No Mark Twain quotes here. No rehashing of the great author’s famous statement about his death being overstated. Yet, as Duck fans, many of us can relate to that phrase. Every year Oregon’s detractors predict that the end is nigh, that surely this year the Ducks will face some sort of collapse and fall flat on their feathered faces. This year, the football gods will strike them down and Oregon will revert to mediocrity.
The irony is that few, if any, of those haters pay enough attention to Oregon history to really pinpoint a time when that era of mediocrity existed. In their collective minds, they have some vague notion that this golden era of Oregon futility occurred sometime before Chip Kelly arrived. So, Mike Belloti then?
Maybe if any of those Alabama, Washington or USC fans cared to pay attention, they would find that during the Mike Belloti era, Oregon suffered exactly one non-winning season — in 2004, when they were one game below .500. So really, one has to go all the way back to the early Rich Brooks era to find an example that really resembles anything less than success.
Sure, during the Belloti era, there were years when the team was good but not great, but there were also many years when the Ducks were outstanding, culminating in the 2001 season when they had an 11-1 record, finished 2nd in the national polls but were passed over in favor of a vastly overrated Nebraska team for the National Championship game against Miami.
The simple fact is, it is unlikely Oregon is going to fall flat anytime soon. There will be down years for sure, but Oregon has the pieces in place to have sustained success in the same way that Alabama has. Success tends to breed success, but it also requires dedication to improving on those achievements, and that is exactly what Oregon has done so well.
Instead of sitting on their laurels, the program, from top to bottom, has focused on continued improvement, whether it is in the personnel, facilities upgrades or public outreach, Oregon is an organization on a mission to show they are elite, and not just for the next few years, but for decades to come.
The most frustrating thing for Oregon’s rabid hate-base is that from external appearances, the Ducks just shouldn’t be equipped to have these sustained runs of success. Small state – population-wise – with a tiny athlete pool to draw from (at least in comparison to states such as California, Texas and Florida).
Eugene is more town than city, the weather is often cold and gray. Autzen Stadium, while raucous, is also tiny compared to many other stadia, and on and on, ad nauseum. Oregon just shouldn’t be able to do what it does on the field, year in and year out – should it?
Yet, Rome was once a small state, weak, pushed around by its bigger, more powerful neighbors such as the Etruscans to the north. Most readers will be quite familiar with Rome, while not being as familiar with the Etruscans, so it is easy to deduce how that relationship ended. Rome strove to be something more, to be something great, and continually invested in its improvement on every level, from the military to the its governmental administration. As they aspired for greatness their state grew, and continued to grow until they came to dominate the entire Mediterranean. It was only when Rome grew complacent that the empire began to crumble.
Despite not winning the National Championship (yet), Oregon has achieved some level of greatness. The nation has watched the program take on the established powers and hold its own. High school players, who in years past would have scoffed at playing for the Ducks, now routinely list Oregon as one of their top considerations. The perception of Oregon has changed.
And with that paradigm shift has come the haters. In some ways that is the truest sign of Oregon’s arrival on the national stage — the level of animosity the team now generates. Twenty years ago, when Rich Brooks took the Ducks to the Rose Bowl, not many fans outside of Corvallis or Seattle really cared enough to hate Oregon. But now the Ducks have gained almost as many new detractors as new fans.
Unfortunately for the college football fanatics who aren’t fans of the Duck’s warp-speed assault on the status-quo, it doesn’t appear that Oregon is going back to underdog status anytime soon. Not with Marcus Mariota and company poised to make another run at a National Championship. Even with injuries, defections, graduation and the typical chaos of an off-season, Oregon looks strong yet again.
In the years to come, Oregon may take a step back, maybe even two steps back, but barring a devastating collapse of some kind, they should remain competitive, hungry and successful.
So keep on hating haters, keep on squealing about how Oregon is a gimmick school, keep on whining about conspiracies, uniforms and sugar-daddy Phil Knight being the only reason the Ducks stay competitive. This run isn’t over yet, and may not be for many years to come.
Top photo of Rich Brooks by John Giustina