Oregon Duck: O U Make Me Want To Shout
Looking back on 20 years of the University of Oregon football program, players who left their legacy in all sorts of obnoxious yellow and green uniforms, going on to the NFL as stars, studs, flops, and those who never made it, except as memories for diehard Oregon Duckies. This one’s for you…
Several months ago I was listening to local PNW sports radio, when former Oregon Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was asked about whether players these days are harder to coach than before. With technology and the recruiting process of high school kids, that old school tough love where John Wooden sat his players down and told them how to tie their shoelaces one by one might seem over. The implication being that kids today are a little bit on the soft side, the spoiled side. The days of Deacon Jones sitting bloodied, body on the brink of human survival and hands wrapped like a Tom Cruise mummy movie might be over… Replaced by concerns of forgoing football altogether for sports of lesser physical contact. Which brings us back to technology, or the curious way Nick Aliotti shifted the question into an epiphany.
Kids these days just are not playing anymore. By kids, Aliotti means kids in the neighborhood and on the playground, not just the superstars that land Nick Saban in your living room. With video games, Instagram, and smartphones that kids get by age 6 now, you just don’t see kids playing outside anymore. When elementary and middle school classes get out, the streets aren’t filled with kids playing baseball, basketball, football… Or hide and seek, shooting toy guns, or running around playing tag. Something simple as climbing a tree, produces the athletes of tomorrow said Aliotti, as weird as that sounds. Kids learn physical coordination, learn to like competition, and say yes when mom or dad sign you up for t-ball or soccer. I’ll just take Aliotti’s word for it, figuring the guy knows a thing or two about observing youth, convincing said youth to don some uniforms that would make Dr. Seuss and Green Eggs & Ham do a double take. These days I spend most of my days running on a field, or riding my bike, pretending I’m training for the next level of competition. It all goes back to my youth, along with University of Oregon football.
So here’s one for the history books at Autzen Stadium.
RB Onterrio Smith 2001 & 2002
There’s a time for stats, and I love crunching my eyes at numbers especially for running backs. That Jay-Z line really is true, men lie women lie but numbers. But for these notes, I’ll just let my impression and memories do the magic. Oregon is not a program known for wideouts, dominant defensive players, or its lineage of quarterbacks. They just run the ball, that’s been pretty much it for most of their dynasty at the top of the Pac-10/12. In 2001, I was ten years old and I remember watching lots of Washington State University football games. Washington State was the rage during the late 90’s and early 2000s after Rose Bowls (albeit losses) in 1998 vs. the Michigan Wolverines and 2003 vs. the Oklahoma Sooners. So I watched WSU football closely and was digging those red uniforms, until these guys in white uniforms with green piping stripes on the side went up to Pullman and gave WSU the whooping of a lifetime. Specifically one guy, the RB Onterrio Smith. This guy is Oregon’s Maurice Clarett, likewise once legitimately considered the best running back in the country opposite of Willis McGahee. Unfortunately, drugs derailed his career after posting two Marshawn Lynch Beastmode like seasons in Eugene. This version of the Ducks uniform is my favorite of all time, it’s all because of Onterrio Smith. I also stopped watching WSU football after that one.
DE Haloti Ngata 2003, 2004, 2005
If one of these players seem larger than the others your eyes do not deceive you. Oregon was never known for dominant defensive players, the only true exception being this gentlemen right here. I’m sure there’s been other good D linemen over the years at Autzen Stadium, but the last one considered a true NFL draft star has disappointed thus far (Dion Jordan). Haloti Ngata’s career in college came just before the truly dominant Oregon teams, and according to Wiki the guy tore his ACL his freshman year in 2003. There’s a funny clip of Steve Smith of the Panthers asking Haloti Ngata where he’s from when mic’d up, and Ngata said Utah. Smith asks once again, inferring where he went to college, so Ngata says Oregon. It’s like music to my ears. Ngata’s NFL career is the most successful out of all the Ducks, the only one that comes close is Mr. Ahmad Rashad though that’s before my time. I don’t think Oregon could produce any real offense during Ngata’s time here, but it’s been a pleasure watching this guy dominate and decimate the Pittsburgh Steelers. I remember this guy lightly slapping Big Ben’s face in pursuit, next thing you know Big Ben’s doctor says something about the nose bone looking like cornflakes.
RB Jonathan Stewart 2005, 2006, 2007
One half of Double Trouble with Deangelo Williams for years over in Carolina, I remember one year the Panthers plucked Mike Tolbert away from San Diego, with Williams very much in his prime, Stewart very much in his prime, and with Cam Newton coming into his second or third season, Steve Smith still being out there as receiver. I’m pretty sure I picked the Panthers to win the Super Bowl that year, though research says they went 7–9 in 2012. But the following season they went 12–4 with that troika. Mike Tolbert was a straight freak show as a runner down in San Diego. Anyways, Jonathan Stewart was the rise of Oregon football. That’s the origin guy if you could trace it all back from mediocrity to national powerhouse. From here is when you get all the other running backs that follow the lineage, from a behemoth to two quick speedsters to an even smaller speedster stolen from Southern California. Stewart gained 1,722 yards on 280 attempts in 2007, his third and last season in Eugene. You wonder if Stewart could be thought as more dominant in the NFL if they ran him down like Clinton Portis back in the day, but being paired with Williams gave this guy seven lives in the league.
