What an eventful past 22 days it has been for the Oregon Ducks, and for all of us as fans. Even after the football team has played it’s final down, the edge of your seat thrill ride just never stops. Now, there are some who are able to tune out the off-season noise altogether and really don’t pay much attention again until September. For the more intense fan, the abrupt up and down emotional swings brought about in a typical off-season can feel about as comfortable as a cardio-stress test.
One minute is good, and the next minute might be agonizingly bad.
The Ducks started the month of January very well, with a scintillating 45-38 win for the ages (you may have heard about) over Big-10 champion Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The land mark victory that was coveted and chased for so many years was finally achieved. After the win there was no use in holding back the emotion and many Ducks celebrated, riding the high for several days after. The thing is, the ups never stay up and the downs don’t last forever. There are always cycles.
In my daily grind, I regularly see examples of this. If you want to last more than a few days in the real estate negotiating world that I live in, you must quickly get used to the sudden and sometimes wild swings of fortune, mis-fortune, and the emotions that come along with it. No matter what happens, you must keep an even keel, a balanced outlook, perspective of the bigger picture. The same principals hold true whether you are navigating a million dollar sale through escrow, or waiting out a few weeks before the spring game.
In the yearly cycle of football, there are some predictable parts. At the end of each season- win or lose- the focus of fans will shift to the departing Seniors, and the declaring underclassmen. This year, players like David Paulson, Lavasier Tuinei, Mark Asper, Josh Kaddu, Eddie Pleasant, and Terrell Turner are among the holes to fill. The annual questions of: Will others be able to step up and fill the shoes? Will the new starters next year be better? Worse? Some folks are quick to begin pouring back over the rosters to conjure up “depth charts” for next season.
The nice thing about the senior group each year? Everyone knows who the seniors are. We all know well in advance that by seasons end, they will have exhausted their eligibility. There is no decision to stay or go. Having that extra time and predictability can make it easier as a fan to prepare for the players leaving, and to study up on the incoming replacements. The early entry list is usually good for a few surprises each year, and this one was no different.
Following the Rose Bowl, the focus shifted to the anticipated realization that LaMichael James was making the jump to the NFL. Duck fans had expected this and many were prepared for this move, to a degree. With the talent left on the roster, the consensus was that the Ducks would hardly miss a beat despite losing one of the best running backs in college football history.
This was, of course, prior to Kenjon Barner making his official announcement to return next season. A few days of silence, coupled with Barner’s prior comments about receiving a “favorable” draft analysis was enough to at least warrant a few thoughts of what might be without #21 AND #24 in the backfield. Suddenly it seemed, the Ducks depth at the position might stand to be seriously tested. However, once KB made his intentions to return known, Duck fans could again breathe a sigh of relief.
For a moment.
Next, came one of the first real surprises this off-season. Junior Quarterback Darron Thomas had declared himself eligible for the NFL draft as well. It was a move which prompted some pundits to quickly react by calling it a “terrible decision”, while others thought it might be ”calculated and well thought out” given the relative lack of depth of NFL-ready QBs in this years batch. While most fans were/are optimistic about the possible replacements perhaps being even better down the line, the fact is that no other QB on the Oregon roster is anywhere near the proven commodity that Thomas was. You know, the BEST QB by many statistical measures, in the history of a school that has produced more than a few great ones?
Regardless of which side you were on with Darron, whether sad or happy to see him go, his decision was a big surprise indeed.
All the while, the basketball team had been quietly jelling as a team and steadily piling up wins. At a certain time of year, when the football headlines start to run dry, the focus for many turns to the hardwood. This year, there is reason for some legit optimism. The Ducks currently sit in a tie with Cal for 1st place in the Pac-12 conference after ripping off 4 consecutive wins and earning consecutive sweeps in back-to-back weeks. This was no ordinary feat for the basketball team. The Ducks road win at ASU was followed by a win against Arizona, completing the first Arizona road sweep for the Ducks in the past 33 seasons. A big accomplishment no matter how you look at it.
The team then returned home to face the LA schools where they were able to first hold off a scrappy USC team that just wouldn’t quit at Matthew Knight arena. Saturday’s home game against the UCLA Bruins featured a celebration for the Rose Bowl champions at halftime. The nearly 11,000 fans who turned out were treated to a thrilling come from behind victory. After the Ducks had put themselves in an early 17 point hole, starting the game shooting just 21% from the floor and went into halftime down 13. After an “emotional” halftime speach from head coach Dana Altman, the Ducks came roaring back in the 2nd half behind the heroics of Garrett Sim and the sheer determination of EJ Singler.
There was a sense of pride watching the Duck football team get their well deserved reception “Deep in the Woods”, which was immediately followed by a big win for the hoops team. As Chip Kelly was hugging players and smiling with fans, I will admit to feeling a temporary measure of relief.
Were we home free? On to next year? Thoughts began drifting to recruiting, and the way too early depth chart for next year. After the game Saturday, I caught up on some work around the house, organized the garage, and did some yard work. Just trying to get back into the flow of life without being partially glued at all times to the latest news, rankings, and rumors. If you’re like me, you started to finally take a half step back from football.
And just as you were starting to get comfortable…
I was watching the NFC Championship game with a friend when the news came in. Victor Cruz had just hauled in his 10 pass for the Giants when the story first reared its head. A headline across shot across a Duck news website. A text from a trusted source came a few seconds later. Another text from another friend. An email. Now, a 2nd headline. Now another text from someone that I never talk to.
Chip Kelly to the Bucs, “It’s Done” said one site.
Check Twitter: Exploding with this! Can it be? Really, leaving now?
Then a feeling inside started to creep in. A painful feeling sort of like being gut punched by your older brother, or eating at Chipotle. Also, there was the helpless feeling of being at the mercy of the refresh button, and what horrifying headline might pop up next. Was he leaving? Who can the Ducks hire if so? Isn’t he building a big house?
What about the recruits? Is he running from impending NCAA sanctions, a-la Pete Carroll? The next few agonzing hours were spent spectulating all of the possible scenarios.
It may have shed light on some of the darkest fears Duck fans had been suppressing. Message boards began to light up from Duck fans in denial, some angry and cursing. Suddenly giddy opposing fans across the conference were all hopped up on a short-lived, but dizzying concoction of false hopes. Their team(s) were instantly better, maybe even conference favorites next year!
Then, suddenly, as quickly as the firestorm was created it was gone again. The headlines started to change course sometime after midnight, and now Kelly was staying. Which was true? What would the headlines read the next morning?
As it turns out, Kelly had decided to stay. His heart right now is in the college game, at Oregon. That he has unfinished business to attend to. The fact that a coach who has not spent a lot of time in Eugene decided against coaching at the highest level in sunny South Florida to stay here is somewhat reassuring for the immediate future.
We really don’t know how long Chip will stay, or what will happen the next time an NFL team calls. But for Duck fans, looking ahead, at least to next season can feel good again.
For Ducks in the here and now, it’s bound to be a big week. Football recruiting is hitting the final stretch, and we will hopefully get a few more good surprises in the coming days. The 336th edition of the Civil War basketball series is set for this week and the outcome will have some serious conference race implications for the winner. While the play of the basketball team hasn’t always been pretty, the Ducks have taken some strides and are getting better. Another win Sunday would give the Ducks a chance at an outright lead in the conference, and another opportunity to bury the Beavers. Now, a Duck win and a Beaver loss would make for a good feeling.
At least for a little while…