Sports fans are enamored with the star players of their favorite teams, often deifying them with stories passed from generation to generation. As a child, I knew Bill Walton was one of the greatest basketball players of all time without ever seeing him shoot a basketball, simply because his number hung from the rafters of the Rose Quarter.
Currently, the Oregon Ducks do not have a “Ring of Honor,” nor do they retire numbers. Well, it’s time for Oregon to start a new tradition so we can preserve history.
Many schools around the country retire numbers. Our little brother retired No. 11 for their beloved Heisman winner Terry Baker, and Arizona State retired No. 42 for American hero Pat Tillman. The machine known as Alabama retired No. 12 to honor two different players: Joe Namath and Ken Stabler.
Less Is More
It should be obvious that I am a believer in retiring numbers, and certainly all of the above were worthy. However, when a team retires a number just for the sake of it, it infuriates me to no end. It’s like being in high school and getting a tattoo just because a friend got one.
The Miami Heat are a prime example of a franchise that just retires numbers because attendance is low and they need a crowd on a Tuesday game against Orlando. The Heat retired No. 1 for Chris Bosh. Granted, he was the third man in the Miami’s “Big Three,” but lets be real, he wasn’t the reason that they won their two championships. Even more ridiculous, they retired No. 23 for Michael Jordan … Yes, you’re right. No need to look it up. Jordan never played in Miami.
If pro wrestling has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t diminish something if you want it to be of value later. When Dwayne Wade and LeBron James have their numbers rightfully retired, a child who never has seen them play will associate them with the same level of greatness as Bosh. Perhaps that sounds harsh to Bosh, but the fact is, he’s not the same caliber of player as the other two.
One day we’ll figure out some type of tier system for Hall of Fame members and even for retired numbers. Perhaps we could hang up Jordan’s number a foot higher than Scottie Pippen’s, or something similar to that. But until that tier system becomes reality, we have to work with what we have.
Oregon football has a number of very qualified players who should have their numbers retired. Unfortunately, we are unable to honor them all. Below are the five that should go up first, broken down into three categories.
The Obvious Greats
8 Marcus Mariota — Some argue he’s the greatest college quarterback of all time. Certainly fans who wear green and yellow would agree. The only Heisman trophy winner in school history and the holder of many school records, Mariota is somehow a better person than he is a football player. Talk to any teammate of his and they will tell you the same. Story after story, it’s evident that he genuinely cares about people.
A star athlete and a Hall of Fame “Good Samaritan,” No. 8 needs to be retired from Oregon football, and possibly from all Oregon athletics.
96 Haloti Ngata – Selected 12th overall in the NFL draft, Ngata was an absolute terror at Oregon. He’s the best football player to ever call Autzen his home. After 13 years in the NFL, he decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to announce his retirement. The Super Bowl champion’s stats may not suggest that he’s an all-time great, but if you watch his film, you can see why he is a future Hall of Famer. Ngata demanded, at minimum, a double team on every snap. He never took a play off; he gave it his all every chance he had.
The Not-As-Great Greats
11 Dan Fouts — The first Oregon quarterback enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Fouts is now one of the voices heard during NFL broadcasts. While he didn’t put up great numbers during his time at Oregon, he helped the school gain some relevancy. Sure, the Ducks didn’t win many games during his career, but the name alone helps with recruitment to this day.
20 Kenny Wheaton — At his best, Wheaton was an above-average defense back, but his name will never be forgotten among Duck fans. He inscribed his name in the history books with the greatest play in Oregon football history. The closest thing to having a number retired in Autzen is being in every pregame video that the stadium plays to hype the crowd. He isn’t just in the videos; he ends the videos.
Growing up in Eugene, before they teach you to read, you learn “Kenny Wheaton is gonna score,” and that it was against that team up north! Oregon honored Wheaton and “The Pick” in 2014 to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the monumental play. Let’s honor Wheaton and his play by hanging No. 20 up.
The Debatable Greats
Choosing the final candidate was difficult. As I mentioned earlier, Oregon has many that deserve to honored. I had originally thought Ahmad Rashad would be the final member of the Ring of Honor, but Duck fans I asked about this all said I was crazy. So, I looked back, and I have to give the people what they want.
3 Joey Harrington — Harrington is the player who, I believe, actually put Oregon on the map, made the school relevant and turned them into contender. He should have played in a National Championship and won a Heisman, too. The “Joey Heisman'” banner that hung in Times Square is still a poster you see in sports bars in Eugene. In 2002, he provided Oregon with a Fiesta Bowl win, the first meaningful bowl berth since 1995 and the first meaningful bowl victory since 1917. Seeing those dates alone makes it obvious. Harrington needs to be honored in the history of Oregon.
Men of Oregon
The five players listed are true Men of Oregon. They each embody the program and all that it stands for. They all love the school and gave everything they had to help the team win. These are true legends on and off the field, and thus they should be forever etched in the school’s history books.
These five numbers — 8, 96, 11, 20 and 3 — should never be worn by another Duck player again. Although future players may have fewer numbers to choose from, they will have the motivation to remove one more number for the players after them.
Wilsonville, Oregon Top Photo by Craig Strobeck
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
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