Oregon’s 2001 Postseason: Part 1
On December 1, 2001; the celebration was on in the pouring rain at Autzen Stadium. Hundreds of fans swarmed the field despite the harsh weather conditions, knowing their beloved Ducks had won the undisputed Pac-10 Championship and were bowl bound. Many had brought Tostitos Chips to celebrate the berth of the Fiesta Bowl, but all true fans had hoped for a Rose Bowl bid. That very night, everything fell into place for Oregon’s outside shot at the Rose Bowl. Duck-Vision at Autzen showed Tennessee upset Florida to knock them to two losses; as well as Colorado’s victory over the Texas Longhorns to put both Colorado and Texas at two-losses. The upsets left Oregon among the few one-loss teams in the NCAA. Only Nebraska, Illinois, and Maryland were left with one loss; and Oregon was ranked the highest in each human poll following its impressive 10-1 regular season and outright Pac-10 Championship.
THE END OF AUTZEN AS WE KNEW IT:
Days before the Civil War, a tower crane was put into place for the upcoming renovation of Autzen Stadium. As the lights went off in Autzen and the last fans cleared following the huge celebration, the 34 year-old Autzen Stadium was closed off for the following months to come. Autzen would never be the same, as the south side was in for a major face lift, along with many other changes. Old stadium chairs were removed on the south side and set outside for collection, bleachers were torn out, and the renovation was on. The south side of Autzen Stadium was mostly demolished to make room for new seats on a higher/steeper slope to preserve the old look. The old roof was demolished, the sideline seats were leveled to near ground level, and the construction crew began a grueling project with less than nine months to complete for the first game scheduled August 31, 2002. Autzen Stadium had been filled over capacity for the previous seven seasons, and the need to add additional seats had come.
Many fans remember Autzen Stadium being very antiquated in the 1970’s and ’80’s with wooden benches, broken glass on the ground, few restroom facilities, and little to enjoy as the Ducks would struggle to even reach .500. Improvements had been made throughout the 1990’s as the rise of the team generated ticket sales, interest skyrocketed, and donations were made to new heights; but few would have ever imagined the upgrades to come in the expansion of the stadium. The construction began; with the project to add 12,000 new seats, improve concession and other facilities, add luxury boxes, add a new press box, better media accommodations, etc. Also added would be 16,500 new bleacher positions, 6,500 stadium chairs, a 10,000 square foot lounge, 21 new concession stands, elevators, and escalators.
The 2001 Trophy Banquet was a very bittersweet time for Oregon Football. 13 stalwart seniors were bid farewell following one of the greatest seasons in Oregon Football History. Each senior gave their farewell speech at the banquet, highlighting the great moments in each one’s career. Along with the tributes to each senior, the annual team awards were given to the athletes who exemplified the best work ethic to earn the award.
Clarke Trophy (Most improved player:) Chris Tetterton. Tetterton was a hometown walk-on from Eugene, and worked very hard throughout his career to earn playing time. The Sheldon High School graduate worked very hard to finally become a starter as a senior, and played despite physical adversity. Tetterton finished 2001 with 20 tackles, four for loss, and one forced fumble. Due in part to a lack of interior lineman and graduation of five experienced 2000 veterans, Tetterton also started 11/12 games and played like a veteran, earning him the team’s most improved player.
Bob Officer Award (Best to overcome physical adversity): Seth McEwan. Native Oregonian from Medford, McEwan started all 12 games at Left Defensive End and had more consecutive starts than any other defender – all despite physical adversity. Also a standout on special teams, McEwan blocked a PAT against Stanford, which maintained a 42-41 lead with minutes remaining and would have sealed the deal for Oregon had they not turned the ball over on the ensuing possession. McEwan overcame countless physical problems to lead tackles among defensive line and force two QB sacks and 17 unassisted tackles.
