The Oregon Ducks football team has emerged into a national powerhouse over the last decade. From the days of Mike Bellotti to the reign of Chip Kelly, there is no other program in the country quite like Oregon.
While there are a number of factors that have led to the flight of the Ducks, the talent that has stepped onto the field at Autzen is by far the most important.
That being said, there are a select few players that have had much greater impact on Oregon’s rise than the rest. I would love to list a whole team of student athletes that have helped the Ducks along the way, but these few players deserve the most credit.
Without further ado, these are the men that I think should have their numbers retired by the Ducks in the future for the immense influence that they have left on the program.
In my opinion, there is no question that Joey Harrington is the one of the most influential players to ever suit up in a Ducks uniform.
Oregon has been one of the top programs in the country since the magical 2001 season orchestrated by Harrington. That year the Portland native led the Ducks to their highest-ever ranking in the final polls, at No. 2.
He led the team to their first-ever BCS appearance and win with a 38-16 beating over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl, after they were snubbed of an appearance in the national championship game.
His individual honors are just as remarkable. Harrington was chosen as an All-American and the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year in 2001. That same season he became the first Ducks to make the trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, where he finished in fourth place.
After college, Harrington was selected third overall in the NFL draft by the Lions and was placed on the cover of EA Sports’ NCAA Football 2003.
Dennis Dixon is one of the most athletic players to ever have stepped foot in Autzen Stadium. In fact, Dixon was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the MLB draft right out of high school, but he decided to take his talents to Oregon to help the team achieve greatness.
In his days with the Ducks, Dixon was one of the most feared quarterbacks in the country. After being selected to the All-Pac-10 team in 2006, he truly took off when Chip Kelly joined the coaching staff a year later.
In that 2007 season, Dixon started a trend that has stuck with the Ducks since—speed. After leading the team to an 8-1 start, Oregon was ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings. Dixon was an early favorite for the Heisman and a finalist for the Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Awards.
Then everything went wrong—Dixon tore his ACL and the Ducks lost the game. I will leave it at that because this memory may be too painful for Ducks fans to remember.
Regardless, Dixon won the 2007 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year Award, went on to play for the Steelers in the NFL and showed that Oregon was in good hands with Chip Kelly running the offense.
There is so much that one can say about the man and the football player that is LaMichael James. That being said, I am just going to list all of the amazing achievements that James accomplished in his three season with the Ducks to show why he has left such a major impact on the program.
While James lit up the conference throughout his whole stint with Oregon, 2010 was a magical season.
In guiding the Ducks to their first ever national championship game appearance, James led the nation in rushing, won the Doak Walker Award, was a consensus All-American and finished with an Oregon-best third-place in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. James was also selected to the Pac-10 All-Academic team that season.
Although James was plagued by injury at times during 2011, he still had a fantastic year. He led the nation in yards per carry and made a mark for himself as one of the best running backs the college game had ever seen.
James finished off his career with the Ducks as the second-leading rusher in conference history and the fourteenth-leading rusher in NCAA history. James did this all in just three years, and it will be great to see what he can do at the next level.