It was never really clear just what Rick Neuheisel had in mind on that day in November 2002, when he first spoke of winning the "Northwest Championship."
Was it simply a spur-of-the-moment invention to fire up a team whose season was teetering on the brink? Or did he really believe, as he insisted afterward, that it has always been a stated goal of the UW program?
Whatever the case, Neuheisel's coining of the Northwest Championship soon took on a life of its own and will stand as one of his most enduring legacies at Washington.
Neuheisel first used the phrase — or first used it with any real emphasis, anyway — the day after UW lost to UCLA in 2002 to fall to 4-5.
All that remained on the schedule were games against Oregon State, Oregon and Washington State, a scheduling quirk that hadn't happened since the days of Gil Dobie and may never happen again. So when he was asked what the Huskies had left to play for, Neuheisel talked of the Northwest Championship.
When the Huskies proceeded to run the table, they happily laid claim to the title of Northwest champs, even if there was no real prize other than pride.
Fans of other schools cried that the Northwest Championship was strictly mythical, just another devious Neuheisel ploy.
But the Huskies didn't care, and proudly laid claim to it again last year when, in the midst of one of the most chaotic seasons in school history, the lone highlight was beating Oregon State, Oregon and Washington State by a combined 61 points.
On Saturday, the Northwest Championship comes to life for the Huskies again as they host Oregon State.
And in the midst of another disappointing season, it's one thing they can hold on to.
"We have pride in this," said sophomore guard Stanley Daniels. "In years past, we have usually ruled the Northwest, and we need to just keep that going."
That UW has been able to rule the Northwest the past few years, however, is as perplexing as the team's fall from grace in that same time.
Consider that UW is 14-16 overall since the start of the 2002 season, yet 6-0 against the Northwest.
That means UW is just 8-16 against non-Northwest teams, and two of those wins are against Idaho and another against San Jose State.
And UW was an underdog by six points or more in five of the six Northwest wins — the Huskies were favored by one against Oregon at home last season.
In fact, going back even further, UW is 14-3 against the Northwest schools since 1998 — Washington is 46-32 overall in that time, meaning they are just 32-29 against all other opponents.
"I really can't explain why, to be honest with you," said sophomore linebacker Scott White. "I just think there has been an added emphasis, a renewed focus that guys bring to the table when we play those guys. But I've never really understood it."
What White meant is that like much of Husky nation, he hasn't been able to figure out why the Huskies have been able to beat the Northwest teams, yet lose to the likes of Nevada.
One possible reason is that games against Oregon State and Oregon became even more heated the past two years thanks to pregame comments made by Beavers linebacker Richard Seigler and Ducks safety Keith Lewis.
Seigler said before the 2002 game that UW's "face is in the mud and we are going to try to push it even further in the mud."
Lewis, meanwhile, called UW quarterback Cody Pickett "overrated" in 2002, then said last year that the Ducks intended to beat the Huskies and then dance on the "W" at midfield in Husky Stadium to get revenge for a Washington celebration at Autzen Stadium following the 2002 game.
"You get all those guys talking smack about us and saying they are going to do this to the Huskies and that to the Huskies," Daniels said. "It gets us real fired up to go out there and play."
It seems doubtful there will be any similar outbursts this season. OSU coach Mike Riley already has laid down the law with his team after cornerback Brandon Browner said before the Arizona State game three weeks ago, "I think we can go down there and kick their butts again."
The Sun Devils, by the way, won 27-14.
Besides, the Huskies and Beavers are each 1-4 entering this game, with little to pop off about.
Still, in a season that is quickly fading away, the Northwest awaits. And until further notice, the Huskies are still the champs.
"I've never lost to Oregon State since I've been here, and I don't want to ever lose to them," Daniels said. "So I'm going to try my hardest to make sure that never happens."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|The Huskies went just 1-2 against Northwest teams in 1997, losing to Oregon and Washington State. But since then, the Huskies have dominated Northwest competition. A season-by-season look:|
|* beat Oregon State and WSU, lost to Oregon
** lost to Oregon
*** beat WSU, lost to Oregon State