All Forward in The ‘Age of the O’
A new Oregon anthem — “O Time” — was released this week by hip-hop artist Xile of Portland. The accompanying music video is catchy, sprinkled with guest appearances by former UO gridiron greats like Jonathan Stewart and Dennis Dixon, and of images that capture the momentum that is Duck football today.
Just in time for the opener against LSU on Sept. 3.
O Time? No doubt.
But if we were to take a larger view of things, aren’t we also in the midst of the Age of the O?
Consider this: In the 202 games since the “Kenny Wheaton’s Gonna Score!” punch against Washington in 1994, the Ducks have compiled a 142-60 record, a .703 winning percentage. In the 202 games before that historic day, the Ducks went 87-115, a .431 winning percentage.
Need more? Ponder for a moment those gray days in the 1970s and early 1980s when 15,000 or so fans huddled together in Autzen Stadium, suitably numbed by both the play on the field and the Blitz flowing from kegs hidden between the aisles.
Or players, coaches and recruits hanging around crummy old lockers and cramped offices.
“The players that are there now don’t understand where it came from,” former Oregon head coach Rich Brooks remarked earlier this year.
Now consider the crescendo that will greet the Ducks when they rumble onto the Autzen turf on Sept. 10 against Nevada.
Or the ESPN College GameDay hype that awaits the week before in Texas against LSU.
Or the preseason No. 3 ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
It’s been that kind of transformation.
Which brings us to this question: How did we get from No Time to O Time?
Most pundits point to Wheaton’s remarkable interception and game-clinching touchdown against UW, followed by Nike founder and alum Phil Knight’s decision to pump millions into the program. Prior to last January’s BCS title game against Auburn, some in the media gave all the credit to Knight.
With all due respect to the Ducks’ favorite Husky killer and favorite uncle, I believe that’s a bit too simplistic.
Sure, Wheaton’s legendary play jump-started the program, united the fan base and donors like never before, and created a path to the Rose Bowl, which in turn gave rise to bigger dreams.
And for sure, Knight’s contributions — said to top $300 million today — have turned Oregon’s facilities into a gleaming palace that entices some of the best high school players in the country to Eugene. Not to mention his presence on the sidelines and in the Casanova Center, and the instant cred that goes along with that.
As former head coach Mike Bellotti famously said when asked about Knight’s influence: “How important is the sun to life on Earth?”
Yet the question remains: Have the Duck football fortunes really changed because of one very, very wealthy and loyal alum? Or because of one crystalizing play?
Without Knight and Wheaton, it’s unlikely the program would be where it is today. But even with them, there was no guarantee things would proceed as they have.
Tons of money can go for naught unless there is buy-in and follow-through.
One shining moment can quickly fade away.
“Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do,” writes Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller, The Tipping Point.
Some of the program’s advances have been big in nature (think Knight, here). Some incremental.
All have kept Duck football hurling forward to the Land So Few Know.
If school officials hadn’t stuck it out with Brooks, would Oregon be where it is today?
If those Autzen fans of old — inebriated or not — had failed to come back for more punishment, would Oregon be where it is today?
What if Bellotti hadn’t agreed to join Brooks’ staff in 1989?
Or Keenan Howry hadn’t rescued the Ducks with a 70-yard punt return in a drenching rain against OSU in 2001, keeping Oregon on pace to finish No. 2 in the nation that season?
What if Duck fans, including those in the higher reaches of Autzen, didn’t cheer on every play as if it was the last? How many victories has that been worth?
Where would Oregon be without 10,000 donors today?
Or if Chip Kelly hadn’t visited Eugene on one of his summertime college forays in 2006? Would the “blur” be worth something celebrating in the here-and-now?
What if school officials had nixed the redesigned “O” and the flashy multiple-color (DayGlo, winged or otherwise) uniforms?
Would we really be seeing Lee Corso putting on the Duck head so often?
Today, you can spot Oregon hats and shirts and flags around the world.
Along a Paris sidewalk. On the bumper of a car circumventing Mexico City. Inside a U.S. outpost in Afghanistan.
Walk around virtually any airport in the country with a Duck shirt, and you’re in line to get flashed the O. (And perhaps something else, too, but really — when you think about it — isn’t that a form of flattery as well?)
This summer, I spotted a man jogging through Memorial Park in Wenatchee, Wash. He was wearing a black-and-yellow Oregon hat. As he entered the deeply shaded park, a couple of homeless guys camped on the grass stood up — without prompting — and yelled, “Go Ducks!” A few moments later, a man and woman in the middle of the park did the same. And then as the runner exited the place, another two followed suit.
The echo hung in the thick warm air.
O Time during the Age of the O.