It was supposed to be Oregon’s year. Sure, the Ducks were focused on Winning the Day and saying all the right things, with the exception of a couple last week, but we all knew what the expectations were. The Ducks were stacked with talent and were seemingly unstoppable- no hurdle seemed too high. Even when the Ducks failed to chop down the Stanford Tree, the team and their fans found a renewed hope after USC brought their chainsaw and did what Oregon couldn’t. There would be a couple of seemingly small hurdles left and the Ducks would, if nothing else, find themselves back in the Rose Bowl- not a bad consolation prize. Then. . .it happened. The Ducks few south for the winter and unexpectedly lost to Arizona- changing the post season landscape and leaving the wounded Ducks (and fans) to dig deep and find a reason to “get up” for this year’s battle with the Beavs.
All week Duck Nation has bantered back and forth about who might win this year’s Civil War, especially because OSU is also coming in severely wounded after losing it’s past several contests, including an embarrassing smack down on Saturday by the Washington Huskies. On paper, Oregon seems to be the clear favorite, but like my dad always said, “Records don’t matter when it comes to the Civil War. Any team can win.” So, when people started asking me about my prediction, I found myself going back and forth, until I settled on one little thing. . .
Last Saturday, I sat in the Arizona Stadium press box, watching the nightmare unfold. The Stanford loss was tough, but this was worse. Worse because the Ducks just didn’t seem to be themselves. They were “undisciplined,” as Daryle Hawkins put it, and described by Helfrich as “Sluggish.” At one point, I even said, “Did they trade jersey’s today?” There’s no doubt, a different Oregon team walked onto the Wildcats’ field.
As the final few minutes ticked away, I gathered my belongings and found my way to the field to exit with the team and begin the tough task of interviewing some of my favorite, battered Ducks. If you read my last post, you know I wasn’t thrilled about encountering that crowd, but for the sake of profession, it had to happen. As the game clock hit 00:00, I watched each Duck run off the field to the sounds of the heckling ZonaZoo, yelling things like,”You’re choking Ducks!”, “You Suck!”, “Go Home!” “Boo!”. At one point, the taunting was so bad, two Arizona fans started yelling at their own fans to show class, as those TWO nice fans tried their best to uplift the obviously shattered Ducks.
As a Duck fan, disguised as a non-biased media representative in a bright-green rain jacket, I wanted to yell back at those stupid fans. I wanted to hug the players. I wanted to cry with them. Instead, I stood there trying to look each Duck in the eye, giving any that looked my way an encouraging smile. None looked. As each Duck ran past me, I could feel the emotion. Some with obvious tears in their eyes, some full of anger, but all shattered, embarrassed and devastated.
As we made our way through the next 45 minutes of tough, emotional interviews, I realized one important thing. No matter what the future held, there was no way these Ducks would ever want to feel this way again. The Natty and a likely top bowl game was off the table, but there would be something else to play for. If nothing else, they would fight for each other. They would make sure none of them had to experience this feeling again. What fans and media pundits had to say wouldn’t matter. What mattered moving forward was as Marcus Mariota put it, “The brother to the left and the brother to the right.”
As we feast on Turkey and banter with family members cheering for the wrong team, I have little doubt our flock of Ducks have found a way to “get up.” This year’s Civil War won’t be what they, or we, expected. A National Championship path isn’t on the line. A Rose Bowl is also out of the question. If nothing else though, the Ducks’ brotherhood is.