RB LeGarrette Blount 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
If you look closely at the grass that could only mean on thing. Pasadena’s Rose Bowl vs. Ohio State in 2010. Blount has had a colorful career, to say the least. Before even suiting up for Oregon, Blount spent two season in junior college for East Mississippi College banging heads for over 1,000 yards each season. Research says Blount broke Oregon’s single season touchdown record with 17 TD’s and 1,002 yards in his first season at Oregon, but had beef with head coach Mike Bellotti until he got suspended indefinitely. When new coach Chip Kelly came on board, Blount was back with a fresh slate until infamously socking that guy on Boise State after Oregon lost the season opener in Idaho. Blount missed the rest of that season for suspension, and only returned in the Civil War against Oregon State the following season, before trucking some more people in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State. There’s a lot of big boys in the NFL, and Blount has never looked anything like his days in college at the next level, but man this guy still has a job. Blount also has one or two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots, on his 7th or 8th or 9th season? Some people just have the touch.
QB Jeremiah Masoli 2008, 2009, 2010
Jeremiah Masoli and those Ducks are the pinnacle, what I think were the best Duck teams of this era on top of the Pac-12. Any diehard college football fan has that one quarterback they placard above the others from their college, Masoli is the one for me. Marcus Mariota is the most talented quarterback Oregon has summoned, but if you’re wanting to get your money’s worth at Autzen I’m taking Masoli over all others. There wasn’t much recruiting going on for Masoli, the guy had a stint at San Francisco City College before putting on those dark versions of Oregon uniforms. You can only hype up someone for so long, but Michael Vick is the only true comparison I can make. He never made it to the BCS Championship game against Cam Newton, but if it was Masoli instead of Darron Thomas in that game, I’m liking Oregon’s chances. Unfortunately Masoli’s run in Eugene ended when he got caught for burglary. Eugene is about as small town as it gets, and being honest it’s not all that cool of a town. But imagine waking up at night, and the star quarterback breaking in your window to steal your 2008 Sony Plasma screen TV. I’ll just shut up, and plead you guys to check out the highlight video of Masoli.
RB LaMichael James 2009, 2010, 2011
La Michael is Spanish for The Michael. I’ll never forget that fan sign one day at Autzen Stadium. After his sophomore season, James finished second in the Heisman ballot. LaMichael James is Oregon’s all time rushing leader, I doubt the record can be broken any time soon. His post collegiate career has been a mystery to me, who flamed out with short stints in San Francisco and Miami. When you see those silver tip wings on the Oregon jersey, that’s the era of small ball. James took the mantle once LeGarrette Blount was suspended for the whole year, and never looked back since. Along with backup running back Kenjon Barner, these two sliced and diced so many California teams it made Crenshaw High School’s own DeAnthony Thomas pass on USC for Oregon. Could LaMichael James have lit up the SEC like this? No. But that’s truly the beauty of college football, and when teams like the University of Washington meet and get dismantled by Alabama, it’s great theater in athletics and spirit and dominance in regional supremacy. There’s few things as exciting as the Saturday when your enemy walks into your house, or vice-versa. And few things as exciting as La Michael a.k.a. Spanish for The Michael.
QB Vernon Adams 2016
Save the best for last? Of course. That was a magical season, probably the last great season Oregon will have for a long time. Two of the best colleges in all of America, Eastern Washington University and the University of Oregon. My time at EWU was a couple years ahead of Adams, but man this guy torched and killed the University of Washington, Oregon State University, with scores like 55–52 or 48–54. Adams succeeded Mariota after Oregon lost their second BCS Title game, dismantling Jake Browning’s Huskies in Seattle that winter. I remember the people at Eastern were real unhappy with Adams for leaving, but I think Adams should’ve left sooner, though Mariota would’ve had the starting spot until getting drafted. A bad finger injury for Adams nullified Oregon from going on a serious run. Before the draft one scout declared Adams “just a guy”, and I guess the league agreed. But this guy is a gamer. Adams didn’t have Mariota’s arm or the sheer athleticism of Masoli, but I’ll be rocking his jersey at the next Oregon game. And for a long time after that.
That’s it for me, going to go to bed.
Oh, and I forgot DeAnthony Thomas? Damn. The Oregon program had it’s run, I don’t expect anything like this anytime soon but hey… Mr. Phil Knight lurking in the background, you never know. Pull some strings or something.