The University of Oregon football team ended their bowl-game drought of 20 years by making it to the 1989 Independence Bowl. There were several players who helped to make the ’89 team successful: Bill Musgrave, Derek Loville, Terry Obee, Tony Hargain, Rory Dairy, Latin Berry and Chris Oldham.
However, I believe there was a player on the defense who played a major role in the team’s success. He may not have been as big as the prototypical nose tackle, but he made up for his size with grit, determination and competitive drive. FishDuck was fortunate to speak with David Cusano last week about his time at Oregon and what he’s doing now. Here’s what he had to say:
Question: What schools were recruiting you, and what made you decide to be a Duck?
Answer: Oregon, Syracuse, BYU, Texas Tech, and WSU. I was so clueless coming out of high school. I didn’t even know where the state of Oregon was. I really felt like I was going to go to Syracuse and was taking the trip to Oregon as an afterthought. But once getting to Eugene (and it was sunny), it felt really, really good. It’s hard to describe, but it just felt like home to me.
Q. What made you decide to go to the University of Oregon?
A. It wasn’t the uniforms, it was the people. Coach [Rich] Brooks made such an impression on me. He was a class act and someone that just commanded respect. My position coach, Joe Schaffeld, was the most enjoyable coach any player could hope to have. He just made even the most miserable practice fun. There are things he told me (advice) during and after practice I still reflect on. He’s a wonderful man and mentor that I love to death.
Q. What do you remember about your first game-day experience?
A. I just remember loving game days and I wish I could have that feeling again. There is nothing like it. Just the whole atmosphere before a game; staying in the hotel, meeting with position coaches, speaking to the team, driving to the stadium, anxiously getting dressed in your gear, and running out on the field to go to battle with your brothers. It still gives me goose bumps.
Q. Describe the team chemistry when you arrived at Oregon.
A. I thought the team chemistry was pretty good when I first got to Oregon. Chris Miller was the veteran quarterback on the offense, but our defense wasn’t as good. The guys loved each other and still do. We just didn’t have the depth and couldn’t get past a six-win season.
Q. What was your favorite play from your playing days at Oregon?
A. My favorite play would definitely be against Arizona, when I intercepted a pass from Ronnie Veal and almost scored. I just read the play and the ball just fell into my hands. Earning PAC-10 Player of the Week was pretty cool as well.
Video provided by Jack Cusano
Q. What do you think of the football team now and its’ success?
A. I’m just proud and in awe. I will assume you were kidding with that question. Who wouldn’t love the success we’ve had, except some of my buds up in Seattle. But as it relates to the coaches, I’m just proud we’ve had guys [such as] Nick Aliotti and [coach] Brooks come thru there. Those are impact, high character coaches that left their mark on [more than] a thousand men. [Mike] Bellotti, Chip [Kelly], and now Mark [Helfrich] have been just awesome. We’ve been so fortunate to have excellent leaders thru the past 30 years.
Q. If you could take the player you were back in college and play now, how would you fit in the Ducks’ defense?
A. They’d move me to tailback. I’d try to run on the field and Don Pellum would say, “Cusano get your tail back on the bench!” I’m confident I wouldn’t be allowed on the field during game day, unless it was a scrimmage.
Q. What did you think of U of O as a student?
A. I loved going to school in Eugene. I felt I had a personal connection with most of my professors and that made the process easier.
Q. What makes Autzen Stadium so great?
A. The passionate fans and amazing stadium configuration. I love the fact the fans are so close to the field.
Q. What was your area of study?
A. I was a Rhetoric Communication/Communications major.
Q. It’s hard enough to be a student; but student athletes also have classes, practices, film study, meetings, training, etc. Can you describe that lifestyle change?
A. It means you can’t lay on your couch all day and watch ESPN. All your time is committed for you, and if you don’t have discipline, you won’t be in school for long.
Q. What was it like to leave the Ducks and move into post-college life?
A. For me, honestly, it was easy.
Q. What are you doing with your life now?
A. I graduated from U of O before we played in the 1989 Independence Bowl, and one month later (January 1990), I was out in the workforce. For the past 25 years I’ve been working in the mortgage banking industry. Currently I work for HomeStreet Bank. In addition, I manage a small capital real estate fund. I married my wife Pam and we have 3 incredible kids (ages 17, 14 and 9). We live in Granite Bay, California. Most our time now is made up watching our kids’ sporting events.
Q. Do you have a message for Duck fans?
A. Stay passionate, but maintain civility (only one of the two is necessary when we play UW or Stanford).
What was the team nickname for you?
Best thing about your time with Oregon football?
Proud that my senior year (’89) was the first class in [more than] 30 years to go to a bowl game, and we won. The most important part is definitely the relationships I created and still maintain. I love coming to Eugene and meeting with old classmates and watching our Ducks.
Who do you think were the best players on the team during your time with the Ducks?
The 1989 team had so many great players on it, but for me, it would have to be Chris Oldham. He just embodied that team. He was small, and not the fastest corner in the league. Despite his size, he was the toughest and most resilient player. I loved playing with him. All the kids on that team just loved him.
Toughest opponent from another school you faced while at Oregon?
Bern Brostic from the University of Washington. He was really strong and I hated going against him. Plus, he always wanted to fight during the game. I think my senior year he got an unsportmanlike conduct penalty while playing us. We should have won that game. Back then, he was kind of a knucklehead. Hopefully Bern doesn’t read this, because I don’t want to fight.
Toughest opponent — team — you faced while at Oregon?
Probably USC my junior year.
Teammate or mates that you learned the most from?
Brett Young: Humanity. [Joe] Kearns, Brooks, Schuler and Schaffeld: Competitiveness.
Did you have a pregame ritual?
Yeah, it was dumb. You’ll need to interview Chris Leupold to find that one out.
When we beat Arizona in 1989. I had a dream game: 11 tackles, 3 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, a sack and a half and was named Pac-10 Player of the Week. I’m sure I’m exaggerating the numbers, but that’s how I remembered it.
Team loss that you could turn to victory?
During my senior year, we were beating Stanford 17-0 in the fourth quarter and somehow lost that game. I’d take a year off my life to have won that one. It’s been tormenting me for 25 years.
Favorite U of O athlete for all time in any sport?
Pamela Cahill. She was a beast on the women’s soccer team. She played from 1987-91. Then I’d have to say Marcus Mariota or Taylor Hart.
You can’t live without?
My kids and my Ducks.
I have 3 kids: Sam, Izzy, and Frank. My wife Pam of 24 years and I were both Ducks, and are hoping one of our kids becomes a Duck someday. My kids all excel in sports and school. I’m a blessed man.
I’m just proud to be a Duck and proud of our teams. Thanks for reaching out to me, it’s been an honor. Go Ducks! And I’ll see you in Autzen.
Top Photo by Dave Cusano
Norm Hightower is a businessman, sports enthusiast, avid outdoorsman, and lifelong Ducks fan that resides in the State of Oregon. He has a wealth of sports knowledge and experience when it comes to football and many other outdoor sports. He’s also a managing partner, writer and editor for Gridiron Media Group LLC and Ramstalk.net.
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