Brooks, Musgrave, and the Exuberance of 1989: What Would Duck Fans say Now?

John Giustina

I received the Mighty Oregon DVD as a Christmas gift from my fiance, who knew as well as I, that I would need some Ducks football material to get through the dog days of summer (and neverending baseball broadcasts).  I am just about halfway through the 4-DVD, 7-hour set, and just watched the summary of the 1989 season.  (Also be sure to check out FishDuck’s piece on the Mighty Oregon DVD, written by Jerry Thompson. I can’t recommend this DVD enough.)

As FishDuck’s own Joey Holland so eloquently reported, the Ducks’ 27-24 victory over the Memphis Golden Hurricane in the Independence Bowl following that 1989 season (see highlights of that game here) was the game that changed Oregon football, forever.

The proof?

– In the 24 seasons before 1989, the Ducks reached exactly zero bowl games, and their best record over that span was 6-4-1.

– In the 24 seasons since the beginning of 1989, the Ducks have gone to 20 bowl games (staying home during bowling season only in ’91, ’93, ’96, and ’04), have won 9 or more games 12 different times, and have won 6 league titles (’94, ’00, ’01, ’09, ’10, ’11).

We have become used to plays like this in recent years.  (De'Anthony Thomas in the Rose Bowl)

Ducks Illustrated

We have become used to plays like this in recent years; De’Anthony Thomas in the Rose Bowl.

Other than the obvious statistical difference between the pre-1989 period and the post-1989 period, the perspective of Oregon’s fanbase has drastically changed since 1989.  Evidence of this shift in perspective is — so far — the most compelling thing I’ve taken from watching the Mighty Oregon DVD.

Just look at some of these quotes about the 1989 season from from coaches, players, and others involved:

Bill Musgrave

John Giustina

Bill Musgrave

– Quarterback Bill Musgrave (who hails from my current location, Grand Junction, CO), describing a speech he gave to his teammates during the 1989 season: “One day, Oregon IS going to go to bowl games (1)Why don’t we be the guys who go there?”

– Broadcaster (and narrator) Jerry Allen on the 1989 Civil War game: “Oregon’s first 7-win season since 1964 (2), a tie for 2nd place in the conference and avenging the loss to the Beavers in ’88, were motivation enough for the Ducks.  Add to that a record crowd of over 46,000 (3), and the Ducks responded by taking a 16-0 halftime lead.”

– Allen described the 30-21 victory over the Beavers as “the elusive 7th win (4).”

Jerry Allen has seen the highs and lows of the program

From Video

Jerry Allen has seen the highs and lows of the program.

– Allen on the 1989 season in general: “It had been a record-breaking year for the high-flying (5) Ducks, as they set team records for single-season touchdowns, scoring, and attendance. . ..  Their 2nd-place finish in that Pac-10 and 7-win season (6) earned them a trip to Shreveport, LA (7) to meet Tulsa in the Independence Bowl (8).”

Coach Rich Brooks & Offensive Coordinator Mike Bellotti

John Giustina

Coach Rich Brooks & Offensive Coordinator Mike Bellotti

– Head Coach Rich Brooks: “It’s been a long uphill struggle, obviously, to get to the Independence Bowl (9) . . ..  We’ve persevered, battled against a lot of odds, and we finally got some recognition this year (10).”

– Allen on the Independence Bowl win over Tulsa: “It gave the Ducks, and their fans, a tremendous, hard-fought victory (11) to cap an amazing year (12).”

It struck me how overwhelmingly positive and exuberant the comments were in light of the 7-4 season and about an 8th win in the bowl game.  Let’s juxtapose the numbered and bolded quotes above to what I’d imagine a current, average, message boards-trolling Ducks fan would say:

How would these fans react to a 7-5 season?

Craig Strobeck

How would these fans react to a 7-5 season?

1.  “Um, if we don’t go to a bowl game this year I want my season tickets repaid and everyone fired.  That includes Jerry Allen.”

2. “7 wins? . . . That’s through 7 games, right?”

3. “Record crowd of 46,000? Was this Civil War played in Pullman or something?”

4. “The only reason a 7th win would be elusive is if Brady Leaf was our QB.”

5. “38.5 points per game?  I guess ‘high-flying’ is a relative term.”

6. “7 wins?  Was the season shortened due to crop failure or another Y2K?”

7. “Imagine being able to be magically whisked away to . . . Shreveport.  Hi. I’m in Shreveport.

8. “Ok . . . if by ‘meet Tulsa in the Independence Bowl’ you mean ‘meet Tulsa in a weak non-conference game.'”

9. “Whoa, whoa, whoa: ‘long uphill struggle’ to get to the Independence Bowl?  You mean it was actually difficult to reach the independence bowl (non-capitalized) stadium to play LSU in a neutral non-conference game due to some kind of physical incline, right?”

10. /thinking of ways to respond to inevitable critique from SEC fans. . . /

11. “We beat Tulsa 20-what to 20-what? Were we playing 10-on-11?”

12. “The only way 8-4 would be an ‘amazing year’ is if the 4 losses were forfeits because we had scored more points than the NCAA rules currently allow.”

Now, don’t take my italicized, troll-worthy quotes above to mean I don’t think the ’89 season isn’t worth celebrating.  It’s exactly the opposite!  8-4 with a bowl win is a solid season in my book, but I don’t think Duck fans of today would agree with me.

Now — full disclosure — I am a new-blood Ducks fan in every sense of the word.  I have only known top-10 finishes and big bowl appearances during my fandom.

Still, as a former player, and the son of a career high school coach, I know that success in football is tough to put together.  It takes a lot of things to go right to have a winning season.  It takes a lot more to go right to win a game in the postseason.  It takes nearly everything going right to compete for a championship or an elite bowl game.

This team took us to the next big step.

John Giustina

This team took us to the next big step.

We as fans should not lose sight of this.  Just look at the exuberant quotes from the 1989 season!  Fans and followers were ecstatic to be going to a bowl game — the Independence Bowl!  Can you imagine what the response would be now?

Now don’t take this to mean that I don’t expect the Ducks to be a top-5 team in 2013.  I do.  I just know that they won’t always be a top-5 team.  Why not?  Injuries happen.  Bad bounces happen.  Missing a 4th-down conversion happens — just ask Texas, USC, Auburn, Penn State, Tennessee: you’re not always the big dog.  When those things DO happen, and the Ducks have a 9-3 or 8-4 season, I hope we look to those truly exuberant, elated and ecstatic quotes from the 1989 season and are grateful for the success our team finds, as opposed to being bitter over the success our team didn’t find.

But then again – it’s still alright to be upset if we don’t beat Washington.

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