Little Brother Ducks Will Strike Back

Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out

The Oregon Ducks certainly came out the “little brother” against the Utah Utes Saturday night.

Being branded a little brother smarts. And no matter what happens, you will be reminded from time to time that you are the little brother. That creates a bit of an attitude that you will live by — like it or not.

Utah is Oregon’s little brother in the Pac-12, having just recently been adopted into the family. As much as the smacking hurt for Oregon, if you don’t have a clue how good it felt for Utah, you are probably nobody’s little brother — and I say this as a matter of fact, not as a compliment.

It is inevitable that comments claiming “big brother” status over Oregon State will start popping up more often as we work our way toward the end of the season.

It’s a reference that was obviously started by some big brother somewhere, enamored over his big brother status, and meaning well by casting Oregon as the “big brother.”

Sorry, but that’s just not the way it is. Why this is wrong, what it means to win from the little brother position, and how this defines the Oregon Ducks is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.

1. Why it is wrong. Size does not matter, at least not in this case. Neither do achievements. There is only one factor that determines who is the big brother and who is the little brother, and that factor is birth order.

It’s simple. First one out of the womb wins big brother status. It doesn’t matter if he grows to 5’3″ and 127 pounds and his little brother is 6’7″, 290. It’s not football — it’s a race, and the race is over, never to be raced again. The big brother is the big brother — and everybody knows it.

So — here’s the rub on the Beavs and the Ducks. Oregon State University (though it has wisely upgraded its name a couple of times) was founded in 1868. The University of Oregon didn’t come along until 1876, a full eight years later.

Sorry, fellow Duck fans. That makes Oregon State University our big brother.

The "big brother" position has its detractors.

The “big brother” position has its disaficionados.

So while the image of big brother stiff-arming little bro at a distance while little bro swings at air has a certain appeal to it — at least from the big brother’s point of view — it just isn’t an accurate depiction of what we have going on. Not here and not on the national stage. But this is not necessarily a bad thing, because …

2. Victory is 10 times sweeter for little brothers. Trust me — as the youngest of four children, I know. When you are young, big brothers (sisters too, for that matter) take advantage of that extra year or two they’ve had in the system.

They rub it in your face. They alter your middle name and make fun of it. And they get away with it, because you haven’t yet figured out just how dorky their middle names are. Yes — Neupert, Wilma and Edgar, you know it’s true. Michael Markel Merrell, indeed.

You get to where you live for that day when you can get them at anything. And when you do, life is sweet.

Because when you make it to where you can routinely best them at something, a new sense of order comes into play. You maintain respect for them, and hopefully love, although there was that Cain and Abel incident in the Bible. But the poor souls have lost something that you took from them, hopefully fair and square.

Some of them live well with it and are proud to say, “That’s my little brother.”

Sneaky little brother does a zone read.

Sneaky little brother does a zone read.

Some of them find something else to do that doesn’t expose the little brother’s supremacy. Some of them just go jealous and bitter. But in most cases — and rightfully so — the big brother will always regard the little brother as a royal pain in the rear on some level or other. This maintains a sense of order in the universe.

So it is with the Ducks and the Beavers. The younger University of Oregon has left its big brother in the dust and now has to deal with …

3. The New Big Brothers. Though the Ducks did something to make the New Big Brothers question their ancestry Saturday night, when it comes to football, the Ducks have a new band of brothers: the national elite.

There is no denying that the Ducks are one of the most recent to enter that world. So that puts them into the familiar role of little brother. Like their big brothers, Oregon will have its ups and downs. And when the downs happen, the older siblings will respond by denying that the little underachiever is a part of the family.

The Ducks socked it to big brother Florida State, defending national champions.

Craig Strobeck

The Ducks socked it to big brother Florida State, the defending national champions.

The put-downs are predictable. The Ducks are soft. (You’re such a baby.) They’re a gimmick team. (Sneaky little not-sure-who-his-father-really-is.) Oregon has never beaten Ohio State. (I’ll always be the big brother.) And so on.

All the put-downs are just part of the fear-motivated big brother bullying designed to maintain the status quo.

The weak little brother will cave, and it will become a part of his identity. But for the tough little brother it’s just motivation. Having to pick himself up and prove he belongs will only make victory that much sweeter when it finally comes, and he’s not about to give up.

Backward steps go along with the many forward steps. But despite this most recent backward step, Oregon has made it to the table of the college football elite.

For now, the Ducks have just fallen off the chair, and they need to get back up — whether it takes a game, a year or — heaven forbid — a few years. That’s what programs that belong — and tough little brothers — do.

Despite the set-back, the little brother Ducks are still growing. When that growth results in taking the place at the head of the table, raise the toast to little brothers everywhere.

