I know what you're thinking; what train and where is it going? Well, the train is the 2009 Oregon Ducks and its destination, while unknown, is littered with hope, opportunity, and a level of cohesiveness defined by the word "team."
Nary a Duck fan can or will ever forget the fateful night, following weeks, and subsequent end to the 2007 football season. While a lopsided victory in a Sun Bowl versus South Florida gently laid to rest a tumultuous end to a year full of hope, it will forever be remembered as "what could have been." Dennis Dixon could have won the Heisman Trophy. Oregon could have played LSU for a National Championship. And the Ducks could have supplanted themselves amongst the "elite" of NCAA football.
But they didn't.
The 2007 version of Oregon football crumbled under the weight of disappointment. Instead of meeting adversity at the doorstep and boldly turning it away, they seemingly curled into the fetal position and subconsciously sat idle as everything they'd worked for slipped rapidly from their grip. And I'm not sure I blame them. As an outsider, I took a standing eight count when #10 when down in a heap. It was as if the air was knocked from my lungs, rug pulled from beneath my feet, and any other adage referring to surprise and disappointment. One can only imagine the level of frustration which must've moved through that locker room. They'd lost their leader, catalyst, and primary component to success, whose loss left many wondering aloud what, if any chance remained those final two games.
Yet, they had a choice to succeed, and they didn't.
They went to UCLA and lost…badly. They played uninspired, disorganized, and without purpose, looking every bit like a team defeated, not by a physical opponent, but by the mental side of a cruel game of chance. A game which doesn't discriminate and in many cases piles on.
And it's happening again.
The injury bug is back and it's taking no prisoners. Walter Thurmond, T.J. Ward, and Jeremiah Masoli. Willie Glasper, Rory Cavaille, and C.E. Kaiser. Not to mention the well publicized loss of LeGarrette Blount to…well…you know.
When will it stop? I don't know, but these guys don't seem to care. Don't get me wrong, Head Coach Chip Kelly would obviously love to have Jeremiah Masoli start this game, Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti would love to have Walter Thurmond III and T.J. Ward in his backfield, and each and every remaining player on this Duck squad would prefer to put their best foot forward in the Rose Bowl this afternoon, but they seem to understand the hand which they've been dealt and more importantly, seem to have embraced it.
Since the nightmare in Boise September 3rd, Oregon squeaked one out against Purdue…without T.J. Ward, ended Utah's 16-game win streak…without LeGarrette Blount, and dismantled the sixth-ranked Golden Bears minus standout corner and return man Walter Thurmond III. Young players have risen to the occasion, veteran players have taken their game to a higher level, and the team as a whole has banded together in an effort to overcome, and I believe they'll continue to do so.
Nate Costa's time has come, LaMichael James is here to stay, and Anthony Gildon is ready to contribute to a team whose cause is simple and to the point…play together.
This year's team can't match "stars" with 2007. There's no Dennis Dixon, no Jonathan Stewart, and arguably no Max Unger to anchor a line which is coming into its own, but they believe in one another. They believe that as a unit that can beat anyone, overcome any obstacle, and supersede all negativity with effort and hard work. They continue to fight, continue to persevere, and continue to win in spite of odds piling against them by the week.
If this road seems familiar, you're right. Oregon has confronted this before, experienced this before, and wilted because of this before, but not this time, not this year, and definitely not this team.
They're above it all.
Game Day: Not This Time
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