Casanova Award (Top Newcomer) Onterrio Smith. The sophomore transfer from Tennessee (and Sacramento native) came to Oregon for his second chance at NCAA Football. Smith made the most of his second chance to speak to local youth about not making mistakes he had previously made, and worked hard to get his grades back to a decent level. In the process, Smith gained a great deal of playing time in his first year as a Duck, rushing for over 1,000 yards in the regular season alone and six touchdowns; including a kickoff return for a touchdown and his record-breaking 285 yards at Washington State to earn newcomer of the year for Oregon.
Sahlstrom Award (Senior with high GPA, and leadership abilities:) Ryan Schmid. An outstanding student athlete, Schmid graduated with an amazing 3.97 Grade Point Average with a degree in Business Administration. Few student athletes carry such a high GPA, especially in UO’s renowned College of Business. Schmid was also an Academic All-American.
Gordon E. Wilson Award (Top Special Teams Performer:) Wes Mallard. The former walk-on was not only the team’s leading tackler in 2001, but a special teams standout as well (where he started his career field before working his way to the linebacker corps.) Mallard was first noticed for his ability to shine on special teams before earning a full-time role as linebacker. Posting 26 total tackles on special teams (and 111 total tackles,) the perfectly-named Duck made his presence felt all over the field as a very hard and quick hitter. Mallard made his most famous hit on special teams as a junior, knocking the helmet off of an Arizona player on an amazing block.
Ed Moshofsky Award (Top Offensive Lineman:) Jim Adams. For the second consecutive year, Senior Offensive Lineman Jim Adams was awarded the team’s top offensive lineman. The unheralded stalwart had the most starts of any lineman and was a three year starter since his sophomore season, starting every game as a junior and senior.
Joe Schaffield Trophy (Top Defensive Lineman:) Zack Freiter. Starting every game but one and playing in each game, the Native Oregonian Left Tackle earned the team’s top defensive lineman award for his outstanding abilities to block. His combination of strength, quickness, and football instincts earned him the award as the most powerful interior force.
Gonyea Award (Most Inspirational Player:) Ryan Schmid. Schmid was an outstanding leader for Oregon on and off the field. The fifth year senior was an anchor on the offensive line. “Schmiddy” as best known by his team, was a fifth year senior and four year veteran letterman among the most experienced of the linemen. The native Oregonian from Lake Oswego was a true team leader and known for his ability to lead the offensive line that was very protective of the legendary Joey Harrington.
Hoffman Award (MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:) Joey Harrington. Just who every fan would expect, Harrington’s leadership earned him the Most Outstanding Player for the second consecutive year (as icing on the cake for Joey, he did not have to share it as in 2000.) Harrington was 24-3 as a starter up to that point, and would finish 25-3.
Emerald Athletic Trophy: JOEY HARRINGTON. Awarded annually to a senior athlete of any University of Oregon sport; the recipient must show outstanding leadership, high academic achievement, and citizenship. Joey Harrington’s abilities on and off the field also earned him the award at the end of the 2001-2002 school year. With a 3.94 GPA along with leadership on the field, the most famous athlete on campus earned the top award at the end of the 2001-2002 academic year.
FAREWELL TO STALWART 2001 SENIORS
Steve Smith, Cornerback. Smith finished with an outstanding career at Oregon, and a very impressive senior season. Thanks to his dangerous colleague Rashad Bauman at the opposite end, Smith had a lot of opportunities in 2001. Opposing quarterbacks would frequently throw his direction to avoid Bauman, but run into just as much trouble with Smith. Smith led the team (and conference) with NINE interceptions for 139 return yards in 2001, including two games with three interceptions and the team’s only “pick-six” all season over USC. Smith’s amazing abilities to read opposing quarterbacks earned him two Pac-10 player of the week awards in 2001, and an All-Pac-10 selection. Finished career with 15 interceptions and over 50 pass breakups, along with 99 total tackles.