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • John John

    you did SEE the ‘softness’ in every area on display in that game they lost to utah the other night, didn’t you?

    • Mike Merrell


    • duckusucker

      No. I saw ineptness from our DBs. I saw hideously stupid coaching decisions, i.e. starting an “80%” QB (Adams). I saw exhaustion and confusion from the D at large after being asked to stop arguably the best RB in the conference w/little rest between drives.
      What I didn’t see was a lack of fight. A lack of effort. A lack of toughness.
      This “softness” crap is crapola. Ask Stanford, Utah, and Fl. State how soft the Ducks were last year.
      Fact: the Ducks (no excuse, just explanation) were w/out the two most experienced (Daniels, Seisay) DBs in a very young corps. I saw no quit in Springs, Amadi, Ihenacho— inexperience, yes.


        Seisay didn’t play because he was hurt Danials was SAT because he’s pretty much done nothing to warrant playing time. Both him and Robinson have talent but it’s not showing up on the field. As far as I’m concerned Spring’s has the skills and knowledge to become a very good CB but Ihenacho was terrible and I don’t think I’ve ever watched any Duck CB getted burned for 3 TD’s that weren’t even close as in they aren’t known for really good WR’s like we have on our team. I have to whole heartedly agree with you on the attitude of this team which frankly STINK’S BAD. This is because of Coaching because they played really good against MSU but in the other 3 games there seems like no motivation. These Coach’s seem to be the ones that are on cruise control as if what they did last year has anything to do with the crappy job they’ve pretty much all have done.

        • duckusucker

          I agree with you, except I don’t think AT ALL that the “attitude of this team… stink’s (sic) bad.”
          Young secondaries are a coaching nightmare (not for the opponents, of course…).
          I saw effort, but lots of confusion.
          Not necessarily bad coaching; how many second year DBs in the PAC are “shut-down” players?
          When one realizes ALL the secondary are novices, it’s hard to be very incensed.
          The D-line is another story, as are the linebacker corps: plenty of vets and seniors among those starters. It is NOT cruel to hold them to a far higher standard.
          Unfortunately, if one link is very weak, the chain breaks.

  • ProudRedUtahAlum

    Utah Ute fan here. I DID NOT consider anyone anytime in the Pac-12 Utah’s little brother and I would hope Utah gets some respect in that area too. When we were in the Mountain West, we actually did consider BYU our little brother, but just for ‘trash talking trolling’ purposes! However, that ship has sailed. If it makes you feel better, the athletic director here are Utah, Chris Hill, was interviewed a couple of years ago and asked basically “What is the direction you want to take this Utah Football program?”. His response: “Oregon! We want to be Oregon!”. I guess you could say that maybe that makes Utah a little brother looking up at Oregon. But hell with the little brother, big brother crap. Every team in the Pac-12, with a special note to Oregon because of their excellence over the last several years, has been a ‘mentor’ to the Utah Utes, who came up from the mid-majors and are thrilled to be here in the Conference of Champions and want to continue to thrive in all sports and further build up that reputation to the nation. Good luck with the rest of the season, Oregon. You winning out will benefit us both. GO UTES! GO DUCKS! (or as I have seen from some of my Oregon fan friends: “QUACK QUACK QUACKERY”, which I’m assuming is good.).

    • Mike Merrell

      Proud Red —

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I see a lot of goodwill between Utah and Oregon. The conferences outlook toward Utah has been “how long will it take,” not “whether.”

      This is a difference between the positive treatment that I understand Utah has received and what Oregon has endured. There is growing support for Oregon nationwide, but up until recently, the issues of no Heisman winner and no Rose Bowl win have been rubbed in. Those are gone, but being labeled as “soft” and “finesse,” labeled as “can’t win the big ones” — despite some major league wins and a great win/loss record over recent years — all of this persists. And this game was a major setback in overcoming all of this.

      There are sibling rivalries in football, and Oregon has had a strong taste of them lately, both in the Pac-12 with some vicious rivalries that go way back. The treatment that Oregon will get for this loss will bring out the big brother put-downs from the national powers big time. They will make the most of it.

      The Ducks don’t just have to pull themselves together. They have to do it amid a large group of naysayers — national pundits and rivals, as well as angry fans. I see the rivalries as being analogous to sibling rivalries, and it’s amazing how many comments have a big brother know-it-all tone to them. It’s just one way to look at it. If you don’t want to look at it that way, that’s fine with me.

      Congratulations to your Utes for a very convincing win.

  • Dan

    Dumb article. The author has no idea what he’s talking about. Big brother in football and sports is used to put down the other team’s accomplishments relative to their own. It has NOTHING to do with the year the university is founded.

    I guess all US colleges are little brother to Harvard based on the author’s definintion. Idiotic.