rose Bowl on the line and becomes a classic, but right now we've neither seen each other, nor talked on the phone.
Our conversations take place exclusively via e-mail, which was our introduction back in 1999, when I received a rather scathing, and unsigned, criticism about a column I wrote on the Oregon football team's loss to UCLA on a Saturday night in Pasadena.
Now, if columnists conducted post-column press conferences, the way football coaches do post-game interviews, I would have said that I'd played hard and given great effort but probably come up short in the analysis department, and that while the conditions were the same for all the columnists, it was a night game on Fox Sports Net, which meant writing as the game went along, which is always an adventure.
Especially that night, when the Ducks got way behind and then staged a furious rally that ended with Marshaun Tucker's sliding catch on the UCLA 1, meaning that over the course of writing this work-in-progress I'd buried the Ducks deep and then furiously started digging them up again after Matt Smith's interception return for a touchdown.
Anyway, the final product was more than the usual blather, and I figured I had a few shots coming, and so rather than reach for the delete key at this anonymous criticism from cyberspace, I replied, somewhat testily, that at least I signed my name to what I wrote four times a week, which was more than this guy had done.
(OK, so the the response wasn't my finest hour, either. ...)
Which rather than the "Oh, yeah ... " that this probably deserved drew instead a delightful e-mail of self-introduction from Tracy Combs, Husky fan, who lived in Eugene from 1983 to earlier in '99, and now lives in a suburb of Jacksonville, Fla. During his Eugene days, Combs, now 50, drove around Duckville in a Jeep with a license plate that said "Husky;" that was him, his Jeep, and his license plate on the front page of The Register-Guard on Oct. 17, 1992, the morning of an Oregon-Washington game at Autzen Stadium.
Over the past three years we've corresponded regularly, at least a few times a month, as much as once a week in football season. Trace is sort of my Husky conscience - yes, those words can go together - who reminds me that the view from outside Eugene tends to be different than the view from the midst of the phenomenon that has become Oregon athletics.
I'll write about Oregon's improvement as a football program.
Trace will remind me that the 85-player scholarship limitation is a bigger factor in that improvement than anything else.
I'll point out that if it was just that, then Northwestern wouldn't have gone to the Rose Bowl and then disappeared.
Trace will say that well, yes, being Nike University does have some benefits.
Like Washington doesn't have waves of donors with deep pockets, I'll wonder.
And so we go, the Husky fan and the guy who covers the Ducks. Earlier this season, I wrote that the view from the top of the expanded Autzen Stadium was second in the Pac-10 only to Husky Stadium's view of Lake Washington. Whereupon Trace reminded me that I'd overlooked a small geographical feature known as Mount Rainier.
He is a Husky fan with a sense of humor. When his team lost to Michigan earlier this season, the game turning on a UW penalty for having 12 men on the field, Trace noted that at least in that situation the oft-maligned Husky defense forced an incomplete pass.
Over the months, our written conversations have come to deal with more than just games. We've reacted in horror together to Sept. 11, and reflected on the passing of summers.
And in part, I write about this today because I'd like to think that if he suddenly got tickets, and a private jet from Orange Park, Fla., that my pal Tracy Combs, Husky fan, could walk into Autzen Stadium on Saturday, resplendent in his purple and gold, and not have to worry about being insulted, cursed and otherwise treated rudely by the minority (I hope) of Oregon fans who can't keep a college football game in perspective.
Because Oregon fans can now root for one of the league's best programs, and watch a game in one of the league's best facilities. Along with that ought to be an effort to lead the league in class, too.
Oh, and one more note about my friend Tracy Combs, Husky fan. Earlier this year, direct from Florida, he sent me a T-shirt celebrating the University of Miami's national championship football season, which concluded with the rout of Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. It was one of those shirts that has all the scores written on the back, and it took something for Trace to send that, because the Hurricanes blew away his beloved Huskies.
In turn, I sent him a T-shirt from the Elite Eight; it might be the only shirt he owns that has an Oregon logo on it.
I'm not sure that Trace ever wears his Oregon shirt, but I wore my Miami shirt quite proudly last summer, posing for a team photo with my youngest son's T-ball team. I was the assistant coach, and the head coach was my friend E.J. Rotherham, Nebraska fan.
Which is another story altogether.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Nov 14, 2002|
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