It's funny sometimes how things work out

It was an hour after this past Saturday's Washington-Notre Dame game. I had just finished interviewing UW's back-up QB Johnny DuRocher. I walked a few feet away from him and spoke with another player, before heading over to my computer at a nearby table. My gaze shifted back toward DuRocher. He was standing by himself and was transfixed before a muted TV. He was watching the USC-Oregon game.

Oregon was leading USC 13-0. It titillated my imagination to think of how the power structure of the Pac-10 would be realigned, should the Ducks hold on to win. I also wondered what was going through DuRocher's mind at that moment. A year had passed since he left Eugene and later transferred to Washington. Did he have any regrets? After all, the Husky football program is currently in the toilet. And on the TV screen, Autzen Stadium's fans were clearly fired up. The Duck players were animated and attacking the Trojans both offensively and defensively. A win over #1 ranked USC would elevate Oregon back into the upper echelon of college football.

It made me reflect on the irony on life - and of college football. It's funny how things sometimes work out. There are many random examples that make me shake my head.

After all, what if Oregon coach Mike Bellotti had accepted USC's offer to be their head coach in 2002? What would the Pac-10 be like now? Instead of becoming a magnificent superpower with a 25-game winning streak, the Trojans would now be a perennial 8-4 team. They would have the reputation for building up big leads, then turning conservative and holding on for dear life in the fourth quarter. Bellotti's late-game, anal-retentive, white-knuckle philosophy would also ensure USC's placekicker the national lead in scoring every season.

In such a scenario, with Bellotti having left for Los Angeles, then-Duck coordinator Jeff Tedford would have likely capitalized on the head coach position at Oregon. His acumen in surrounding himself with great assistants, inspiring his players, and creating ingenious gameplans, would have maintained Oregon's status as a top-10 team. Given DuRocher's fondness for Tedford, it is likely that DuRocher would still be in Eugene. It's funny how things work out.

My mind also goes back to January 1, 2001, when former Husky coach Rick Neuheisel stood on a platform situated upon the Rose Bowl's turf. He was surrounded by happy players and rolling TV cameras. He hoisted the Rose Bowl trophy aloft and yelled out in exaltation. His cardiac kids had gone 11-1 and would finish with a #3 national ranking.

Then my mind's eye springs forward to November 2, 2002, when the Huskies got whipped at home by UCLA. There were tons of penalties, turnovers, team-wide apathy, and the sickening realization that the Husky offensive line had turned soft. I remember Neuheisel entering the Dempsey Center for the 5th Quarter. As he took the stage, there was a smattering of claps, and a couple of anonymous boos that floated toward him. No longer was there stirring admiration rippling through a crowd of Husky fans when he arrived on the scene. His face looked consternated as he took the microphone in hand. He resolutely strode to the front of the stage and said the following: "I know that what you saw out there today was not what you have come to expect out of your Washington Huskies. I'm sure disappointed, and I know that all of you are disappointed with us. All I ask is that you don't give up on us. I know how proud you all are of this great program. I promise that we're going to do our darndest to get our level of play back to what you expect."

We know how that worked out.

My mind also went to Pete Carroll's first season as head coach of the USC Trojans in 2001. There were many people in Los Angeles questioning his hiring after the 6-6 Trojans played Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl. I researched and found this excerpt from a west coast newspaper on December 26, 2001:

"Southern California did not live up to the reputation it built decades ago or even the one it earned late in the 2001 season, dropping a 10-6 decision to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl on Tuesday.

"USC, which has produced four Heisman Trophy winning running backs, finished with just one yard rushing in a horrific offensive effort. The Trojans had only 151 yards of total offense to 358 for Utah… USC, which last won a national championship in 1978, had a four-game winning streak snapped and ended coach Pete Carroll's first season on a sour note."

Now, just three-and-a-half seasons, two national championships and two Heisman Trophies later, it is funny sometimes how things work out.

Lastly, I reflected back to just a year ago in South Bend, Indiana. Tyrone Willingham was dressed in Irish green and leading Notre Dame to a crushing 38-3 victory over the beleaguered Huskies. Now here he was, coaching Washington and having just been on the receiving end of a 36-17 rout. It is still uncertain whether he can revive the once-proud Washington program. But even his detractors must admit-- that if Willingham's 2005 Huskies were to square off against Gilbertson's 2004 Huskies on a neutral field, Willingham wins 38-17. That's got to portend something positive for the future.

This past Saturday in the media room, I sat down and began writing the game wrap for Dawgman.com. After awhile, I looked up, and saw that DuRocher had left the room. The TV was still showing the USC-Oregon game. I turned in my chair and peered closely and saw that USC was suddenly ahead of Oregon 24-13! I wondered where the hell those twenty-four points came from. That score would ultimately grow to 45-13. I shook my head in amazement and kept writing.

Derek Johnson can be reached at midnightjazz@msn.com


Dawgman.com Top Stories