Hello Heisman, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
by Rick Levin
When it comes to sports, there is never any shortage of things to discuss, debate, predict, prognosticate, tally up and fantasize about. ESPN, the international television sports franchise, has multiple 24-hour stations that air everything from polo and poker to tiddlywinks and speed eating. But college football will always be among the biggies. Witness the spontaneous post-mortem of the NCAA regular football season. With more than a month to wait for Oregon’s first national title bid Jan. 10 against Auburn, and the scoreboard still dimming down after the Ducks’ 37-20 victory over the Beavers in this year’s Civil War game in Corvallis, ESPN’s morning show, First Take, nonetheless kicked into high gear this past Monday, taking a few anticipatory nibbles of the upcoming Tostitos Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. The inimitable Skip Bayless — a pinched, leathery, argumentative anchor who thrives on righteous confrontation — jumped right in with his prediction that Auburn, on the beleaguered shoulders of QB Cam Newton, would crush Oregon by a score of 48-14.
You could almost hear the collective scream of protest rising up from greater Eugene: “East Coast bias! East Coast bias!”
Bias or no, underrated or misunderstood, Oregon and its revolutionary no-huddle, hurry up offense will go into the Corn Chip Bowl as the underdog, perhaps by a fairly significant spread. If your faith in the Green and Gold runs deep, call your bookie now — you could make a killing in the sports lounge of Caesar’s Palace. For the time being, however, take a spare few weeks to bask in the vicarious glow of some deserved praise, especially that being accorded running back LaMichael James and head coach Chip Kelly. James, a Heisman finalist, led the nation in rushing — this, despite missing the first game of the season due to suspension. A relatively diminutive player even by college standards, James is a powerhouse runner, a heroically tough back with explosive speed and the ability to bulldoze extra yardage after contact. He’s also been a model student athlete: low-key, modest and academically high achieving. Newton, despite his checkered past, will take the trophy, but James is as deserving as anyone out there.
And then we come to Kelly, just named Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year by the Football Writers of America (and who would know better than writers, right?). It hard not to like Kelly: Wry without being nasty, smirky without being condescending, Kelly imparts to his team a sort of Buddhistic focus on the eternal present that is at once intense and playful. And on the technical side, he has all but altered the landscape of college football with his platoon system of serial substitutions and audible options that, for the most part, has left other teams baffled and barfing with exhaustion. After the minor tragedies of the past few seasons — from “the punch” to the missing laptop — Kelly has all but cleaned up the program. No small feat.
But speaking of minor tragedies … all you Duck fans out there should be questioning whether the love you accord the Athletic Department runs both ways. I’m talking about the recent Elton John ticketing botcheroo, during which countless Eugeneans found their bank accounts locked up by multiple charges after trying to buy tickets for the Feb. 17 Sir Elton concert at the new Matt Court. The UO athletic department, in a very weak apology, chalked it up to a computer “coding” error, and blithely suggested all those affected call their banks. Excuse me? Some of these ticket buyers, being charged for multiple tickets they didn’t receive, said they wouldn’t be able to pay rent and other bills due because of this coding error. Instead of saying the equivalent of “Let them eat cake,” the UO should have bent over backward to reasonably rectify the situation: For instance, how about opening up that opulent pocket book and helping out anyone put in financial straights by the situation? After that, the impenetrable fortress of the UO communications and entertainment division should do everything in its power to book Elton John for another night, and offer complimentary tickets to anyone screwed out of them the first time around. Anything other than that is just a candle in the wind.