The Dawg Daze effect lingers. I’m getting a little panicky. We’re running out of time to grunt, groan, and gas about the past, before lightning strikes and our Frankenstein comes back to life.
Obviously, I am still shaking my head at our not-so-ducky 2016 season. It’s not helping me lose the belly fat I added trying to cushion the blows from that forgettable season. As I have tried to step back and grasp the bigger picture, hoping to find a perspective that has a nice hiding place for the 2016 season, it occurred to me that perhaps the worst of the worst is the date itself: 2016.
It doesn’t have a hyphen!
In an era when surnames are trending toward hyphenation and even the zeitgeist often has multiple hyphens, a football season without a hyphen is like a pool table without pockets. Like beer without bubbles. Like leading the charge into Autzen Stadium with a Honda 50.
This aha made me wonder: How long had it been since we had a season without a hyphen?
The Jekyll and Hyde Alamo Bowl year of 2015-16 did add a hyphen to the Hatfield-Dowlin hyphen collection. Vernon Adams provided an exciting transition from the Marcus Mariota era right up to the moment that he and center Matt Hegarty limped off the field, taking the Ducks’ hearts with them.
How many times have we heard the collective Duckland sigh: What if Adams had stayed healthy?
The well-earned hyphen in the 2014-15 season deserves an asterisk. Along with its success, it was also the first sign of the imminent demise of the Oregon Ducks hyphen-collecting juggernaut. After demolishing the Florida State Pretenders the week before, a different Ducks team and an over-matched coaching staff were run over by Ohio State.
If the Ducks had been packing, as they should have been in Arlington Texas, we could say that they shot themselves in the webfeet. Even brandishing the glittering hyphen from the week before, Sir Marcus was not enough.
In 2013 the Ducks came within two days of adding a hyphen to their 30-7 beatdown of Texas in the December 30th Alamo Bowl. Mariota (253 pass; 15/133 run) ran like a lightning bolt when he wasn’t passing to Josh Huff (5/104). Avery Patterson and Derrick Malone each had pick-sixes.
Prior to that season, Chip Kelly-led teams added four hyphens to the collection in four years, including two Rose Bowls. In 2010, Kenny Rowe and the Duck defense held Terrelle Pryor‘s Ohio State offense to four field goals and only two touchdowns. The Duck offense with Jeremiah Masoli at the helm got just as many TDs but only one FG. Two years later, Russell Wilson’s Wisconsin Badgers were denied by Kiko Alonso and company, while Darron Thomas, Lavasier Tuinei, LaMike James, De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner put up 45 to their 38.
In the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, it took Thomas 12 seconds to catch the opening kick-off and run it back 96 yards for the first of his two TDs. Kansas State never recovered. Mariota was named Offensive MVP and Michael Clay the MVP on defense.
In the modern era, beginning with Mike Bellotti, before the most recent cluster of hyphens, we have to go all the way back to the 2001-02 Fiesta Bowl when Joey Harrington threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns, and Steve Smith grabbed a record three interceptions leading the No. 4 Ducks to a 38-16 de-horning of the Colorado Buffaloes in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl.
It’s worth noting that the 1949 Cotton Bowl featured future NFL Hall-of-famers Norm Van Brocklin of the Ducks and the Mustangs’ Doak Walker who was the reigning Heisman winner.
The obvious question that we are all asking in all our different ways is this: What’s it going to take to put a fresh hyphen in the Ducks’ nest this coming season so when we think back on it, the date looks like this: 2017-18, and not like this: 2017?
The collection of January 2018 games that the Ducks can quality for are the Peach, Sugar, Rose and Natty. Everything else has a trophy but no hyphen. To get to hyphen-land, the brand spanking new era Ducks will have to pinball their way through the regular part of the 2017 season with no more than one loss. To be sure, there are more than enough opportunities to play in December with two, three, or even six losses, and I for one, believe they have the necessary talent to do that, though that talent was barely accessible in the malaise that infected a team without effective leaders, either as players or coaches.
Hats off to quarterback Justin Herbert who, as an unheralded freshman, earned the start and learned to lead as the defenseless season evolved. Kudos, too, to most visible freshmen, linebacker Troy Dye and safety Brenden Schooler, who often did something and pushed where they could, because so few of their upper-class teammates filled the void.
Who, then, among our beloved Ducks will lead the drive to add a hyphen to season 2017? Royce Freeman appears to be a good role-model, but not a true leader. Will it be Charles Nelson? Tyrell Crosby? Juwaan Williams? Tyree Robinson? One of the Ducks new sophomores or freshmen?
Top photo by Brian Bahr