It’s taken a while for me to write anything this week.
It’s part shock, part anger, and a whole lot of mourning. I needed time to complete the five stages of grief, regroup, collect my thoughts and write something more meaningful than a “Chip Kelly effed up that fourth down call” rant.
This was such a great season and it so see it go down this way was more crushing than watching the season finale of “Friends” in 2004 or seeing someone about to get hit by a car knowing you can do nothing to save them.
After spending the last few days figuring out the good, the bad and the ugly (mostly ugly) that happened on New Year’s Day, I have come up with an explanation for why so many Duck fans had such a rocky start to 2010.
And it has absolutely nothing to do with anything on the field.
Winning is a tradition. And unfortunately, traditions don’t hatch over night.
Oregon fans have only recently gotten a taste of winning. In fact, most lifetime fans have suffered through far more losing seasons that winning years, as evidenced by the number of Rose Bowl appearances (5) and wins (1) in the program’s history.
At this stage, winning is sort of a novelty for Duck fans the media. It’s new, it’s fun, trendy even, but it’s not expected.
Look at Ohio State. Every single year, the Buckeye media and fans come into the season expecting no less than a Rose Bowl win. They demand excellence.
The goal for a program is always to exceed expectations. Setting the bar at making the Rose Bowl is one thing, but for Ohio State, getting there is not enough. They expect to win.
You can call them spoiled, sure, but they put pressure on the team to deliver. And for the most part, they do. No team wants to deal with an unhappy fan base or media telling them what they did wrong, especially one that can fill a 110,000 seat stadium and connect with ears all over the country.
Their coaches, players, fans, writers and recruits all expect to win every play, every game, every season. It’s contagious.
Why do teams fire coaches? Because they lose the trust of the players and in return, they stop expecting to win. Mindset is half the battle.
Ohio State’s tradition of winning is over a century long, with 33 Big Ten and seven national championships to prove it.
In fact, their tradition is so strong that fans started an uproar when Ohio State introduced a slightly modified jersey in 2006.
Oregon on the other hand, is all about the now. The Ducks are cutting edge in just about everything: the newest uniforms, offense, locker rooms, training facilities, the list goes on.
There’s not much history or tradition (aside from The Pick) outside of the past 15 seasons, at least that Oregon fans want to remember.
And like the new uniforms, success isn’t something the fans and media can get tired of like a pair of week-old Nike cleats.
After we (yes, I feel like am a part of Oregon football) lost last Friday, you have no idea how many times I heard “Well, it was just fun being here.”
That attitude, more so than talent, preparation or coaching, is the biggest reason why we still don’t have a Rose Bowl victory since 1917.
Duck fans were more interested in tailgating in sunny, palm tree-speckled Pasadena, basking in the experience and taking pictures of the beautiful, overlooking San Gabriel Mountains, than trying to destroy their vocal cords by the second quarter per usual.
Columnists were busy readying their stories about what a great season it had been and how it be just oh so nice to finish the year off with a win.
Just like most teams who screw up in big games because they change their style of play, we as fans should take the blame for change our style in the Granddaddy of Them All.
“Win the Day,” isn’t that Chip Kelly’s mantra? It felt more like, win the season and whatever happens next happens.
January 1st had to be the quietest (aside from at Stanford) