In the midst of all that is college football in November, all eyes (at least in Eugene) are on a knee. A very, very important left knee.
If you’ve been a Duck fan for long, you may be having flashbacks of the heart breaking end to the 2007 season. Dennis Dixon, then a senior, had lead the Ducks to repeated victories and a #2 BCS standing. For the first time in several years, the Ducks were staring a Rose Bowl or even better, a National Championship, in the face. Then, it happened. . .
Despite a November victory over Arizona State, Denis Dixon injured his knee and left the game. He would return to the field two weeks later to the sound of rejoicing fans drowned out by Arizona’s “Zona Zoo”. It would only take a quarter before Dixon’s knee buckled, taking him out for the rest of the season. What hadn’t been revealed was that he was playing on a torn ACL. His collegiate career was over and the Ducks’ top of the Pac season was effectively over as well. They would go on to lose the next couple of games, ultimately ending up in the Sun Bowl- a far cry from a National Championship.
Flash forward to November 2013.
The Ducks are again standing atop the Pac and currently hold a #5 spot in the BCS. They have fallen from the #2 spot, after being defeated by then #5 Stanford- a defeat many have blamed the bummed up knee of the beloved Oregon quarterback, Marcus Mariota. Mariota however does not. Mariota, who has rightfully earned a name for himself as a duel threat quarterback, has been extreme limited in his run game since injuring his knee against UCLA. He hasn’t looked like himself and spectators have no doubt his play has been impacted by the injury. Despite the questions, Mariota has continued to play through the injury, despite the risk it could present to a future NFL career, citing a love for his team as his motivation. He directly states injury is no excuse and that he was taught to play through adversity. As he put it, they would have to pull him off the field before he’d stop fighting the battle.
As Mariota and Co. prepare this week to face Arizona, all eyes are on that knee. He ran out of practice yesterday and even I immediately looked at his knee. “His brace is off” I excitedly told the reporter next to me. Then, Mariota jumped in front of the cameras, only to field question after question about that knee. Yes, he is rehabilitating it several times every day. Yes, he wore the brace during practice. Yes, he takes it off sometimes. No, he doesn’t feel it limits his play. Yes, he’s feeling better. Yes, he plans to play this weekend. And, Yes, he’s sick of talking about his knee.
So why all the worry? Why all the questions about a knee that isn’t taking Mariota out of the game? Because it symbolizes the Oregon Football ups and downs of the past few years. An entire fan base, full of high hopes, refuses to let the season go down the drain. While some are content at a Rose Bowl goal, many still have their sights set on a National Championship- no matter what miracles would be required to get there. It’s not just about winning though, it’s about keeping a kid healthy. A kid, who has humbly led his team, given back to the fans, and shown he deserves so much more from his future, including that coveted Heisman. We all know what’s at stake and just how much is riding on that knee.