An unprecedented era of success for University of Oregon athletics
The University of Oregon can claim 20 team national championships in varsity sports since the school’s founding in 1876, along with numerous individual national champions gracing the history books.
Even when not winning the big one, there have been years when Oregon has been among the elite in the nation in select sports. In football Oregon was the cream of the crop in 1916, 2001, 2007, and competed for a national championship in 2010. But for all the football success, Eugene is still called TrackTown U.S.A. for a reason, with all but two of Oregon’s claimed national championships coming in sports other than Track & Field/Cross-Country (1939-men’s basketball, 2011-Acrobatics & Tumbling).
Add onto that success the 69-individual conference champions and two national champions from the now-defunct wrestling program. Sprinkle on top the 1954 baseball team that made an appearance in the college world series, a sport at the UO that holds 10 conference championships while claiming MLB hall of famer Joe Gordon as an alumnus, despite being shutdown due to budget cuts in 1981 and experiencing a 27 year hiatus before its 2009 resurrection. These are just a few of the notable teams that have achieved great success while representing the University of Oregon.
There is a lot of pride in Oregon’s past, many stories of great individual and team efforts. Yet in all the years of competition and legendary student-athletes that have donned the green & yellow, there has never been a time in Oregon’s history like there is today.
A select handful of major colleges have experienced the great luxury of being able to compete as an elite program in multiple sports. Out west it has been UCLA and Stanford more than any other traditionally that have been able to produce a program competitive in numerous sports, UCLA bearing more collective national championships than any other school in the nation. For most programs though, it is a great achievement to be considered elite in even one single sport, the majority of resources going to continue that success on a national level.
While football may stir the cup for most programs as the largest revenue sport, what would Duke University be without men’s basketball, Connecticut without women’s basketball, Minnesota without hockey, or Northwestern without lacrosse? Great athletic programs come to define a school, the iconic first thought when a program is mentioned.
If there is one sport that has defined the University of Oregon for decades, it has been Track & Field. Be it cross-country, indoor, or outdoor; 18 national championships in all can be claimed by the University of Oregon, earning the well-deserved moniker of Tracktown U.S.A, the birthplace of running, and Nike-U…There is every reason why Eugene and the UO should be synonymous with Track & Field, but as great as the track teams have been in recent years in particular, it is now football that dominates the most attention on a national level of the sports being played in Eugene.
Perhaps it is justified, because Oregon football is not only successful, but flashy. It’s not enough to just win, but doing so with such unique flair and style that it has at times seemed to dwarf other sports at the UO by its achievements. If it’s possible to play football sexy, then the Ducks make a punishing brutal game look as good as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. The success and profits earned in football have trickled down to other sports within the program, fueling increased donations for improved facilities that then spur recruiting and national media attention. But is this enough to warrant the vast amount of attention gained by the Oregon football team in comparison to other sports at the UO?
With spring practice in full swing and the Oregon spring game mere weeks away, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the Oregon football program. Focusing solely on the gridiron though does injustice to the grand time Duck fans should be enjoying now, a time of unprecedented achievements as an athletic program, the greatest time for athletics overall in the history of the school. Seven of Oregon’s 20 overall team national championships have been won since 2007, with more room probably needed in the trophy cases shortly.
National Championships at the University of Oregon
|Acrobatics & Tumbling|
|Cross Country (Men’s)|
|Cross Country (Women’s)|
|Indoor Track & Field (Men’s)|
|Indoor Track & Field (Women’s)|
|Track & Field (Men’s)|
|Track & Field (Women’s)|
There are certain eras that fans may look back upon with great pride when everything seemed right in the world of Oregon athletics, and rightfully so.
The second-coming of Hugo Bezdek to Eugene (he had previously coached briefly at Oregon years prior) saw the coaching legend lead multiple Oregon programs to prominence. In 1916 Bezdek’s football Webfoots earned the right to play in the third-ever East-West Tournament Game, the precursor to the Rose Bowl. The Webfoots won.
Three months later World War I broke out and many Oregon students enlisted for the war effort. During the war Bezdek was asked to coach a military team that featured two of his players from his 1916 championship team, a team that would be asked by President Woodrow Wilson himself (the Mare Island Marines) to play in the East-West Tournament game of 1918. They won, with one of Bezdek’s two Webfoots, Hollis Huntington, being named game MVP.
