Once in a Blue Moon, an event or person comes along and touches your life, making you realize how fortunate you are to be given an opportunity to experience something only that particular event or individual can offer. It can immediately transform lives or transport you back to a time and place where life seemed simpler and more meaningful. You either dance, laugh, scream with joy or cry with humility.
In a day and age with more division and divisiveness than perhaps ever before, these inspiring events and individuals can bring us together. For me, the event is sports, and those people are Marcus Mariota and Sabrina Ionescu.
I haven’t always been a Ducks fan. In high school, I was a Washington State fan, mostly because my friends were. I cheered on Drew Bledsoe and remember that cold snowy game in Pullman in 1992 where he threw a TD pass to Phillip Bobo, winning the Apple Cup. I realize now that I liked sports because of how they made me feel, especially that unique feeling after a great win, an amazing play or a last-minute buzzer-beater.
It’s difficult to duplicate those feelings in everyday life, and sometimes it’s difficult to get that same feeling when watching the sports I love, as the divisiveness and negativity can sometimes bleed into the sports realm. For me, sports were always a way to shut out all the noise, bond with your teammates and work on common goals to help the team get better. Mariota and Ionescu have reminded me why I fell in love with playing and watching sports in the first place.
While my playing days are behind me, I, like many fans, live vicariously through my favorite teams and players. I get that euphoric feeling when watching these young women or young men make amazing and extraordinary plays. I have been an Oregon Duck convert for almost 20 years now. Watching Mariota play football in Autzen Stadium was an incredible blessing. It was like watching grace and power in motion.
But even more rewarding was seeing how he carried himself. His humility and devotion to his teammates was evident every time he took the field. He never tooted his own horn. His play spoke to his talent. He always credited his team and coaches for any in-game success and took the proverbial sword when they failed.
When he accepted his Heisman, he talked about his teammates and how the Heisman belonged to the entire team, because without them, he would not be standing at the podium to accept such an award. Let me tell you, I cried throughout his entire acceptance speech. Why? I was proud of Mariota for his accomplishments on the field and for bringing Oregon football back into the national spotlight. But I was also proud of what Mariota exemplified as a person — his humility. For Mariota, his team was more important to him than an award, and when you hear someone speak from their heart, it touches your heart and something emotionally magical happens.
Unlike Mariota, Ionescu has decided to remain at Oregon for her senior year. Sabrina’s letter to Ducks Nation, I think, can be compared to Mariota’s acceptance speech for his Heisman. Her letter blew up Twitter. It caused Oregon fans to cry for joy, say a thankful prayer, jump in jubilation and text their family and friends the breaking news. Her letter was re-tweeted over 3,ooo times and garnered almost 16,000 “likes.”
Ionescu has done more for Oregon Women’s Basketball than Mariota did for Oregon Football. I know, I know … I hesitated at first to even write that sentence, because for years I never thought anyone could be more of an ambassador for their sport than Mariota.
But Ionescu is! She is transforming women’s basketball, not just at Oregon, but nationwide. Don’t get me wrong — Mariota will always be my choice as Oregon football’s “GOAT.” He helped fill and sell out the seats at Autzen. He helped to make Oregon football a national contender.
His legacy will live on at Oregon because of the memories fans will always have, because of their National Championship appearance, and, of course, because of the facility named in his honor, The Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center.
But Ionescu, too, is transforming her sport by the way she plays the game. Her vision, anticipation and ability to dish the ball off to teammates is unparalleled and John Stockton-esque. This, in addition to her sharp shooting skills and her ability to nail clutch baskets, has helped her record an extraordinary 18 triple-doubles thus far in her college career — a stat unlikely to be matched for a generation.
She, like Mariota, has been awarded some of the highest honors in her sport. She, like Mariota, is filling stadium seats and is beloved in the state of Oregon and in the broader world of college athletics. Both have given their fans unforgettable moments, both are fierce competitors, and both are wise beyond their years.
As fans, how blessed are we to have had the privilege to witness greatness twice within a decade? Incredible talent at such a high level isn’t an everyday or every year occurrence. How lucky are we that Sabrina will play out her senior year? Both student athletes exude humility, and both have left their respective sports programs in better shape than they found them.
So as a fan, I can say I am so blessed to have witnessed greatness in Mariota and now Ionescu. And there is more to come. Thank you, Ionescu, for deciding to remain at Oregon to take care of “Unfinished Business”. We’re all looking forward to taking another memorable and exciting ride with you and your amazing women’s basketball team. Certainly there are no guarantees, but the magic is real, and the belief in winning next year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship is strong.
Whatever the outcome, it’s going to be FUN, and we look forward to savoring every thrilling minute of you on the court. #GoDucks!
Redmond, OregonTop Photo by Kevin Cline
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
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