All eyes on Oregon football
I picked a perfect year to quit my job.
Not financially speaking, though. The country’s economic outlook was still pretty bad when I turned in my resignation. Bad enough that a lot of people said “wow, that was really brave of you.”
And by “brave,” they meant “stupid.”
No, from a financial standpoint, 2010 was not the year to walk away from a good-paying career with a solid benefits package. Particularly for a newspaper employee, with the industry being in worse shape than the overall economy, and the threat of layoffs lurking around every corner, and jobs scarce enough that walking away from mine surely meant I wouldn’t be going back to the field any time soon.
And yet, I did pick the perfect time.
Because my alma mater’s football team is ranked No. 1 in the nation, and for the first time since I was a sophomore at the University of Oregon, I’m actually free to go to the games.
Before you tell me I need to get my priorities straight, know that college football was far from my mind when I made the decision, earlier this year, to step away from my newspaper career. My decision to leave was thought out — agonized over, even — and meticulously planned for months. (If you’re interested, click here to read what I wrote about the whole thing at the time.) I created and found income opportunities before I ever gave my notice, and I saved enough money to walk away with more bill-paying security than I had while employed by the newspaper, considering the constant threat of layoffs.
But as I sit here, a day away from heading over to Autzen Stadium to watch my top-ranked Ducks take on UCLA in a Thursday night ESPN game, I realize that had I not left the newspaper when I did, I wouldn’t be a part of this season at all.
And what a season it’s been.
Following 2009′s horrific showing at Boise State in primetime, and the torrent of trouble — legal and otherwise — that followed January’s 26-17 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State, prospects for 2010 were looking bleak in the spring. Tough, shifty quarterback Jeremiah Masoli had been first suspended for the season and later kicked off the team. Lightning-bug running back LaMichael James had been suspended for the season opener, as had kicker Rob Beard.
Around Eugene, among fans and non-fans alike, the team had become a punchline, with the daily question being “which Duck got arrested today?”
Those of us who saw quarterback Darron Thomas’ performance against Boise State at Autzen in 2008 — the one in which he ripped off his redshirt and nearly engineered a game-winning comeback with three fourth-quarter touchdown passes — knew all was not lost without Masoli. While neither Thomas nor senior Nate Costa were quite the dual-threat QB that Masoli was heading into the season, the offense was going to be in capable hands.
And with skill players like James, Kenjon Barner and Jeff Maehl returning in coach Chip Kelly’s high-scoring spread offense, there was always potential for points and big games.
But who honestly saw this coming?
No. 1 in the nation?
You’ve got to be kidding me.
I just returned from a two-week roadtrip through California and Arizona. We spent two days in Disneyland. I wore my Oregon hat almost everywhere we went, and nearly everywhere we went, I heard “Go Ducks!” At In-N-Out Burger. At the hotel lounge. On the Jungle Cruise. At the golf course driving range. In line for the Matterhorn. At the Olive Pit. In front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
Even Donald threw up the Oregon “O” after seeing me standing near Space Mountain decked out in Ducks gear (photo above).
At our hotel in Anaheim, we met a group of Oregon transplants who live in Kansas City, and they told us they receive the same treatment in Missouri. “It’s nationwide, man,” one of the former Grants Pass residents said.
And here I am, in Eugene, getting to be a part of it, something that, because of my job, wasn’t even a possibility over the past 12 years.
The curse of the sports journalist is to always be around the action but not a part of it, to have opportunities to be close to the games but to always be focused on stats and analysis and on being impartial, and never really getting to fully enjoy what’s happening on the field.
The curse of the sports copy editor is to always be in the office when the action is happening, to have few — if any — opportunities to be close to the games but to always be reading about them and intimately knowledgeable about them, and never really getting to enjoy, at all, what’s happening on the field.
I was able to attend a few Oregon football games during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, accompanying my brother whenever kickoff time was early enough that I could still get back to work for my copy editing shift. But primetime? Forget about it. Tailgating? Not a chance. It was a look-but-don’t-touch approach to fandom, and it was, at times, frustrating.
Fast forward to the 2010 season, with the Ducks ranked No. 1 in the nation at 6-0 heading into that home game against the Bruins, and LaMichael James on everybody’s short list for the Heisman Trophy, and ESPN’s College GameDay having made another trip to Eugene, and that UO student rap group, Supwitchugirl, cranking out a new and improved “I Love My Ducks” song that’s even had Dan Patrick and Neil Everett singing along, and people from Kansas City to Anaheim hollering out “Go Ducks!” whenever they see a fellow fan in Oregon gear, and even Donald himself getting in on the action.
Yep. No doubt about it.
I picked the perfect time to quit my job.