Winning was something Coach Bezdek did often, whether it was leading the football team, baseball team, or basketball team; all of which he coached. In fact Coach Bezdek is the only person in history to take three different teams to the Rose Bowl (Oregon, Mare Island Marines, Penn State), and the only person to coach both a NFL and MLB team (Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Browns).
He left Oregon in 1919 to manage the Pittsburgh Pirates full-time, followed by a lengthy stay at Penn State, while his former quarterback from the championship 1916 team Charles “Shy” Huntington took over as football coach, again leading the team to the Rose Bowl; albeit in a losing effort falling to Harvard 7-6 on a controversial referee call.
This was an amazing time to be a fan of the Webfoots (the Ducks nickname did not come until years later), but for all the success experienced under Coach Bezdek in Eugene, it wasn’t as good as it is today…
During a four-year stretch in the early 1960s (1962-65), the Oregon men’s track team won three national titles. During Coach Bowerman’s tenure he would bring four national titles to Eugene before his retirement in 1972, while preparing 24 individual NCAA champions and 33 Olympians for competition. His 1962 and 1964 teams were two of the most talented, both bringing home team national championships.
During this same time, the football team led by legendary coach Len Casanova would win the 1963 Sun Bowl over SMU, touting a roster that featured two future NFL Hall of Famers, Dave Wilcox and Mel Renfro.
In 1964 the Oregon Ducks baseball team reached the NCAA tournament, one of three appearances in Omaha that Oregon has made in its history.
This was definitely a great time to be a Duck, but not like it is today…
From 1970-73 the track teams headed by legendary distance runner Steve Prefontaine brought unprecedented success to the place already known as the mecca of running, earning three national championships.
This while Bobby Moore (now Ahmad Rashad) and Dan Fouts were leading the Duck football team to victories, and Coach Harter was establishing his Kamikaze Kids, making life miserable on the rest of the Pac-8 conference any time they visited Mac Court. Yet during this era, the football team never went to a bowl game, nor did the basketball team make the NCAA tournament, though they did earn a spot in the NIT on three separate occasions.
In 1972 Hayward Field would host the US Olympic Trials, a team that would be led by Oregon coach Bill Bowerman for the games held in Munich that summer.
In the greater scheme of things this was a great time to be a Duck fan following multiple sports, but not as great as it is today…
Two decades later football began awakening from its slumber, earning bowl berths in 1989, 1990, and 1992 before the amazing 1994 season that is commonly thought of as the watershed moment in Oregon sports, when the team improbably won the Pac-10 title earning a Rose Bowl berth. That success inevitably led to the improvement of facilities and increased fan support, which has fueled the facelift of the University of Oregon over the past 20 years helping other programs to succeed as well.
This growth reached a fever pitch in 2001, when Oregon reached as high as #2 in the national rankings in football culminating in a Fiesta Bowl victory, while on the basketball court much noise was being made by a trio of Pacific Northwest ballers who would all go on to be NBA draft lottery picks—Luke Ridnour, Luke Jackson, and Freddie Jones. The Duck basketball team would win the Pac-10 title in 2003, reaching the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.
But as great of a time as this was to be a Duck fan in multiple-sports, it wasn’t like it is today.
Then came 2007, a year that saw the hiring of a brash young offensive coordinator named Chip Kelly to take over the football team’s offensive resources and transform it into the flashy unstoppable machine that it continues to be to this day, with Chip now the head coach. That season the Ducks looked to be national championship-bound led by the presumed Heisman Trophy winner Dennis Dixon, but injuries curtailed those hopes. On the basketball court there was much to celebrate too, as senior point guard Aaron Brooks would again lead Oregon all the way to the Elite Eight.
Great success came on the track as well, as the men’s cross country team won back-to-back national championships and Pac-10 titles, while the women’s team finished as runner-ups for the Pac-10 and national titles. In all, the track teams featured 11 All-Americans at the outdoor championships, with Coach Vin Lananna being named as the NCAA Men’s Cross Country Coach of the Year. Hayward Field would again be the host of the US Olympic Trials in 2008, further showcasing the dominance of Oregon’s track program and grand history.
And even still as great of a time this was to be a Duck fan, it wasn’t as good as fans have it today.
So what is it that makes Oregon athletics right now so special, greater than these previous tremendous eras of athletic dominance? Simple really, because while many schools may claim prowess in one or two sports, nearly every single one of the 17 sports Oregon competes in are currently among the elite in the nation.
