When The Ducks Were Really Bad

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is tackled by Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple during the first half of the national college football championship game Jan. 12. Eric Gay / AP photo

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is tackled by Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple during the first half of the national college football championship game Jan. 12. Eric Gay / AP photo

To put the amazing success of Marcus Mariota and the University of Oregon football team this season into some historical perspective:

In the fall of 1974, I was sports editor of the Oregon Daily Emerald student newspaper at U of O. Going into the Civil War game against archrival Oregon State, the Ducks were 2-8. So were the Beavers. I’m not sure I was the first guy to coin the term, but in a headline leading up to the game I called it the “Toilet Bowl” — the only bowl game either team would play that season. OSU won that stinker.

That’s the way Oregon football was back then. Fred von Appen was the offensive line coach.

It also was this: After the Ducks got blasted by Washington in Seattle, 66-0, in late October, the second time that season they gave up at least 60 points (and one of two games in which they were shut out), my headline for the game story was: “Hoops Season Starting Soon!”

And it was this:

The following week, after a desultory loss to Washington State in nearly empty Autzen Stadium, we published a photo of Oregon quarterback Norval Turner dropping back to pass, tripping over his own feet and fumbling the ball away, with the headline: “Norval Turn-over.” (Yes, the same Norv Turner who would go on to win a couple of Super Bowls as an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, and later served as head coach of the Redskins, Raiders and Chargers.)

(And, yes, I did subscribe in those days to old-school wise-ass college journalism.)

Then, and for many years after, there seemed to be a culture of hopelessness surrounding Ducks football. A guy named Steve Harvey did a weekly syndicated newspaper feature in the 1980s called The Bottom 10, and Oregon habitually dwelled there.

That’s what makes Oregon gradually building success over the past 20 years to become a habitual Top 10 team so extra sweet. Marcus winning the Heisman and leading the Fighting Ducks to the Pac-12 title and into the national championship game actually seems just right — the way the world should be — and not at all preposterous.

Even the loss to Ohio State seems just a small bump in the road in Oregon’s steady ascension. The Ducks were so wretched for so long, and now are so good — and full of hope.

It’s good to be a Duck.

And I feel so fortunate to have interviewed Marcus in person on two occasions, to meet his family, to sense what a fine young man he is, and have that personal perspective. He is the real deal.

Thank you, Marcus, for leading by example, for inspiring two states I hold dear, and for setting the stage for more good things to come.

Go Ducks!

dchapman@midweek.com

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