Playing “Who’s Your Favorite?” as a Duck fan offers hours of fun in remembrance. Most of us have a favorite play, favorite player, favorite moment, or favorite year. Sometimes it’s the great player (Joey Harrington, Jonathan Stewart, LaMichael James), or the great play that sealed the great season (Maurice Morris rolling over Colorado…literally.) Sometimes, though, it’s the player or team that competed with great heart and perseverance, without achieving the pinnacle in success. Down through the decades, Oregon football has provided countless hours of memories. Many of them were great, but some of them memorable for other reasons. Many of them were awesome, but some of them seemed to be more about the rain…which never falls in Autzen Stadium now, but seemed to with some frequency back when. Walk with me through some decades of Duck football, with appropriate accompaniment.
Oregon was 49-48-4 in the 1960’s. Bob Berry, Mel Renfro, Lu Bains and many others kept the Ducks more than competitive in the early part of the decade, while less success was enjoyed as the decade came to a close. Oregon was 1-1 in bowl games during this stretch. A .505 winning percentage, a 7-3 season, a 3-7 season, even up in the bowl games. Close at times to being really really good. So very, very close…
The 1970’s were a rough time for the Ducks. There really are no two ways around it. Dan Fouts and Booby Moore (Ahmad Rashad) led the Ducks to a 6-4-1 record in the 70-71 season, but the green and yellow didn’t get a sniff of .500 again until Reggie Ogburn slithered his way through opposing defenses in 1979, leading the Ducks to a 6-5 mark. Autzen Stadium was anything but full on too many Saturday afternoons, prompting P.A. announcer Don Essig to greet a rain-soaked small gathering with, “Welcome REAL Duck fans.” prior to a game against Air Force. The Farmer’s Almanac indicates that it didn’t rain any more in the 70’s than it does now, but it sure doesn’t seem that way to me.
Oregon was 50-58-4 in the 80’s, posting winning records in four of those years, losing records five times and one 6-6 season, long remembered as the year Bill Musgrave got hurt. Chris Miller, Lew Barnes, Tony Cherry and others highlighted the early years of the decade, while the not so good years were symbolized by a 0-0 Civil War that was played in, what else, a driving rainstorm, November 19, 1983.
Oregon football hit its stride, though, as the decade came to a close. Our first bowl game since the 60’s came to be when The Independence Bowl came calling. Tulsa provided the opposition, the aforementioned Musgrave danced into the end zone on the prettiest quarterback draw many of us have ever seen. The weather in Bayou Country was cold, but for the Duck fans in attendance it was all…
Oregon barreled into the 90’s fresh off of the Louisiana Hayride that had been 1989. They rode the momentum of multiple bowl games, sellout crowds, and Kenny Wheaton’s Pick 6 to a 70 win decade against only 48 losses. Danny O’Neil, Cristin McLemore, Herman O’Berry, Alex Molden, Rich Ruhl, Eric Castle, the list went on and on. Duck fans traveled to Pasadena in January ’95 and Dallas in January ’96 in thundering flocks, roaring their approval of what had become a football phenomenon. Rich Brooks, longtime head coach and architect of the teams that went to the New Year’ Day Bowls in the 90’s, became sought after by the NFL. After he left Mike Bellotti took over and the Ducks didn’t break stride.
The only discord in these seasons of success was the Ducks inability to close the deal on top teams in the top bowl games. The Penn State Nittany Lions that the Ducks met in the ’95 Rose Bowl were a national title contender. Oregon played well as an 18 point underdog, but fell. The next January the Ducks made too many mistakes and got popped by Rick Neuheisel’s Colorado Buffaloes on a chilly afternoon in The Cotton Bowl.
The problem of not being to put away the top caliber teams certainly wasn’t a problem for Joey Harrington’s Ducks in the early years of last decade. Texas? Tuck in your horns! Colorado? Mmmmm, Bison Burgers on a warm Arizona night! The Ducks followed up the 70-48 90’s with an 87-37 decade during the first ten years of this century. Patrick Johnson, Samie Parker, Terrence Whitehead, Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Johnson and many others sparkled on Autzen’s gridiron and sparked the Ducks to victory after victory. Only the 5-6 record that the Ducks uncharacteristically put up in the ’04-’05 season kept the decade from being ten unending years of football brilliance.
Long gone were the days of buying our way into bowl games named after yard implements. The Ducks had arrived on the national stage with a mighty howl against the forces of the night. Standing room only crowds at the loudest venue in college football, and fast break football that turns the scoreboard into a pinwheel.
Is your favorite moment, team, or game, one that has thrilled you in just the last couple of years? Is Kenjon Barner, or Darron Thomas the Ducks that makes your heart race? More and more and more highlight plays and awesome players to come. Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks. Oh how we love even more to sing Mighty Oregon at the end of another big win.