Reliving The Pick: Behind the lens of one of Oregon Ducks’ most iconic football moments

Hard to believe 29-years have passed since that day

Kenny Wheaton runs toward the end zone after his interception against Washington in 1994.

The Pick haunts me.

Missing an important play is a fact of life for a sports photographer. The moments are fleeting, the obstacles abundant, hand-eye coordination and equipment fallible.

But every year, Kenny Wheaton’s historic interception — the most iconic moment in the history of Oregon Duck football — plays on the big screen at Autzen Stadium, in TV coverage and reappears on the pages of newspapers up and down Interstate 5. 

Andy Nelson’s image of The Pick from 1994.

Each year the Ducks play the Huskies, I am reminded of a decision that led me to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. 

Oregon fans remember the play and the iconic photograph made by my colleague, former Register-Guard photographer Andy Nelson. 

A reporter jumps in the air, another man points Wheaton toward the end zone, a couple of ballboys stand stunned, and a father holds his daughter in one arm while pumping his fist with the other. Those are among the moments frozen in time from the photograph that ran in The Register-Guard on Oct. 23, 1994, following Oregon’s 31-20 win over the ninth-ranked Huskies. 

No one saw my images. 

Kenny Wheaton steps in front of a Washington receiver in 1994 for what would become one of the most iconic plays in Oregon football history.

Ducks vs. Huskies 1994

Let’s set the stage. On that sunny day in Eugene, the Ducks led Washington 24-20 with less than a minute left. The Huskies had the ball on the 9-yard line.

Nelson was on the south sideline. I was on the north. 

After the Huskies got a first down and with Heisman Trophy candidate Napoleon Kaufman in the backfield, I was convinced Washington would run the ball.

I made a fateful decision. I moved to the end zone.

Well, we all know the rest of the story. Wheaton made an amazing defensive read. As Washington quarterback Damon Huard rolled out to pass, Wheaton stepped in front of the Husky receiver, intercepted the ball at the 3-yard line, and ran 97 yards for a touchdown. 

And I had a perfect view of the back of Kenny Wheaton’s head.

Oregon fans celebrate the upset win against Washington in 1994.

The Oregon Ducks won the game 31–20, snapping a five-game losing streak in the series and embarking on a run that would lead to their first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 1957.

“Our wills and fates do so contrary run.” ~ William Shakespeare

As Autzen Stadium went absolutely berserk, I was left to relive my decision-making process. Over and over again, lo these many years. 

Thanks for the therapy session. 

Chris Pietsch is the director of photography for Gannett Newspapers in Oregon, The Register-Guard in Eugene and the Statesman Journal in Salem.

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