Remembering Past Heroes: The Best Bowl Performances in Oregon Football History
Everyone who knows football knows the value of the team. Part of the magic of the game derives from the fact that no play works unless all eleven players are doing their respective jobs the right way at the right time.
With that being said, every once in a while there are individual performances so impressive that they deserve to be remembered and appreciated. With bowl season well underway, the college football world has already seen several heroic accomplishments on an individual level (Alex Okafor’s 4.5 sacks against the Beavers comes to mind).
With Oregon’s Fiesta Bowl matchup today, it’s hard not to wonder who will step up against Kansas State. Will Kenjon Barner punch in another five touchdowns like he did against USC? Will Kiko Alonso explode onto the scene with clutch plays like he did against Wisconsin last year? Will Marcus Mariota cement his spot atop 2013’s early Heisman watch list?
With respect to former Ducks, it seems only fair as the Duck’s showdown with the Wildcats encroaches to look back and appreciate some of the best individual bowl performances in Oregon football history.
1917 Rose Bowl: Shy Huntington
It’s an extremely rare feat to be responsible for every single one of your team’s points in a bowl win, but that’s exactly what all-purpose star Shy Huntington accomplished in Oregon’s first Rose Bowl (then the East-West tournament game) appearance.
Taking on the Penn Quakers, an Eastern powerhouse, Huntington gave a new meaning to versatility when he ran for a touchdown, threw for another, and kicked two extra points; accounting for all of the team’s 14 points.
Huntington also intercepted three passes on the day, greatly contributing to Oregon’s impressive shutout of Penn.
An interesting piece of trivia: it was Jack Beckett who was actually awarded game MVP honors for his outstanding play on the line. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine a better individual performance than Huntington’s, especially considering the fact that it led to the school’s first ever bowl victory.
1960 Liberty Bowl: Dave Grayson
The Ducks may have been roughed up by Penn State and left Philadelphia with a 41-12 loss, but Dave Grayson managed to put together a truly impressive performance during the 1960 Liberty Bowl.
Grayson rushed 10 times for 93 yards and a touchdown, adding 43 yards receiving. Playing on both sides of the ball, Oregon’s all-purpose back also managed to recover a fumble in his own end zone in the second quarter to halt a Penn State scoring drive.
Despite the excellent play of Nittany Lions quarterback Dick Hoak, who threw a touchdown and ran for two more, it was Grayson who was recognized as the back of the game for his impressive efforts.
1963 Sun Bowl: H.D. Murphy
The Ducks headed into the ’63 Sun Bowl without injured all-American halfback and defensive back Mel Renfro. They needed H.D. Murphy, who played those same positions, to step up against SMU.
Murphy did not disappoint in Renfro’s absence. The former junior college transfer made two clutch interceptions to help the Ducks extend to a 21-0 lead by half time. One of those interceptions came at Oregon’s own three-yard line to thwart a potential scoring drive for the Mustangs, and the other Murphy returned 49 yards to set up the Ducks’ first touchdown.
Murphy’s outstanding defensive play greatly contributed to the team’s lead in the first half, and held off SMU in the second half to win 21-14. He also added 49 yards rushing on only three carriers on the offensive side of the ball.
1989 Independence Bowl: Bill Musgrave
Bill Musgrave’s high level of play and intangible leadership were arguably the biggest reasons for the Ducks’ ascension out of mediocrity at the end of the 1980s; a plague that the Oregon football program had not been able to shake for most of the decade.
Musgrave, who had started since his freshman campaign in 1987, led the Ducks to an 8-4 1989 season and the team’s first bowl appearance in 26 years in his third year as a starter.
The seasoned signal-caller had a memorable second half, leading Oregon to 17 points in the game’s final 18 minutes to come back and beat Tulsa 27-24. Musgrave completed 22 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns on the day, adding another score on the ground.
It should be noted that the defense also played an excellent game (notably Chris Oldham who picked off two second-half passes), allowing the Golden Hurricanes only 102 yards of total offense in the second half. However, Musgrave’s individual efforts brought the Ducks to victory, and sent the team spiraling out of a frustrating decade of struggles.
1997 Vegas Bowl: Pat Johnson
Wide out Pat Johnson wasted no time establishing himself as a frontrunner for the 1997 Vegas Bowl’s game MVP, hauling in a 69-yard touchdown bomb from Akili Smith on the first play from scrimmage.
Though the Ducks headed into the half with a 26-0 lead over the No. 23-ranked Air Force Falcons, Johnson did not let up as the game wore on. He opened the fourth quarter with another huge play, taking a Jason Maas pass 78 yards for his second trip to the end zone.
Johnson left Las Vegas having accumulated 272 all-purpose yards, including 169 yards receiving on only five catches. The wide out was awarded game MVP honors and led the Ducks to a 41-13 win over Air Force.
2000 Holiday Bowl: Joey Harrington
In an era of increasing specialization on the college football field, not many players run, catch, and throw touchdowns in the same game.
That is exactly what Joey Harrington accomplished in the 2000 Holiday Bowl when the Ducks took on a No. 12-ranked Texas team in San Diego, California. He threw two touchdown passes, ran another in from nine yards out, and caught a fourth from wide receiver Keenan Howry on a beautiful trick play.