The success goes far beyond just football, though fans still remain abuzz from Oregon’s Rose Bowl victory back in January over Wisconsin and top-5 finish. There is a much greater buzz reverberating from the Cas Center if fans tilt their ear just right, the palpable excitement generated by the unprecedented level of athletic talent currently in the program whose victories on the field of competition may only be overshadowed by their achievements in the classroom.
Across the board, Oregon features more individual stars and teams at or near the top of the national rankings than any time previously in the program’s history. Oregon athletes have some of the best facilities in the nation, top-level coaches, and an academic, training, and treatment support structure that is the envy of every collegiate athletic program in the country. The Oregon O logo has become an icon, instantly recognizable from coast-to-coast and feared by all foes that must face the great athletes donning its simplistic yet powerful symbol.
Never before has the University of Oregon experienced the kind of athletic success that is seen right here, right now. Certainly at times in the past Oregon has been the talk of the nation in one or two individual sports, but now the Ducks are quickly mentioned alongside such traditional athletics factories as Texas, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, and Alabama.
Just take a look down the list of sports in which Oregon competes, and the storylines of success associated with each that make this without question the greatest time ever to be a Duck. It goes well beyond football, Oregon Ducks athletics are dominating the field of competition in both men’s and women’s sports.
- Acrobatics & Tumbling – The youngest collegiate sport in which Oregon competes, the defending 2011 national champion A&T team is undefeated on the year looking to likely repeat as champs with only one meet left before the national tournament at the end of April. Now in its second year of existence as a program, the Ducks have only lost once, EVER!
- Baseball – Revived from extinction just a couple years ago, the program is ranked #22 with a recent sweep of #14 ASU and taking 2-out-of-3 vs. #5 UCLA this past weekend, putting the team in 2nd place in the conference and clearly bound for the postseason.
- Basketball (Men’s) – Coach Altman has revived a program that seemed floundering, winning the CBI Tournament last season. Despite losing several players early this season, these Ducks rallied to make an improbable run down the stretch finishing tied for 2nd place in the conference earning a spot in the NIT Tournament, reaching the semifinals before falling to hated-rival Washington.
- Basketball (Women’s) – It was a little bit of a disappointing year due to multiple injuries, yet not without its accolades as senior Amanda Johnson was named the Toyo Tires National Scholastic Athlete of the Year and named to the All-Pac-12 team, and four other Ducks received Pac-12 All-Academic honors. Even with the graduation of Johnson, barring another injury-plagued season these Ducks should be flying high in the 2012-13 season.
- Football – The Rose Bowl victory in January is only the latest achievement in a string of victories that has put Oregon among the elite programs in the nation. The Ducks are the only school in the country that can claim to have played in a BCS game every year for the past three seasons, with no signs of slowing down any time soon, presumed to be a top-10 team once more in 2012.
- Golf – Both the men’s and women’s golf teams are ranked the top-25 (M-#12, W-#22), featuring several notable players, such as wunderkind freshman Cassy Isagawa and senior Eugene Wong, both of which we may be seeing on the PGA tours soon. The NCAA Championships start at the end of May, with both Oregon golf teams expecting to be in the hunt for the title.
- Lacrosse – The Oregon women’s lacrosse team currently sits atop the MPSF standings, having won 8 of their last 9 outings, and are 9-4 on the season with postseason glory within their grasp at the MPSF Tournament held April 27-29.
- Soccer – Coach Erickson has reason to be excited for this year’s upcoming season to rebound from last year’s disappointing results. The team did feature eight All-Academic Pac-12 honorees last year, and this season returns sophomore goalkeeper Abby Steele, twice invited to the 20-and-under USA National Team Camp, and was a member of the 18-and-under USA Women’s Team in 2010. The Ducks return 22 players from last year, and feature one of the best recruiting classes in years. With returning veterans, a talented new class, and led by one of the top goalkeepers in the nation, there is no reason to think that this year’s team can’t be among the best in the conference in 2012.
- Softball – The Duck softball team sits at 17th in the nation in the most recent rankings, winning six of their last eight games including victories over #14 Stanford and #5 ASU. Oregon looks poised to reach the NCAA Regionals, with realistic dreams of Oklahoma City and the Women’s College World Series attainable the way they keep swinging the bats, so far defeating nine NCAA Tournament-qualifying opponents on the year.
