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January 14, 2011

College Football Report - Hard to Consider Oregon Ducks Losers:

In the last college football game of the 2010 season, one final word will forever follow Auburn University: winners. In that same last game, one word will forever be involved with the University of Oregon: losers.
The Auburn Tigers are rightfully so, the 2010 National Champions of college football. There’s no way around it. But is Oregon in theory, a loser?
A loser can be summed up in a few other choices from the English language: Failure. Unsuccessful. Ineffective. They all seem a little rough to explain the Oregon Ducks 12-1 season and final AP No. 3 ranking, though, simply just on how far the Oregon program has come.
One word that should have followed the University of Oregon, as they walked off the field, blue and orange confetti draped over their grass stained shoulder pads: Success.
The 2010 season for Oregon can be looked at as a success in more ways than one. Look back to how far the new Ducks have come from their past. Go back to the ‘70s when they brought in eight straight seasons with a losing record, four of which were two win seasons. Go back to the ‘80s when Oregon finished half of the decade with a losing record. Go back to the ‘90s (below) when the Ducks brought in four years of at least five losses, including a 1991 team that won just three games. There was once even talk of dropping the school from the Pac-10 all together.
Go back and ask members of those Oregon teams if the last word that should follow the 2010 team should be losers.
The revival of the Oregon football program began with former head coach, Mike Bellotti. The voice you may have heard watching late night football this year on ESPN, paired along with color man, Brock Huard, and play-by-play announcer, Carter Blackburn. Before Bellotti commented on other coaches teams, he brought his own to the forefront of college football.
A coach in Eugene from 1995-2008, Bellotti stepped down as Oregon’s winningest coach all-time, with a 116-55 record. He brought the Ducks to 12 bowl games in 14 years, including an 11-1 record and near National Championship appearance in 2001, before being snubbed by Nebraska for the title spot. The year before, Bellotti brought Oregon its first ever double digit win season, with a 10-2 finish.
When Bellotti retired, the reins of the program were handed to former New Hampshire head coach and then current Oregon offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly.
Kelly’s presence in Eugene has been well-known. In his first two years, Oregon has a Rose Bowl and National Championship appearance in the books.
A lot of the success of the Oregon program can be given to the coaches and players that have turned it around, some, however, can be given to the man that’s made it possible to get everything done in Eugene. That man is of course Phil Knight, co-founder and Chairman of Nike Inc.
An Oregon native and former Oregon alum, Knight’s influence around the Oregon campus can be witnessed everywhere. From Autzen Stadium to the Oregon football locker room,  which resembles a luxury cruise ship promenade rather than a place for sweaty socks and muddy cleats. Thanks much in part to donations of approximately $230 million to Oregon, Knight has been able to make his name known around campus, more than it already was. In 2007, another $100 million was given to the University Athletic Legacy Fund.
Autzen Stadium is widely considered one of the loudest college stadiums around, a credit from the way it was built and to the fans who pack it. Bellotti's ESPN partner, Brock Huard, a former Washington quarterback, considers it one of the louder places he’s ever played in.
“The only thing in comparison in my career was a playoff game in Kansas City, at Arrowhead Stadium,” said Huard on a broadcast of ESPN’s College Football Live.
Huard's comments should say something about Autzen, considering Arrowhead has long been labeled one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL.
Knight’s influence around Oregon can also be seen in one of 80 ways on Saturdays during football season, as the Ducks possess 80 different jersey combinations designed by Nike Inc. A different combination of helmet, jersey and pants were worn in all 13 games during the 2010 season, including new dubs in the title game. Cheerleaders at Oregon even benefit, as they also received new uniforms for the Ducks National Championship game (above).
The first spark that lit the Oregon craze came in 2001 when a Joey Harrington billboard covered a Times Square building in New York City. Harrington, a former Ducks quarterback, was gaining popularity as an early season favorite for the Heisman trophy at the time. In 2003, Nike introduced a steel pattern on the Ducks jerseys and pants, along with a multitude of different colors and helmets that exceeded 200 combinations. They’ve obviously since trimmed back the options.
Harrington, also an Oregon native and former NFL first round pick and Detroit Lions quarterback, has been a big supporter of the Ducks push into the national scene as of late. He’s been there since the beginning, though.
“The billboard went up in 2001, the uniforms came out in 2003 and everybody (thought), ‘Who are these guys?’ Love the uniforms or hate the uniforms, you’re talking about the uniforms, and in order for us to get by the USC's and the Washington’s, to make a name for ourselves, we had to do those things and step out of the box,” Harrington said at a Glendale pep rally for Oregon fans before the National Championship game.
Stepping out of the box has worked quite well for the Ducks. The trend over the jerseys has caught on with other football programs across the country. The facilities and jerseys are highly regarded by recruits with Oregon offers. The Duck mascot has become one of the more popular mascots in all college sports, as well. ESPN has nearly devoted shows to the Duck, form ESPN Sportscenter commercials and ESPN College Gameday appearances, the Duck has even made pushups popular again.
It took the likes of Harrington and Bellotti, Rueben Droughns and Akili Smith, Dennis Dixon and Haloti Ngata and more to put the Ducks on the map. The task to keep them there has been given to the likes of Kelly, LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. They started by bringing the University to its first ever National Championship appearance in 2010. In the future, they’ll get their shot at yet another, maybe more after that.
Maybe winning one will come from a different group, who knows. When speaking of the 2010 Oregon Ducks, though, never should the word losers, or unsuccessful, slip one’s tongue. For when you look at how far these Ducks have traveled over the years, losers seems better suited for a different pond.

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All writing and views subject to © Drew P. Kochanny, All Rights Reserved. Photo's credited to rights owner.