Reactions following 2002 Fiesta Bowl Victory, Part 2: Justin Phinisee interview

Oregon’s 2002 Fiesta Bowl Victory, the conclusion.

The 2002 Fiesta Bowl, a 38-16 victory by Oregon over Colorado, was a landmark moment in many respects.  It was the culmination of years of effort from coaches, players, administrators, and the mighty marketing machine of Nike.  Before the 2001 season and Oregon’s BCS game victory over Colorado, the Ducks were known on a national level as simply that kooky school out west with the crazy uniforms.  After the game, the Ducks were considered a legitimate football program capable of competing toe-to-toe with any school in the nation.

The Oregon Ducks finished the season ranked #2 in every poll, the highest finish in school history.  After Nebraska’s lackluster performance in the national championship game in an embarrassing loss to Miami in the Rose Bowl, many pundits agreed that it SHOULD have been Oregon in the big game not the Cornhuskers.

In the time since, Oregon has expanded Autzen Stadium, built other facilities, earned national respect, and participated in a post-season bowl game all but one year (2004).  During that stretch, the Ducks have gone 3-6 in bowls, but that includes three BCS games including the national championship, and are coming off a victory in the Rose Bowl over Wisconsin 45-38, Oregon’s first Rose Bowl victory since 1917.

With the Fiesta Bowl victory in 2002 being such a watershed moment in program history, we have highlighted the lead-up and game itself the last few weeks, and now we close out our series on the Fiesta Bowl with a detailed interview with Justin Phinisee to get the post-game reaction.  Justin Phinisee was a redshirt the year Oregon won the Fiesta Bowl, a teammate with the best spectator seat in the house roaming the sidelines eager for his opportunity the following year to carry the torch and expand on the precedent established by the seniors that led Oregon to victory over Colorado.

Interview with Oregon cornerback Justin Phinisee (2001 – 2005):

Justin Phinisee was a redshirt freshman the year Oregon played in the Fiesta Bowl

“For me, I was young, but always a guy ahead of my time. My guys were Keith Lewis, Rashad Bauman, Steve (Smith), etc. That was my first year. Coming in from LA, Oregon wasn’t really on the map. We had a lot of wins that year and years before, but you didn’t hear about Oregon in LA then. We had a chip on our shoulders for sure, but it was a focus issue. We wanted to make a statement.

Talk about culmination of achieving a goal

All credit goes to Aliotti, he knew how to prepare! The big story of the game (forget the star, Joey Harrington) but the big story has been the ability of Nick Aliotti’s defense to stop a Colorado juggernaut. After watching what they accomplished against Nebraska and Texas; and then to watch them be held to only 7 points and only 64 rushing yards! Against Nebraska, they had that in the first quarter, and in one play at one time.”

For the outgoing senior class, what did it mean to them to go out a victor knowing that it was the best team in Oregon history as far as rankings?

From the older guys, with that, the focus was across the board–the whole team from seniors to redshirt freshman. I think everyone on the team took the seriousness out of the top contender. That carried over into the bowl game, practices, etc. We enjoyed it, but left a chip on our shoulder–why aren’t we in the natty? But, we got the next best thing. The leadership from the older guys carried over. We ran into Colorado at night clubs, etc. We had a focus. Our focus was not just to win, but to dominate.

You always leave speculation if it’s a close game, if it comes down to the wire, what might have been? We didn’t want to leave any room for error. And of course, there was no room for error in that game, Oregon dominated the whole thing. From when we left Eugene to when we got there, to the final moment of the game–it carried over from start to finish. At the end of the day, the chip on our shoulder was that we needed to go to the national championship game and proved it. We proved we’re not only going to win, but dominate. We did just that to make the statement.”

What were the lingering frustrations of not being selected for the Rose Bowl, after Nebraska had such a miserable showing vs. Miami that eliminated Oregon’s chances for a split title?

“Nebraska was killed by Miami. In order to have a good defense, you’ve gotta have good corners. When I looked at Nebraska’s corners, I thought it was hands down we’d go to the national championship instead of them, we had Rashad-Steve, etc. Nebraska did not have good corners, they just contain and gave up a lot of deep balls. If you’d put us in that game against Miami, talk about a shootout–we had a great defense, offense, now that’s a ballgame, it’s what people want to watch, not a blowout (which happened.)

Justin Phinisee was named to the All-Pac-10 team his senior year (2005)

If you look at the history of college football, the hardest thing to do is to go undefeated during the season. We had one loss, and it was fairly early, but we rebounded as a team, and we crunched down so much. We said we’re not losing anymore, and guess what–we didn’t! We wanted to prove to people we were going to be the team to talk about. We finished the season with no more losses, the only one loss team in the nation that tough year.

For us to be cheated out of the national championship game, we were having a chip on our shoulders. The rest takes care of itself, we won our game. The national championship wasn’t even a game. But, we did everything we needed to do with one loss. We left every spectator out there knowing that we deserved to be in the national championship game, plain and simple. If anyone was around to see the national championship game, I’m sure even the naysayers have in their mind, ‘what would have happened if Oregon had played Miami?’ ”

The sad part is, we’ll always hear of the SEC bias. I was in the NFL for three years, you always hear of the most credit to the guys coming from SEC Schools. If you look at Oregon, they are now in the spotlight, but they will always be overlooked for an SEC team or midwest school.

