Duck day afternoon
From wake-up to party down, Oregon revels in a historic win on New Year's Day
TEMPE, Ariz. Ñ Oregon's favorite Duck rises on New Year's Day, rubs his eyes, shakes his feathers and cracks his beak.
'I just smiled,' linebacker Wesly Mallard says. 'Ahh ... just rolled over and smiled. It's another day, and you're playing for the national championship. It's game day, and it's finally here.'
It's 8 a.m. Phoenix time, the beginning of a 12-hour span that the Oregon football community won't ever forget. The day the second-ranked Ducks delivered for the Pacific-10 Conference, kicked Buffalo butt 38-16 and earned the national respect they have cried about for years.
The team sits, lays and waits in its Scottsdale hotel before heading to Sun Devil Stadium to face No. 3 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl. It is Oregon's second New Year's Day bowl in the modern era Ñ since the run of 10 bowls in 13 years started in 1989.
Twenty-six practices in 51 days, with only the Civil War game to show for their efforts, have made the Ducks hungry to hit another team's players. Coaches are done harping on players, and 'clap' sessions serve as reminders of the little things needed to beat Colorado Ñ kind of like cramming for a test.
Justin Peelle and Joey Harrington crank their personal stereos. Rashad Bauman hears ESPN's Lee Corso predict that Colorado will score 50 points and gasps. Keenan Howry looks bored.
'That's the one thing I dislike about college football: before the game, all the sitting around and waiting,' Howry says.
John Harrington sits in his seat, watching the pregame festivities unfold, but he can't sit still. Something about watching your kid performing, whether in third-grade recital, freshman basketball or playing quarterback in a multimillion-dollar event with multimillion-dollar implications in front of millions of TV viewers.
'He gets very single-minded,' John says of son Joey. 'We saw him before one game, and he wasn't the same person. He had a pregame face on ... the word 'intense' gets overstated, but it was scary.
'(Today), he's got a fair grasp of what's at stake.'
Minutes before kickoff, the Oregon players gather in the tunnel, elbow-to-elbow, pad-to-pad. A prayer moments earlier, led by aspiring minister Ryan Schmid and attended by about 30 players, gave glory to God and asked for no injuries. 'I was probably less nervous for this game than any I have played,' Schmid says later.
Unknowns swirl through the players' heads. Will they have the men, moxie and weapons to win?
'It's sad looking at the other team's position,' Jim Adams says. 'They're thinking the same thing. One of us has to come out a loser.'
Frenzied Oregon fans settle in, knowing full well the magnitude of the event. Except one, the father of Oregon football, who stayed back in Eugene.
'He's in failing health, and we're not sure he even knows what's going on,' UO spokesman David Williford says of former Duck coach Len Casanova, 97.
Harrington shines, throwing first-half TD passes to Howry, Samie Parker and Onterrio Smith, the Parker pass a perfect spiral that turns into a 79-yard touchdown play. Sportswriters scramble for adjectives, but many these days stay away from 'bomb,' especially after watching 10 New York firemen honoring their fallen comrades from Sept. 11 during a break in the action.
Tailback Maurice Morris romps in the most defeating play of the game. He runs about 30 yards, sits and spins off would-be tackler Joey Johnson, then rambles into the end zone for a 49-yard TD run that essentially ends Colorado's hope.
Running backs coach Gary Campbell smiles with pride.
'We work on that all the time,' he says. 'He's one of the best at not going down. Classic Maurice: persistent and determined. I'm going to have that highlight on tape for the rest of my life.'
Harrington walks by Chris Tetterton, the starting defensive tackle standing in street clothes on the sideline. Tetterton worked his way from walk-on to starter in five years, but a second-quarter shot to the back from a Colorado guard put an end to his game and career. He had been playing with a cracked vertebrae since November.
Eyes meet, and Harrington says, 'I'm going to win this one for you.'
Nearing tears, Tetterton bows his head, feeling he let his teammates down.
'Hey (expletive),' says Harrington, an ex-roommate Tetterton calls 'Princess.' 'Look me in the eye. I'm going to win this game for you.'
Oregon's Rudy and Oregon's all-star share one, last defining moment.
Oregon leads 28-7. The Ducks hold up four fingers, which everybody knows indicates fourth-quarter, winning time.
Perhaps, subconsciously, they were mocking the system, letting everybody know where the Ducks DO NOT belong in the BCS poll.
Bauman, wearing Steve Smith's lucky gloves after he tore them off his teammate's hands at halftime, lunges for an interception but comes up short. Smith ends up with three interceptions, Bauman none.
Oh, well, good thing Bauman intercepted Jonathan Smith on third down with less than a minute left in the Civil War game, or the whole Ducks-are-No. 1 argument might have been made drivel.
Jason Fife enters the game, hands off once and assumes the role of expected starting quarterback for the Ducks in 2002 and main man in Oregon's quest to stay nationally recognized. The clock ticks to :00.
What did the student learn from the mentor, the game's MVP who completed 28 of 42 passes for 350 yards and four scores? 'Poise and execution,' Fife says. 'The man has something on his mind, and he goes after it.'
Nobody bleeds Duck green more than former state Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer, now the university president, and Phil Knight, sportswear entrepreneur.
'It's unbelievable!' Knight exclaims, lunging into the other man's arms. Swoosh!
Knight, who, financially, has as much to do with Oregon's success as anybody, can't hold back his tears as he celebrates onfield after the game. 'It's all you hoped for, and 25 percent more,' he says. 'I'm a little bit surprised. I would have taken a one-point win.'
Not Frohnmayer, who picked the Quackers by 14.
Joey emerges from the locker room, into the family holding area outside the stadium, and cheers erupt. A Sports Illustrated reporter mingles with the Harrington family (ironic, because SI picked Oregon State to win the national title, and the Harringtons hate the Beavers).
'You have three minutes,' John Harrington tells his son, who runs with a duffle bag over each shoulder to drop them off into an Oregon transporter.
A hundred and some Harrington fans attended the game, and seemingly everyone wants Joey's autograph, a hug or their picture taken alongside him. Eight minutes pass, and Joey finally leaves the area with his family, only to come across two men loading two trophies into a van.
One is The Associated Press national championship trophy, the other the ceremonial Grantland Rice football writer's trophy. A ham among superstars, Joey grabs a trophy in each arm, mockingly crumbles under their weight, and giddily flashes a big ol' smile as cameras click and flashes flash.
'Now,' he says, 'where are we parked?'