The Ten Most Exhilarating Games of the Last Ten Seasons: #5-1

Nathan Roholt History

If you missed #10-6, find it here.

5) 2006 vs. Oklahoma

Most of the games on this list share the same reason for their exhilaration value: a winning outcome despite all evidence to the contrary that victory was possible; the bleaker the situation prior to winning, the more exhilarating the outcome.

Few games looked bleaker than did Oregon’s 2006 contest against Oklahoma with little more than three minutes remaining in the game.  The long-anticipated matchup, the third in three years against the Sooners and the first at Autzen Stadium, had been well-contested for the first three quarters, with the game was tied at 20 very early in the fourth.

The fourth quarter thereafter became a disaster for Oregon.  With Adrian Peterson carrying the ball on seemingly every play, Oklahoma scored on its next three drives, while Oregon found itself unable to respond; ending both its drives in interceptions, leaving the Ducks trailing 33-20 with 3:16 remaining.

Oregon got the touchdown it needed to close the game to six with 1:16 left, but needed to recover the onside kick to have any shot at winning. The Ducks eventually did recover, after replay of course, a point any Oklahoma fan will glad point out led to game being “stolen” from the Sooners.

The appropriate response to that statement is either “I didn’t know that the referees were responsible for the coverage on Brian Paysinger on the game-winning touchdown” or “I didn’t know the referees were also the ones who kicked Oklahoma’s last-second field goal.”  Oklahoma fans have altered the narrative of this game by highlighting the officiating gaffe, which sadly causes people to forget how amazing Oregon’s rally in the game’s final minutes truly was.

4) 2009 Civil War vs. Oregon State

“The Game of the Century”.  It’s a moniker seemed largely reserved for college football contests, and as Michael Weinreb astutely pointed out recently, there have been more than a few “games of the century.”

Yet attaching the name to the 2009 Civil War would have fit, at least for the state of Oregon.  It was the first and only time the Civil War determined who played in the Rose Bowl, and that opportunity would play out in front of a Thursday night national television audience.  In a rare occurrence for a “Game of the Century,” it lived up to the hype, with the teams combining for 70 points without either team ever leading by double digits.

Oregon fans experienced plenty of drama that night, as the Ducks fell behind four different times, which only served to fuel to joy of the game’s final moments; a slow anticipation buildup as the Ducks attempted to play keep-away and hold onto a four point lead.  Two impressive first downs, by Jeremiah Masoli, then Kenjon Barner, resulted in as dramatic finish a finish as Oregon fans could have hoped for on the way to their first Rose Bowl in 15 years.

3) 2003 vs. Michigan

Many words have been written about the vibe in Autzen Stadium that day, including many of them by me.  So why does a non-conference game during an 8-5 season carry so much weight with Duck fans a decade later?  Two reasons:

  1. It was the highest-ranked team ever defeated by Oregon, and also the winningest program in college football history, too.
  2. It was the culmination of the Autzen mystique and its reputation of fans influencing the game arguably more than any other stadium, leading to oft-repeated Lloyd Carr quote, “that’s the loudest stadium I’ve ever played in.”

Much the same way Oregon tried to hold on in 2009 Civil War above, Duck fans would do anything that day in the hopes that Oregon could hold on.  When the final pass attempt from Michigan’s John Navarre hit the turf, Duck fans exhaled…then celebrated.

2) 2009 vs. Arizona

They weren’t really going to lose this game, were they?

How did they get down by ten?  After scoring touchdowns on its first possession of each quarter in the first half, the Ducks jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and it appeared they would run away with the game.  Now they were trailing 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, and suddenly that lead was a distant memory.

Instead, it was Arizona less than a quarter away from needing only a rivalry win for their first Rose Bowl instead of Oregon, and Duck fans collective panic began to rise.  A tense, back-and-forth fourth quarter (31 combined points) was coming down to a final Oregon drive, with the Ducks needing a touchdown to win.  With the ball at the Arizona 28-yard line and 31 seconds remaining, the outcome remained in doubt.

And then the Arizona students poured onto the field.

Suddenly, the greenness of a fan base clearly unaccustomed to winning had their jinx broadcast to national audience.  Oregon fans saw the ominous vanity such a move, and felt relief in knowing the football gods would never tolerate such an arrogant gesture.  When Ed Dickson caught the game-tying touchdown with six seconds remaining, he showed why you wait for the clock to strike zero.  Arizona managed only a field goal in the second extra period while Oregon got added a touchdown, the difference in leading Oregon to a dramatic victory that left them a game from Pasadena.

1) 2012 Rose Bowl vs. Wisconsin

Ask anyone, “what’s the happiest day of your life?”, and most people would answer with common responses like “my wedding day” or “it’s a tie between each of the days my kids were born”.  These seem like perfectly reasonable responses; it’s hard to question a day that so significantly altered the arc of that person’s life.

If somehow an independent audit could be done to determine the actual happiest day of someone’s life measured by their feelings on that day, it would much more likely be a care-free Saturday at the beach, or a long night spent with friends.  Weddings and births are days wrought with stress in the hopes that everything will go right, the enjoyment of those days typically can only be enjoyed with that expressed magnitude in retrospect, because quite frankly, those types of days are too crazy to even feel anything, let alone find it enjoyable.  They become so life-changing that they escape the scope of evaluation, immediately evaluated above the rest.

2012 Rose Bowl Aftermath

2012 Rose Bowl Aftermath

So it is with the Oregon Ducks and the 2012 Rose Bowl.  It was a game full of many memorable moments, De’Anthony Thomas’ breakout performance, the emergence of Kiko Alonso, and one immortalized fumble recovery by Michael Clay.

Yet all I can remember from that day is the aftermath, how it felt to celebrate that win after nearly a century, celebrating in the parking lot, splitting a bottle of Ducks and Roses Ale, while watching the parking lot descend into madness.

I’ll never know how to properly evaluate that game, because what other game can Duck fans compare the biggest win in 95 years to?  I may not be able to determine the feeling of the game itself, I only know it has to be above all the others, because no other game has ever left me more exhilarated.

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