My voice is hoarse, and my 44-year-old joints ache —both from standing in the cold for 3 1-2 hours last night and from repeatedly bear-hugging family, friends and longtime seatmates in Section 37 of Autzen Stadium— as one group of football-playing strangers (Oregon) beat another group (Oregon State).
Bottom line: this is a childish matter that I can't put away and the Ducks' Rose Bowl-clinching 37-33 victory leaves me as childishly giddy as when I was 7 and first started following Oregon football.
Thirty-seven years later, here are 11 things I will always remember from witnessing the Ducks making it to the second Rose Bowl in my lifetime:
First, the bad:
1) The sheer panic that one of my pregame fears
was coming to pass as Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw an interception on the Ducks' first possession and the Beavers converted it for a score.
2) The despair that began to set in as Oregon State scored a touchdown right before the half and then a TD at the start of the third quarter
to take a nine-point lead. That's usually a deadly combination in college football when a team pulls a double like that.
3) The two jerk UO students
who sat to the right of me in the row below my seats. They knew little about football, somehow getting upset at Oregon fans because they weren't yelling before the Ducks snapped the ball (Boys, the idea is to scream when the other team has the ball so they can't hear the snap count). And before other Ducks fans told them to knock it off, the two louts also thought that being a fan entailed taunting a much more knowledgable and gracious female OSU football fan sitting to their left. Sports karma was rewarded, however, when I watched one of these jerks get sent flying by Ducks coach Chip Kelly after the game when they were among the fans storming the field and Kelly was racing to shake hands with the Beavers.
4) The realization that despite everybody's deepest wishes, Ducks cornerback Talmadge Jackson repeatedly refused to turn around
when OSU QB Sean Canfield was passing to Jackson's man.
Now, the good:
5) Kelly taking advantage of the extra time between games to install a five-wide wide receiver look on offense and a new-look option play (see #9c below for more on that)
6) The incredible story line of Kelly risking all by putting LeGarrette Blount in the game
for the first time since the Boise State debacle
, with the Ducks down nine points. Truth be told, I and the rest of my section were freaking that Blount would screw up by fumbling after so much inaction. We weren't reassured when he did little on his first two carries. Obviously Kelly was right and we were wrong after Blount's TD totally energized the Ducks.
7) Jeff Maehl's fourth-down catch
with the Ducks losing 30-21.
8 ) LaMichael James
getting loose at the end of the third quarter to give the Ducks what turned out to be the winning score.
9) The insta-lore sequence of three fourth-quarter fourth-down situations all breaking Oregon's way
a) Beavers coach Mike Riley's decision to go for it on fourth-and-15 with six minutes left and the Beavers losing 37-33 (the right gamble in my opinion, given that Riley didn't want a field goal that would give the ball back to the rejuvenated Ducks offense with Oregon still leading.)
b) Masoli bowling over a Beavers cornerback on a gutty fourth-down run that may one day rival "Kenny Wheaton's going to score" for replays on the Autzen scoreboard; and
c) Kenjon Barner just getting to the edge on the game-clinching fourth-and-one (right in front of Section 37, as an added bonus) out of the Ducks' new option look.
10) Canfield's gutty play
and what seemed like a great mutual-respect moment after the game when Kelly (after bowling over one of the two jerk fans I mentioned before) and Canfield had an on-the-field conversation. BTW, Beavers fans - I thought I'd at least pass on this Bill Simmons
column from 2002
that I have found marginally helpful at times like these after a devastating defeat (the 2007 game against Arizona
leaps to mind)
11) Never wanting to leave Autzen after the game.