With the season now over, what happened next once everyone got back to Eugene?

You know, it was different. I think we felt good about ourselves, we left a good taste in everyone’s mouth that Oregon can play among the best. At the same time, it was anticipation for young guys like us to step up. With seniors (Rashad Bauman, Steve Smith, Joey Harrington, Justin Peelle, etc.) leaving, we had to take what we learned from them and execute from there. We were a great team, and had a lot of young guys to step up and fill the shoes of the older guys. We were excited for our future, we wanted to make sure we could fill those shoes. We knew we could step up.

The thing is, being the young guy, you can be mentally ready, but until you actually get out on the field and actually do it, it’s a different ball game. That’s when you really start to say (Bauman, Smith, or whoever shined) was a good player. They had the talent and skill to get the job done, and that’s what you have to take after.

What was the reaction around campus after the team returned from the game?

We WERE the team, we WERE the national champs, everyone felt that way. If they weren’t going to give it to us, we played our toughest and felt like we won it. For me, you could tell Oregon was mostly about going to school, having fun, being a college student, etc. But when you talk about students alone (being a student of Oregon), not only am I a student of Oregon, but we’re on national sports broadcasts around the country. The average (non-athlete) student’s family recognizes them on TV, being honored to see their school is on TV. Their family now recognizes their school, thanks to what their team representing their school accomplished. That student now has a pride about them, that ‘my family knows about my school’. That as a whole, going 11-1 brought Oregon together. It brings the whole family together–the whole thing brings student body, players, workers, etc. together.

Knowing that Coach Tedford was leaving for Cal, what was the post-game experience like?

I think that was a biggie, but at the same time you had Joey leaving as well. You’ve got a young guy stepping up, it was Jason Fife or Kellen Clemens. We knew Tedford was a good coach, and it was tough to lose him. Tedford was a quiet coach, but much respected. A lot of guys looked up to him. Because he was so quiet, it was a question…now what?

He was more appreciated when you found out who replaced him!!!!! (Ludwig didn’t have what it took!) It wasn’t as much being scared when he left, it was like what’s going on, it raised questions of the coaches. It was a sad feeling at the moment. I think we were so high on last year’s win, we wanted to keep progressing. I think that high got away from us. I think it was like “we need Tedford back.”

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We flew to the desert
Parody to classic song  “(I’ve been to the desert on) A Horse With No Name
By David Melo, 2002

 

On the first part of the journey,
We held a pep-rally
There were Ducks, with screaming fans so loud… hype echoed through all sun valley
The first thing we met, were the eager Buffs
Wanting to put us in cuffs
Then Game day came, they thought we were lame,
But we said “BRING ON YOUR GAME!”

We flew to the desert on a plane to claim fame
It felt good to give those Buffs some pain
In the desert, we Ducks remembered our name…
‘cause Colorado’s loss was our big gain
La La La La La La La La La, LA La
La La La La La La La La La, LA La

In the first quarter of the game, Colorado may have taken the lead
But it didn’t get us down…. Keenan Howry took the crown, and we started squashing them like a bead
Then in the Second -Q-, Parker caught a touchdown pass,
And we said “you buffs you….  UP YOUR A**!”

Ya see
We flew to the desert, and the Ducks are our name
It felt good to give those Buffs some pain
In the desert, we Ducks claimed our fame
‘Cause Colorado’s loss was our big gain
La La La La La La La La La La, LA La
La La La La La La La La La La, QUACK QUACK!

After three quarters, we rubbed it in their face
As Mo Morris bombed ‘em just like mace
There were buffs down field to stop him cold,
But he tricked them as over them he rolled
In the fourth, Peelle scored our fifth, final touchdown
And we had put the clutch down
Under the sunset, lied a team so big and bold,
Claiming the championship 38-16, vict’ry of gold.

Ya see
We flew to the desert, and the Ducks are our name
It felt good to give those Buffs some pain
In the desert, we Ducks really claimed our fame
‘Cause Colorado’s loss was our big gain
La La La La La La La La La La… QUACK, QUACK!

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Dave Melo

Dave Melo

Dating back to his childhood in 1993; Melo has gone to Duck games, practices, and gotten to personally know generations of Oregon Football players. He is a historical stat genius of Oregon football, particularly knowledgeable of the seasons of his childhood/youth years from 1994-mid 2000's. A big Duck football fan, Melo is known by many former players as the "Stats Guy" for remembering statistics of games and each Oregon team through the years. Melo also has had a personal tradition over the years of e-mailing a list of former players during football season on anniversary dates of milestone victories in Duck history. The tradition continues with a large e-mailing list that grows each year, and to a much larger audience as Melo joins Fish Duck to share his passion of Oregon Football history that got the Ducks to where they stand today.