For many college football fans, the Oregon football program was not taken seriously before 1994, when Kenny Wheaton picked off Washington quarterback Damon Huard’s pass and took it 95 yards the other way to propel his Ducks into their first Rose Bowl since 1958.
Since then, the Oregon Ducks have represented the future, especially since Chip Kelly took over as head coach in 2009. Between the rapidly rotating uniforms, the high-tech facilities, and the top-tier versatility on the field, the Ducks are truly ahead of their time.
The team and its schemes have become so fast, innovative and effective that head coaches around the country, such as Alabama’s Nick Saban, have gone so far as to support proposed rule changes aimed at slowing the Ducks down on the field.
However, none of this means that Oregon lacks a rich history.
Many would argue otherwise, and Saban would likely be among them. Oregon’s innovation threatens the power schemes and traditional mindsets of SEC and Big-10 territory. As a result, Oregon is often mocked on a national scale by programs that have long been elite. Right now, they’re the “new kid” at the proverbial popular table.
Nonetheless, taking a look at the NFL Hall of Fame, it becomes clear that the Ducks have plenty of historical prestige, having produced six members.
In fact, though you would never know it, thanks to Oregon’s “gimmicky” reputation, only seven schools (Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Alabama, Syracuse, and Oregon’s own Pac-12 neighbor USC) have put more players in the Hall of Fame than Oregon.
Dan Fouts, Alphonse “Tuffy” Leemans, Mel Renfro, Norm Van Brocklin, Dave Wilcox, and Gary Zimmerman are some of the most respected players in NFL history, and their common ground in Eugene shows that the 1983 “Toilet Bowl” may not be the best indicator of the Oregon football program’s prestige before Kenny Wheaton’s fateful pick-six.
SEC fans may want to sit down for this one because the nature of these facts may disturb you. Of the 14 current teams that make up the Southeastern Conference, only Alabama has six or more Hall of Fame members (7).
Excluding those seven former Alabama players, the other 13 teams in the current SEC have produced a total of only 19 Hall of Famers. Oregon and USC alone have produced a total of 17.
While the traditional USC program has certainly become a bit of an outlier in a conference that has been taken over by hurry-up spread offenses and changing identities, there is something to be said for the fact that the school with the highest total of Hall-of-Fame members, resides out West.
Arizona State and UCLA are two other programs that have resurfaced as national powerhouses. However, like Oregon, they are plagued by less-traditional labels due to the nature of their offensive systems.
Both programs have produced five Hall of Famers, though, more than any school in the SEC, aside from the Tide.
The Hall of Fame is by no means the only indicator of program prestige and tradition. Nonetheless, given the Pac-12’s current success on a national level, many in SEC territory cling to the historical argument that the Oregons of the world are simply a flash in the pan, and will return to irrelevancy once the rest of the nation finds a way to slow down the hurry-up offense.
Well, given Oregon’s exceptional NFL résumé and the current state of the program, it would appear as though the Ducks have outgrown the “new kid” reputation and solidified themselves as one of the “cool kids.” While this certainly holds true for the Pac-12 as a whole, it is time for the Oregon football program to be respected as a historical entity, a present force to be reckoned with and a glimpse into the future of college football.
Top Photo by John Giustina