Greetings from Phnom Penh. I just landed about two hours ago. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Asia (comparatively, of course) living, working, and travelling. The initial culture shock involves the new environs — the traffic, the number of machine shops (seriously; so many people welding sans welding mask), and the pungency. The deeper shock, at least for me, is the degree of chaos apparent in shopping, traffic, and — this is probably weird — the intense lack of lining up. I can watch the hum of day-to-day living longer than most, as the absence of inertia means everyone is constantly on the go. Sorry, New York, but Bangkok, Beijing, Shanghai, Phnom Penh, all of these cities never sleep.
As an American, I always appreciate coming home to the orderly nature that most never notice. We stand in line at the grocery store, we pass on the left, and we sure as hell never think that riding four to a motor scooter is a good idea. But to the denizens of the burgeoning cities, witnessing these habits of Americans would be just as odd.
I have been at a loss as to what to write over the past few weeks. My last op-ed was poorly conceived at best, while most of my attention was focused on the Texas bar exam. (A truly terrifying experience — younger readers, please don’t become lawyers. It’s not worth it.) But being in Thailand and now Cambodia, has provoked a line of thinking about how Duck fans and Duck observers differ in their perceptions of all things University of Oregon (and Chip Kelly) related.
Chip Kelly is a football mind non-pareil. As the innovator of the blur offense, he took the league by storm in 2013, making Nick Foles appear downright Joe Montana-esque, Shady McCoy look like Barry Sanders in green, and the offensive line play like Spartans defending Thermopylae. 2014 was less successful, at least statistically, even though the Eagles ended up a solid 10-6. Now, on the cusp of the draft and with the NFL off-season in full swing, Chip is making noise once again, this time with his newfound control over Philly’s personnel. Some might question his recent statement-making trade, but one thing no one can question: Chip Kelly has cojones. Put another way, Kelly has no qualms about stepping outside of the frame of comfortable thinking.
This is a trait that Oregon fans loved and revered in Kelly (and hopefully still do). He was the perfect coach for the “upstart” Ducks. He ushered in a new era of offensive football to match the 50 million new uniform combinations. But again, as Duck lovers everywhere knew, this was a logical step in the pilgrim’s progress of Oregon football.
Chip seized an opportunity to coach in the NFL, taking his offense and sports science with him to Philadelphia, eventually taking control of personnel decisions for the Eagles. Most recently, unexpectedly for Duck observers, but not for Duck fans, came the Shady McCoy-Kiko Alonso trade.
When I first read about the trade, I was not surprised. While Kelly’s offense lends itself to gaudy statistics, both standard and advanced. A goodly portion of the sports punditry echo chamber disagreed, at least initially. They reacted as though Kelly, drunk on the success of his offensive gimmickry, gave away one of the family jewels in a 20 minute conversation. I pretty much looked like this:
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (as I’m sure most Duck fans did).
So, what the name of Odin’s Beard does this have to do with Asia? I’m glad you asked. Normal for Bangkokians is not normal for New Havenites, Houstonians, or Portlandians. We live differently, see the world differently, and thrive differently because, well, that’s what people do. Oregon fans operate the same way: what is normal to see Chip Kelly do is not normal for most other football fans. We wonder why ‘Bama sticks to its staid offensive schemes (sorry, Lane Kiffin), or why Texas still sucks. ‘Bama fans think Oregon is soft and couldn’t cut it in the (les)SEC, and Texas is apparently the greatest college football coaching universe. But different isn’t better; it’s just different. Whether Kelly succeeds or fails, he’s doing what he knows and what he wants, whether it’s trading a great running back or ticking off Cary Williams. I, as a weirdo myself, really enjoy watching the world react to things done in an unfamiliar fashion, as I suspect most Duck fans do as well (but you guys aren’t weirdos, unless, of course, you identify yourselves as such).
In conclusion from Cambodia: Keep it Weird, Chip.
Top Photo by Graham Berry