I wasn’t particularly happy to see Arizona Wildcats players celebrating on the Autzen Stadium field.
I am an Oregon Ducks fan and apologist to the core, and scenes such as the one pictured are seared into my memory because they have happened all too often in recent years. Or have they?
In 2010, Oregon lost the national title game.
In 2011, Oregon lost at home to USC when they had a legitimate shot to become the #2 team in the nation.
In 2012, Oregon lost at home to Stanford when they were the #2 team in the nation and had a clear shot at the national title.
Last year, Oregon lost to both Stanford and Arizona away from home, taking them out of the running for a fifth straight BCS bowl game.
Oregon Ducks fans have endured our fair share of heartbreak over the past few years, being a few plays away from a run at possible multiple national titles. With the exception of the blowout loss to Arizona last year, the Ducks had a good three and a half-year run of playing every team close when it mattered most.
Look at the past five years of Oregon Ducks football: 10-3, 12-1, 12-2, 12-1 and 11-2. Only five conference losses in that entire timespan. That’s a pretty good record.
It’s also grounds for fans being spoiled. We enjoyed the best stretch of success in Ducks history beginning with Mike Bellotti’s last year in 2008, through Chip Kelly’s four years, and to a large degree Mark Helfrich’s first year. The team is 4-1 this year with a narrow loss to Arizona, a game that I attended that was frustrating for me on multiple fronts.
Yes, the team didn’t perform up to expectations, but I’m a bit more upset with the Oregon fan base. I’ve been to a few Ducks games at Autzen and I’ve never seen a worse atmosphere among the fans than I did last Thursday.
The crowd threw out a few boos and I admit I was among them, but that was for several questionable referee calls that, looking back, equally screwed both teams. But to persistently boo a team because they haven’t scored 40 or 50 points in this game? Heaven forbid.
About the only thing I agreed with any fans on was that defensive coordinator Don Pellum’s schemes have not worked for the second week in a row. I am quite scared for the Ducks because the defense has been like a sieve the past two games, nearly giving up yards as if they are donating to The Salvation Army.
Here’s the worst part of Thursday’s game, and it wasn’t on the field. It was a palpable sense of entitlement among the fans, a feeling that we as a collective fan base have become spoiled in seeing consistent blowouts over lesser opponents and don’t know how to stomach adversity. Even worse, there was a pervasive feeling that being a Ducks fan in recent years was okay because it looked cool or is somehow a fashion statement.
Speaking of fashion, the comment an older man at the stadium made that I overheard on my way out after the loss summed it all up: “They weren’t even wearing our school colors.”
I thought about that for awhile and realized the man had a point. The Ducks wore black and pink in honor of breast cancer awareness. That’s noble and all, but to the die-hards and the purists, those that have been Oregon Ducks fans since the days in which three wins were considered a success, uniform schemes like the one foisted upon the public Thursday (it looked atrocious, I thought) seem to be sending a message that the team is more about style and flash than substance.
When it comes to what happens on the field, Oregon ran such an innovative offense over the past few seasons that other teams began to emulate it. Arizona did on Thursday with a wrinkle, and it worked to perfection as they upset the Ducks in Eugene. From my perspective, that win seemed to show me that the innovation has run out on the Ducks’ end — and that’s not a good sign.
If your success is emulated and replicated, you continue to innovate to remain a step ahead, and I don’t know if the Ducks have done that.
Again, that hearkens back to the fact the Ducks have had a tremendous five-year and nearly six-year run. Coach Mark Helfrich is in an unenviable position having to follow Chip Kelly. Heck, I wouldn’t even want to follow Chip into a grocery store because he’d probably be so successful in his shopping endeavors.
Maybe the cold hard truth is the run of success is over. If it is, are the fans going to be okay with it? It would suck, but I know I would be.
In the grander scheme of things, I have begun to get a feeling over the past couple years that people tie their self-worth in way too much with how the sports teams they root for are doing. I love the Ducks and I want them to win a national championship, and maybe the fact the losses are so deflating are a product of a system in which you basically have to run the table to be the champion. Regardless, I’m the same guy whether the Ducks go 1-12 or 12-1 (or in a perfect world, 13-0).
The rest of the Ducks’ season isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, and to that I say hang on because it’s going to cause all the bandwagon fans to fall off. And that’s okay with me.
Go Ducks, even if they don’t win another game this year.