Ducks take region's football to new level

A national championship? A Heisman? This year could be the pinnacle.

A national championship? A Heisman? This year could be the pinnacle.

One way to make a regional appraisal of the 2010 Oregon football program is that the Ducks, after their 48-29 Friday rout of Arizona, are every bit the equal of the three major Washington state teams. As Saturday dawned, that is, the 11-0 Ducks had precisely as many wins as the Seahawks, Huskies, and Cougars — combined.

It may seem to certain Evergreen State observers to be undignified pig-piling to note that — oh, yeah — Oregon’s poll-leading team also has, let’s see, 20 fewer losses than the above-mentioned mediocre trio. But U of O football the past few months has transcended mere regional significance. What the Ducks are up to may become within weeks the major 2010-season gridiron story in the nation, hence the world.

Indeed, the Ducks are just eight quarters away from an undefeated season and an unassailable national championship. Two of those periods happen to be fourth quarters, when Oregon outscores opponents about 10 to 1. Granted, the Ducks can be managed for a quarter or two, as Stanford, Washington and now Arizona partisans know. Friday the Wildcats won the first half, 19-14; Oregon prevailed 34-10 thereafter.

It isn’t just that the Ducks keep winning. The mystique of coach Chip Kelly’s program seems to proceed from every aspect of the team’s persona, from sartorial touches seemingly taken from an Impressionist’s palette to a paradoxical style of play that might be described as controlled anarchy.

Huddle between plays? Kelly’s guys have consigned this antiquity to the dustbin for tedious customs of the 20th century game. Fourth and short on your own side of the field? Obviously you go for the first down, especially given that the spread-option offensive might actually lead to a warp-speed 60-yard romp for a score. Fourth and nine at the opponent’s 35? Why try a field goal when you could ramble and pass for the first down?

Modern Duck football seems exceptional in just about any context. For those of us who go back (more than) a few decades with the program, the brilliance of the 2010 season is just about incomprehensible.

Compare, that is, the spectacle of a contemporary Oregon home game with the relatively subdued events some of us actually could see across the street from our dorm rooms during the autumn of 1966. It was the final year for the Ducks to host opponents at Hayward Field, kind of a glorified high-school stadium better intended for the school’s vaunted track-and-field program.

That year the football team lost to Wazzu in its Hayward finale, finishing 3-7 to end the Len Casanova era. Greatness had been scarce. It would be a long stretch between the Casanova-led 1958 Rose Bowl defeat and the 1995 Rich Brooks-mentored loss in Pasadena.

Given the well-reported (and oft-envied) largess the program has received from celeb-alum Phil “Nike” Knight, the contemporary Ducks are poised to perpetuate a first-class recruiting program that would seem to guarantee ongoing success.

But this season may represent the pinnacle, not just for Duck football but for sports in Oregon. A national championship, assuming the Ducks get by Oregon State next week and proceed to win the January champ-christening bowl in Arizona, might actually eclipse the 1977 NBA title won by the Portland Trailblazers. If Duck runner LaMichael James also claims the Heisman Trophy, it would end a Northwest drought that has prevailed since Oregon State’s Terry Baker won college football’s top individual honor in 1962.

Oregon sports partisans would hasten with great justification to note “Northwest drought” confers undue greatness on Washington state, where the UW’s Jake Locker during preseason prattle was considered by many to be the top Dawg in Heisman conjecture.

Maybe it’s time for the high-flying Duckies to get a wing-clipping. I’d probably bet against them, too, if a post-season game could be arranged between Oregon and Washington.

This is assuming the latter were composed of the top players from the Evergreen State’s three main teams – that or a Duck match-up with the neighbor state’s most celebrated team: the 9-2 Eastern Washington Eagles, ranked first nationally among small-college programs and scheduled for a Dec. 4 playoff game.


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