When a program ascends to the top echelon of college football and loses 22-19 on the final play, it’s absurd to think of the team as a loser. Many will see it that way with the Oregon Ducks, who didn’t play their best game but still, in the absence of key turnovers, could’ve beaten Auburn in the Bowl Championship Series title game Monday in Arizona.
Many have become Ducks reborn during this season that saw the humble-of-origin Oregon football program show through 12 straight regular-season wins that it could lay claim to the apex of the college game. Even some of us alums long-since disassociated with the school and its sports programs have been getting a peripheral bit of sports prestige this season.
And yet, even though this grad actually sported (albeit, under my jacket) a faded Duck T-shirt on the Washington campus during the quarter break, I still harbor some bitterness toward Oregon football — 69 points worth.
It was Oct. 26, 1974, a mild afternoon at Husky Stadium. I was with four of my Seattle P-I coworkers. Just three years away from my time in Eugene, I was eager to defend my alma mater. The listed bet spread favored my Duckies by a few. I boldly (well, foolishly) gave points and bet the Ducks, five bucks all around.
The Dawgs scored first, last, often, and exclusively. When it was over the score was 66-0 and, after my gracious, confident pregame gift, I lost that day by 69 points.
It was, of course, the Ducks who were the big losers that day, as they had been and would be off and on for decades hence. In 1988 Oregon started its season 6-1. After watching the sixth victory, 17-14 in Eugene Oct. 22 against Washington, some fellow Duck alums and I were at the old Phi Delt house in Eugene listening to frat guys boast about a potential 11-1 season. It didn’t quite happen that year as the Quackers proceeded to lose their last five and finish even.
When I think about Monday’s national-championship game, it occurs to me that any ephemeral pride felt by those of us who merely happened to attend the institution pales compared with the joy this must bring to those who played Duck football when it wasn’t glamorous or much fun. The spectacle of playing in the finale against Auburn really belongs with the memories that fans and historians have of, say, the late Norm Van Brocklin and the great Mel Renfro, along with my own contemporaries: Dan Fouts, Tom Blanchard, and Ahmad Rashad (Bobby Moore during his college years). Rashad was on the sideline with players and staff at the BCS game.
The Ducks also have become statewide darlings, the shared property of seemingly everybody who lives in Oregon. One of my Seattle buddies who spends a lot of time traveling through the Northwest was up one end and across the other in The Beaver State last week and said that festive evidence of Duck-football support was more visible at homes and businesses than Christmas lights in December. A bonus, of course, is the notion that coach Chip Kelly’s program (even if he were to leave it to somebody else) promises to recruit and flourish with great success for years to come.
Indeed, one would think some crafty, crowd-pleasing legislator in Salem just now is arranging to propose changing Oregon’s official nickname (with apologies to Oregon State University) to The Duck State. Thanks to Nike largesse from alum Phil Knight and the love from so many in Oregon, that’s what it’s become.
Obviously the 12-1 Pac-10 champs, great as they are, will lose football games again someday. The Dawgs may in fact have a surprise waiting for Kelly et al next season when the Ducks visit Nov. 5, the last play date at “old” Husky Stadium before renovation.
I expect to be there but doubt I will bet. I’d probably lose, even though it's unlikely that I — or anybody — could ever lose again by 69 #$%&! points.