I have no direct experience when it comes to facing sports juggernauts, but my eldest now does since this past spring one of our district’s five Little League teams went through the season undefeated. My son’s team only lost six games and finished second, but five of those losses were to the undefeated team.
Two of those defeats were by three or four runs, and one was a blowout. One was an unfortunate come-from-ahead-loss, and the last was an extraordinary nine-runs-down-comeback-effort that sent the game to two extra innings before the victors hit a walk-off home run.
What we both found out is that facing off with a team that doesn’t seem to be capable of losing is extremely demoralizing. Try to combat the negativity that seems to come unbidden, but a point is reached, even in the stoutest hearts, when confronted by inevitability. It’s an inner voice of doubt that says, “No matter what we do, they find a way to win.”
Finally, the season is upon us. As I write, the official Ducks depth chart has been released. Marcus Mariota is the next apparent star QB for Oregon and the chart is replete with underclassmen, and a light salting of juniors and seniors.
In knowing my son’s frustration, I got a better sense of our foes in the P-12 North this summer. They want to believe that they can beat Oregon, but objectively, they can’t point to anything in the record to give them rational hopes. All that awaits them, some way, some how, is merely another hammering.
Just look at the division’s record against Chip Kelly. Since 2009, Cal’s Jeff Tedford is 0-3 against the Ducks. Wulff at WSU was 0-3. Sarkisian at UW is 0-3. Riley at OSU is 0-3. Shaw at Stanford is 0-1 and Harbaugh was 1-1. Chip Kelly is currently 14-1 against the programs of the Northern Division.
What happens in the face of an all but unstoppable force is pretty much everything my son’s ball club tried. You practice harder. You tinker with the lineup. The coaching staff goes to outside advice from anyone who is perceived capable of helping to turn the tide. After changing everything, you go “back to basics.” It’s all increasingly reactionary.
You try all of these things and more—and then you keep losing. Your players parrot back the right words, but the seeming impossibility of beating a team who won’t be beat starts to take the fire from their eyes and their recitations of coach-speak start sounding hollow. They no longer REALLY believe winning is possible.
Then, whether spoken or not, this team-wide “psych out” affects the fans. They too want to believe, but their eyes refuse to lie to them. They can see that a win will have to be “miraculous.” However, with the advent of the Internet (or ‘teh internetz’ to the layman), no fan in the division is forced to passively await divine intervention. One can instead become unhinged on line—ranging anywhere from a mildly delusional sunshine-pumper to a full-blown whack-job conspiracist with secret sources for nefarious tales of Ducks villainy, instigated by some all-knowing entity known as Dr. Poop (shockingly I wish I was only making that up, check the link), who in turn learned it from a Husky messageboard post from four months ago…because that’s a totally reputable, unbiased source of insider info on Oregon I’m sure.
Looking around the division, the five other fan bases take variegated approaches to dealing with their frustrations. Some are harmless while others, ahem, UW, are so toxic as to be hazardous to one’s longer term mental health.
Here one mostly sees the air of resignation with an undercurrent of discontent. Jeff Tedford has certainly burned through most of his goodwill with the fans, but he’s also largely responsible for their football capital investments of late in the first place, so he’s tolerated so long as he keeps taking them to meaningless mid-tier bowl games, underachieving in contrast to the consistent talented recruiting classes lured to Berkeley.
Losing the Right Way for two straight years has given rise to a case of mass unfounded optimism this fall, for reasons unknown beyond the typical delusion experienced in Corvallis anyway. Some way, some how, the beavises are going to magically improve by four-to-six wins while everyone else they play is apparently going to regress, and all without any semblance of a running game yet again. How they will do this while being one deep along both lines and without a D-1 quality linebacking corps remains wholly unexplained.
There is only one Stanford fan regularly online. It is ESPN blogger Kevin Gemmell’s notion that the Indians will remain a Top-25 caliber club without #1 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck. Some guy called Nunes has the unenviable job of following up the Legend of Ol’ Neck Beard. I hope he’s a clean shaven chap because he’ll soon be sick of continual comparisons to his predecessor.
They remain the usual cesspool of resentment and praying to the NCAA for our knee-capping, but with a ray of charmingly delusional sunshine over Justin Wilcox, now his reputation as a perennial thorn in his alma mater’s side after defeating the Ducks twice while at Boise, then giving the Ducks trouble at Tennessee, and now of all things immoral and ungodly actually turning Husky on us.
What they perpetually fail to see is that in repeated blowout losses to Stanford and Oregon, as well as in pillow fights with the likes of OSU, it’s not the defense that’s been the problem so much as it was that disappearing offense of theirs that made them uncompetitive. Wilcox also shut it down the first time he saw it in April.
Here is the one also-ran fan-base in the division that legitimately can feel good for another month about their prospects, because this time they hired a coach who has actually beaten a team the caliber of Texas. However, their dreams of being competitive end abruptly in Seattle during Week 5. At least give ‘em credit where it’s due though, they did what they could to at least try to match Oregon in unique coaching persona–they still failed–but at least they tried.
In one respect it’s sad that so many of our divisional foes are reduced to hoping against hope that the NCAA hammers us over the Lyles situation. Then again, when you’re up against the very real world prospect of seeing Oregon run roughshod over your team yet again—you take comfort anywhere you can find it—even if it’s in the fantasy land of “What if…?”