- Tennis – The men’s team rocketed to success early on the year starting out 8-0 thanks to the strong play of Alex Rovello and Robin Cambier, but have been on a recent downturn losing four of their last 5 matches leading into the Pac-12 championships April 26-29. The women’s team picked up their first Pac-12 win on the year this past Friday, defeating #43-ranked Utah.
- Track & Field – No school in the country can boast the kind of single-sport dominance like Oregon has had the last few years on the indoor track. The women’s team are 3-peat national champions, while the men’s team hold a 2009 national title. The Ducks haven’t been too shabby outdoors or in Cross Country either, placing numerous athletes on All-Academic and All-Conference honors while bringing home multiple individual championships. The women’s team is currently ranked #1, while the men’s team is 16th. This summer when the Olympic Trials are once more held at Hayward Field, it will be merely the stepping stone for multiple Oregon athletes towards representing the United States at the Olympic Games in London. Oregon is without question the big dog, the measuring stick all other schools in the nation strive to emulate.
- Volleyball – This past season Oregon’s women’s volleyball team climbed as high as 13th in the country, reaching the NCAA Tournament and starting off the season with a bang, ending one of the most impressive streaks in the history of athletics. The Ducks took down #1 Penn State on their home court, ending a consecutive home-winning streak that was the third longest in NCAA history…in ANY sport. The team returns two All-Pac-12 selections in Alaina Bergsma and Lauren Plum, with Bergsma being named an All-American and Plum honorable mention for the All-American team. Five starters return, and there are high expectations for last year’s All-Pac-12 Freshman team selection Liz Brenner, who was the Oregon Prep Athlete of the Year in 2012 before joining the Ducks, leading Jesuit High School to two state championships while being the 6A state basketball player of the year and state champion in the shot put. Not only is Brenner a rising star for the volleyball team, but she also plays basketball at the U of O.
Oh, and shall we mention that Oregon’s cheer team is consistently considered the best squad in the nation year after year, and few mascots are more recognized or beloved than the Oregon Duck???
Collecting individual accolades for both their athletic prowess and achievements in the classroom, there has never been a time like this before in Oregon athletics.
Oh sure, teams and athletes in the past have done great things for the University of Oregon, but as a collective group this level of success has never been achieved before. Not in the era of Hugo Bezdek, not in the days of Steve Prefontaine, not when Fouts and Moore made waves in the newly-christened Autzen Stadium, not when the most improbable finish to a football game sparked a revolution in the program, not when Oregon’s football and basketball teams both raised trophies in the early 2000s, and not when Eugene seemed to be the crossroads for all collegiate athletics in 2007…NEVER has there been a time in Eugene where nearly every sport that Oregon competes in was competitive with the nation’s elite top to bottom.
…And this doesn’t even touch on the club sports. Oregon’s trophy cases feature bowl game trophies and track accolades, but also highlight a recent individual national championship in club sports for disc-golf, and hold a national title in Ultimate Frisbee as well (they appeared poised for another one in 2009 had complaints of underage drinking and nudity not forced the executive committee that oversees club sports to cancel the remainder of their season).
Enjoy it Duck fans, embrace the renaissance of Oregon athletics, revel in the shared victories and continued success of all of Oregon’s various sports, as there has never been a time like this before.
Even if the football team gets slapped with NCAA sanctions stemming from self-reported recruiting violations that have been speculated on often without much tangible public evidence so far, much to the joy of Beavers and Huskies looking to regain a foothold in the northwest; there is no slowing down Oregon athletics across the board, the program competing to be among the top in the Pac-12 conference in nearly every sport.
17 different Oregon sports, and all of them represent the O both in the classroom and on the field of competition as well as any generation of Duck athlete in the past 136 years at the U of O. When looking at the big picture of this recent string of victory after victory throughout the entire UO athletic program, it is clear that the Ducks have become much, much more than just TrackTown U.S.A…
Oh, but they’re pretty darn good at that too. Didn’t you hear? The Ducks swept the Pepsi Team Invitational this past weekend at Hayward Field, winning 16 events in all, well on their way to adding more championships to the recently-packed full trophy cases at the Casanova Center.
Over the past year, the entirety of University of Oregon athletics have truly Won The Day.
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