Maurice Morris, Tailback. The junior-college transfer had an impressive two years as a leader in Oregon’s backfield. Making an immediate impression upon arrival in 2000, Morris broke the single season record in his inaugural year, rushing for 1188 yards. Morris would finish with 18 career touchdowns over two years and complete both of his seasons at Oregon with over 1,000 yards rushing.
Wes Mallard, Linebacker/Special Teams standout. The former walk-on earned a well-deserved scholarship soon after his true talents were discovered. The great blitzer and tackler led the team in tackles with 111 in 2001, more than tripling his career total before the season began (with 30.) Mallard was an amazing tackler, and had arguably the best tackle of the year against UCLA. UCLA only needed to get the ball beyond the 30 to be well within kicker Chris Griffith’s range. Akil Harris ran to the right and made his way around the corner to see pure greenery in front of him. Harris appeared to have the first down and on his way into the secondary, when Mallard made one of the most amazing tackles of his career. Mallard came out of nowhere, sidled up to Harris, and made a diving shoe-string tackle to pull Harris down by the foot for only a two-yard gain and to force fourth down and over 40 yard kick (which went wide to give Oregon the win.) Mallard also had two interceptions, and the pass break-up on the final play of the Washington State game to wrap up the narrow 24-17 victory for Oregon.
Ty Tomlin, Linebacker/Special Teams player. The native Oregonian walk-on from Lebanon worked hard to be a part of the Oregon squad. Tomlin was a fifth year senior, persistent since 1997 when he and twin brother T.J arrived. T.J transferred to Portland State for more playing time, but Ty remained persistently active to prove his love for Oregon football. Tomlin did well on special teams and saw action as a reserve, and in mop-up duties; and was a quiet leader off the field and among the good senior leadership of the 2001 Oregon squad.
Gary McGraw, Safety. The senior saw a lot of action on the field, starting two games in 2001 and adjusting well to the Oregon defense. Not even a full-time starter, McGraw was tenth on the team in total tackles with 32 all season. The JC transfer was a gifted athlete, and would have been a standout had he another two years following his success of 2001.
Josh Line, Fullback. Another very successful walk-on to excel at Oregon. The oldest player on the team, Line was an outstanding leader on and off the field for Oregon. The then-25 year-old was one of the most under rated players on the team, playing a huge factor as the sixth offensive lineman and paving way for Harrington’s extra time in the pocket. After seeing a lot of the field in 1999, Line earned his way to full-time status in 2000 after Oregon graduated three fullbacks. To begin the 2000 season, Line would start the next/final 24 games from 2000-2001. Line only touched the football 37 times, yet had four touchdowns on his resume and averaged 8 yards/touch. Had winning touchdown against UCLA to aide in Harrington’s ninth comeback, and an amazing touchdown catch in a victory against USC in 2000. As if Line wasn’t excited enough over the Pac-10 Title and Civil War victory on December 1, 2001; he and wife Tiffany welcomed their first child right after the Civil War.
Zack Freiter, Defensive Tackle. Posting 24 tackles (nine unassisted and two sacks,) Freiter was a hard worker on the defensive line who earned the starting role as a junior in 2000 after stepping up for the injured veteran Jason Nikaloa. Appeared in 36 games over his career while starting 16 with four total sacks in his career. Freiter was a huge contributor to Oregon’s success. In many ways, Freither was an unsung hero for the memorable 2001 squad.
Ryan Schmid, Lineman. Schmid played nearly every position at line. Starting as a Center in 1999, Schmid rotated to right guard in 2000 and left guard in 2001 to finish career as guard and make room for the rising star Center Dan Weaver. The veteran was offered to continue to the NFL, but declined the offer to pursue a youth pastoral career and continue his education with graduate school
Jim Adams, Lineman. Adams had rotated between tackle and guard, and was able to play solid at any position to allow others around him to develop, finishing his career at Left Tackle. Harrington’s accuracy and ability to pass for so many yards was very much due to the solid line Adams and Schmid led, with the fewest sacks allowed in the Pac-10. Adams finished 2001 as the most experience lineman, and was very successful in his career at Oregon with nearly three years as a starter.