Harrington won game MVP honors for his impressive display and led the Ducks to victory in the team’s fifth fourth-quarter comeback win of the season, as the offense put up 14 points in the game’s final ten minutes to down the ‘Horns 35-30.
2002 Fiesta Bowl: Steve Smith
Frustrated after having been denied a trip to the national championship game against the Miami Hurricanes, the No. 2-ranked Ducks took their anger out on the No. 3 Colorado Buffaloes on New Year’s Day, 2002.
While there were heroes on both sides of the ball (notably Joey Harrington and Maurice Morris on offense), the defense absolutely shut down the Colorado offense, holding the Buffaloes to 49 yards rushing.
You don’t see an individual player pick off three passes in a single game too often, so when Steve Smith did it against Colorado’s high-powered offense on such a big stage, the nation took notice. A bowl record, Smith’s three interceptions carried the Ducks to a 38-16 annihilation of Colorado to prove that Oregon deserved a spot atop the national rankings.
2003 Sun Bowl: Samie Parker
The average college football team runs about 70 offensive plays per game. On New Year’s Eve, 2003, when the Ducks traveled to El Paso, Texas to play the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 16 of those plays ended in the hands of Samie Parker.
Parker’s 16 catches remain a school single-game record, and these weren’t just short, easy routes. He totaled 200 yards on the day, a 12.5-yard per catch average, and added two touchdowns as well.
It should be noted that quarterback Kellen Clemens had a strong day as well, completing 32 of his 42 throws for 363 yards. However, it was Parker that earned game MVP honors, and rightfully so, for his stellar day on the outside.
2007 Sun Bowl: Jonathan Stewart
After an 8-1 start that came with Heisman hype for quarterback Dennis Dixon and a potential shot at the national title game, Oregon lost three straight games to end the regular season after Dixon went down with a knee injury.
Jonathan Stewart stepped up and gave Duck fans the pick-me-up that they needed during the 2007 Sun Bowl. The former top recruit carried 23 times for an astonishing 253 yards and a touchdown, adding two catches for 29 yards and another score.
That 11-yard per carry average lifted Oregon to a 56-21 win over South Florida, an optimistic end to a disappointing month in Ducks football.
2012 Rose Bowl: De’Anthony Thomas
A 75-yard carry would have lowered his average on that day.
As a true freshman, DAT brought the entire college football world to its feet when he exploded for 155 yards and two touchdowns – on only two carries! His 91-yard eruption as the first quarter expired was the longest run in Rose Bowl history.
One of the most versatile players in the nation, Thomas also caught four passes for 34 yards and returned five kicks for 125 yards. Oh yeah, he also served as a gunner on punt coverage, forcing a couple of fair catches late in the game.
While several other players, notably Lavasier Tuinei, LaMichael James, and Kiko Alonso, also had exceptional games, Thomas’ individual performance was spectacular, and was ultimately key in Oregon’s 45-38 win over Wisconsin, the school’s first Rose Bowl win in 95 years.
1958 Rose Bowl – Jack Crabtree: In the team’s first Rose Bowl appearance since 1920, quarterback Jack Crabtree played his heart out. Despite losing 10-7 to Ohio State, it was Crabtree that was awarded player of the game honors, only the third player in the bowl’s history to do so on the losing team.
1992 Independence Bowl – Herman O’Berry: In a heartbreaking loss to Wake Forest, Herman O’Berry still managed to win defensive MVP for his two fumble recoveries, one of which he had also forced and returned for a touchdown; and an interception, his seventh on the year.
1995 Rose Bowl – Justin Wilcox and Cristin McLemore: Though they lost the game to No. 2-ranked Penn State, Wilcox and McLemore made it easy all day for quarterback Danny O’Neil (who threw for a record 456 yards), catching 11 passes for 135 yards and 10 passes for 90 yards respectively, each adding a touchdown.
1999 Sun Bowl – Peter Sirmon and Michael Fletcher: It’s hard to separate the accomplishments of these two players, as the defense as a whole played a huge part in Oregon’s 24-20 victory over No. 12-ranked Minnesota. Sirmon tallied 16 tackles, and Fletcher picked off two passes while contributing in the return game as well.
2002 Fiesta Bowl – Joey Harrington: Harrington was nearly perfect on the day, completing 28 of 42 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns to four different players, leading the Ducks to a 38-16 shellacking of No. 3-ranked Colorado.
2009 Rose Bowl: Kenny Rowe: Rowe tallied four tackles for loss including three sacks against Ohio State’s Terrell Pryor, one of the most talented and dynamic quarterbacks in the country.
Once again, none of these performances would have been possible without strong play by the entire team. Nonetheless, these individual players went above and beyond the call of duty on some of the biggest stages that college football can provide.
While we’re not guaranteed to see any individual performances that compare to those listed here, Oregon and Kansas State should at the very least provide one of the most exciting and explosive matchups this bowl season.
With the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, the school’s fourth straight BCS bowl game, it is very possible that this list could be seeing some new names after the Ducks are done with the Wildcats.