If there are three things I know in life, it is Oregon Football, guitar-driven rock n’ roll, and the “Rocky“ film series. We all know (and love) the theme song “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III, and the Eye of the Tiger is exactly what the Ducks need on the cusp of their rematch with Utah. Admittedly, this might be a bit of a stretch, but bear with me as I point out the parallels between Rocky III and the 2021 Oregon Ducks.
(Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen Rocky 3.)
At the beginning of the movie, there is a flashback of Rocky defeating reigning heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Ohio State) to win the heavyweight title. This is followed by an opening montage showing various clips of Rocky defending his title against several mediocre fighters (the Ducks’ schedule from Stoney Brook through WSU), while the fierce and dominating knock-out artist Clubber Lang (Utah) waits in the wings to get his chance at Rocky while destroying opponent after opponent on his way to becoming the top contender.
Rocky’s esteemed trainer and father figure, Mickey Goldmill (i.e. Mick or Mickey), has been keeping a fearful eye on Lang’s fights and wants nothing to do with the hungry and powerful fighter. When Rocky is publicly challenged and disrespected by Lang at his public statue dedication at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rocky lets Lang know he will fight him “anytime!” to which Mickey cuts Rocky off to tell him that if he wants to fight Lang he will have to do it alone, then storms off. (This is like the press, pundits, and Las Vegas oddsmakers who correctly doubted the Ducks as underdogs before their blowout loss.)
Back home after the ceremony, Rocky confronts Mickey about walking out on him. To which Micky tells Rocky that he can’t win, and that “this guy will kill you to death inside of three rounds.” Mickey explains to Rocky that he has not been hungry since he fought Creed (Ohio State), and admits that he hand-picked beatable opponents (Weak Pac-12 foes) for Rocky to protect him. He then tells Rocky that Lang is “a wrecking machine” and that he would “knock ya’ to tomorrow.” Naturally, the plot plays out with Rocky convincing a reluctant Mickey to train him just one last time.
During the fight, just as Mickey had predicted, Rocky gets brutally destroyed inside of three rounds (like Utah’s 28-0 halftime lead).
In the aftermath of his beating, Rocky is sulking in Mickey’s gym, mourning his defeat, when suddenly Creed appears to challenge Rocky. Creed tells Rocky that he lost because he lost his edge, and that he lost the Eye of the Tiger, but that he can help him get it back, as well as his title, as Rocky’s trainer.
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Creed acknowledged that Rocky’s head was not in the Lang fight as he worried about Mickey after Mickey fell deathly ill in the walk up to the ring (Oregon’s injuries) and ultimately died. But, the truth is Rocky had lost his hunger and savage instincts. He had become too “civilized,” as Mickey had earlier mentioned. As a result, early in the training process for the rematch, Rocky continues to experience self-doubt from the psychological damage inflicted by Lang (the Ducks, early in rivalry week).
Then, just before possibly the best Rocky training montage ever, Rocky finally pulls it together after having a heated exchange with his wife Adrian, who, in an emotionally-filled scene convinces him that he can do it. After Adrian’s inspiration (for the Ducks, we will assume an inspired Mario Cristobal speech happened here). Rocky trains harder than ever to overcome his fears, and restore his mojo (the Ducks, later in rivalry week). The pinnacle of the montage shows a renewed Rocky and Apollo hugging and dancing around off the beach in the Pacific Ocean (please God, tell me the Oregon players did not dance around like this?).
It is now clear that Rocky is confident and determined, and that he has regained the Eye of the Tiger! (Have the Ducks with their victory over the Beavers?)
This brings us to now.
Utah fans are hungry for the rematch because many of them see it as an easy win, and that it will simply be a continuance of the beating the Ducks took on November 20th. As Oregonlive.com columnist John Canzano reported a few days ago, “A lot of Utah fans turned into the Incredible Hulk after last week, screaming to bring on Oregon again.”
Cocky is how Lang acted in the lead-up to his second fight with Rocky. When asked in an interview about accepting the challenge from Rocky for a rematch, Lang scornfully replies, “I reject the ‘challenge,’ because Balboa is no challenge, but I’ll be more than happy to beat up on him some more…”
And, in the locker room just before the rematch, who could forget Lang’s classic one-word prediction for the fight: “PAIN.”
Oh, Utah fans, be careful; you just might be poking the tiger (just not in the eye, please).
The Ducks have what it takes, they are the more talented team. They just fought a knockout artist on a wrong night. It is going to take all that they can muster, physically and emotionally, but at the end of the day, the Ducks can win this rematch. They must get back to where they were when they beat Ohio State in Columbus for the best regular-season victory of the 2021 season. They must get back to being the more physical team. They must get back to having The Eye of the Tiger.
At the risk of being overly dramatic (OK, guilty as charged), there could be a Hollywood ending in this, and not just because a win would take the Ducks to LA LA Land (the Rose Bowl). Many are not giving the Ducks a chance as they once again enter the game as underdogs. And, after the blowout loss to the Utes just 11 days ago, who can blame them? Of course, in the movie, Rocky knocks out Lang early in the fight to regain the title, and all is well in Rocky-land.
Eye of the Tiger? Rocky got it back, but can the Ducks get it back? If so, Hollywood awaits.
Top photo credit: Harry Caston
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Darren Perkins is a sales professional and 1997 Oregon graduate. After finishing school, he escaped the rain and moved to sunny Southern California where he studied screenwriting for two years at UCLA. Darren grew up in Eugene and in 1980, at the tender age of five, he attended his first Oregon football game. His lasting memory from that experience was an enthusiastic Don Essig announcing to the crowd: “Reggie Ogburn, completes a pass to… Reggie Ogburn.” Captivated by such a thrilling play, Darren’s been hooked on Oregon football ever since. Currently living in Spokane, Darren enjoys flaunting his yellow and green superiority complex over friends and family in Cougar country.
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