Justin Peelle, Tight End. The Senior Tight End had an outstanding career for Oregon. A starter since his sophomore year in 1999, Peelle had many huge plays in his career at Oregon. As a junior in 2000, Peelle had his most impressive games against Washington, USC, and Arizona State. Against Washington, Peelle had a terrific touchdown catch in double coverage. Against USC, Harrington faked the hand-off on fourth-and-one and found Peelle wide open for the touchdown catch; taking a 21-17 to 28-17 at the last minute to secure the victory. Peelle was one of many heroes in the “Desert Miracle” victory over Arizona State in 2000. On his longest gain of the season, Peelle had a 58 yard catch to get Oregon into the red zone before being brought down. On fourth down, Peelle was denied short of completing the task, being hit at the one yard line, seeming to be the longest yard of the year. No one ever dreamed Peelle would get his chance back as time was running out with Arizona State in control of the ball, but a fumble by Arizona State was recovered by Oregon to give the Ducks new life with thirty-three seconds to play. Peelle made the most of his second chance, using his height advantage over the defender on the very first play, catching the tying touchdown pass from Harrington to send the game to overtime. The renowned Tight End would finish his career at Oregon with 14 touchdown receptions, and 950 total yards. The veteran remains one of the only active NFL players, currently second/third team player for the San Francisco 49ers.
Chris Tetterton, Defensive Tackle. The Eugene-native worked hard in his four years at Oregon, and was proud to claim the title of a starter. Persistence truly paid off for Tetterton, who started 11/12 games on the Defensive Line and finished 12th on the team in total tackles.
Rashad Bauman, Cornerback. One of the greatest in school history, Bauman was known for his leadership and inspiration. A very positive person, Bauman had four very successful seasons at Oregon starting as a true freshman in 1997. Had it not been for a knee injury in 1999 to force Bauman to use a medical redshirt year, Oregon likely would not have had Bauman around the Fiesta Bowl year. Bauman capped an outstanding career as a senior by starting all 12 games and finishing with 55 tackles as a senior and 188 total career tackles (including 11 for loss.) Throughout his entire career, Bauman had 12 interceptions for 285 return yards and three “pick-six” touchdowns. As a true-freshman, Bauman brought Oregon back from a deficit over USC by returning an interception 61 yards for a touchdown and shifting the momentum in a near-victory. Bauman progressed each year with his unmatched 4.27 speed and amazing 35-inch vertical leap to allow his 5’8 stature to go up against the tallest of receivers without problems. Bauman went out in style, finishing his career at Autzen (in the final game of the pre-renovation days) with the game-winning interception over Oregon State to clinch the outright Pac-10 Title and seal a tight 17-14 victory.
Joey Harrington, Quarterback. One of the most prestigious quarterbacks in Oregon Football History, Harrington earned the starting job as a sophomore in the mid-season of 1999 when he stepped in as a backup to lead Oregon to two consecutive come-from-behind victories. In only two and a half years as a starter, Harrington threw for 59 touchdowns, went 512/928, and finished third place in passing and total all-time offense at Oregon. Best known for his ability to stay calm under pressure, Harrington led his team to ten come-from-behind victories throughout his career, and was 25-3 as a starter. Also quick to scramble, Harrington rushed for over 200 yards and 18 touchdowns throughout his career to account for a total of 77 touchdowns. Harrington remains a legend in Oregon Football History, and is remembered for his heroics in Oregon’s national mediocre days to lead the then-under-rated Ducks to national prominence.
Sitting at #2 in the AP & Coaches polls following the loss of Texas and Florida, Oregon would have to wait for the computer generated polls to be released to see where they would be headed for postseason play.
-To Be Continued…