Saturday, December 13, 2014

Marcus Mariota and the Heisman Moment

I want to say some things about a night of Oregon history.

I consider myself fortunate and blessed to have been afforded the opportunity to spend time covering the Oregon Ducks for Duck Sports Authority. I have had many roles within sports and been affored many, many great opportunities. I am blessed in so many ways.

Watching the announcement this evening, even though it was something I expected, took me back. In 2010, when the Ducks beat Oregon State and were guaranteed the spot in the National Championship Game, emotions were strong for me. That night was special and I celebrated with a bottle of cognac.

As a kid, I moved to Oregon in 1972. I remember the year because it was a year of considerable turmoil nationally. Richard Nixon. Vietnam War on television every night. We drove from New Jersey to Oregon and it was a long trip; sleeping in our car. The most memorable part of that trip was our dog Winston (coincidentally, the Pekingese was officially named “Sir Winston Churchill” but we called him “Winnie” as in “Winnie the Pooh”) freaked out one night just outside of Chicago. Turns out he saw a field mouse – something he had never before encountered. Well, when you have three young boys and their mother sleeping in a station wagon, that was enough to pretty much scare the bejeezus out of anyone!

We lived in Oakridge that year. It was not long after that I discovered Oregon football on a scratchy radio station. I was hooked. When we moved to the Eugene area in seventh grade, Saturdays were cheap and easy. My brother Craig and I went to countless games. I used to keep those old cups from Autzen with the final scores of the games. I kept the programs. I remember going down on the field and playing catch with guys like Reggie Ogburn and Reggie Brown.

In those days, just being in the stadium, watching those guys play, that was enough. I loved football then and have never really lost touch with that feeling. I was within feet of where the USC receiver did (not) catch the touchdown in the 7-7 tie. I sat in countless miserable games, including the toilet bowl.

When I went off to boot camp, I did what I could to catch whatever information I could about Oregon football. When I wore my Duck sweatshirt, no one even knew where Oregon was at that time.

To think back now about all those Saturdays, when we would be at the 50 yard line by half time; it seems like a dream to think about what has transpired over the past 20 years.

In 1994, when the Ducks were making their first improbable run, I had just separated from my first wife. My mom and I took a trip down to Susanville together with my two sons Layne and Braden to visit my older brother Ed. While the kids were outside playing, we had joined them most of the day. Then the Husky game came on. Ed and I were glued to the set. I remember my mom asking why we were watching the game. She said “they aren’t going to beat Washington.” Within moments of that statement, a young freshman cornerback stepped in front of a Damon Huard pass and the rest was history. Ed and I jumped almost in unison arms raised.

At that moment, it was hard to imagine anything better. Oregon had beaten the Huskies. Later that season they would go on to the Rose Bowl. Penn State was simply the best team that season despite the rankings. It seemed like the difference between the two was a mile wide gulf.

Now? The Ducks have been to a National Championship Game. Won a Rose Bowl. Those are fleeting moments, though, compared to tonight. Heisman. Trophy. Winner. Those are words that had not even been considered for an Oregon player prior to 2007. And it seemed like fate would step in the path of that possibility every time it seemed a reality.

There is only one thing left to achieve. For the moment, though, nothing else matters. To be able to cover the Ducks during this time of brilliance has been a pleasure. I have been around many great athletes in my life. I went to high school with some tremendous athletes. I worked for the Eugene Ems for two seasons, one of our players there would go on to lead the American League in hitting one year. I met so many track stars I cannot even count.

All of those athletes had class and dignity. And yet there is something about Marcus Mariota that is above and beyond simple class and dignity. His humility is transcendent – it makes you want to be a better person. To see his speech take the commentators to tears is telling.

I congratulate Marcus Mariota on his accomplishment. But the real congratulations belong to Toa Mariota and his wife Allana. It is their skill which has brought this man to the pinnacle of college football.

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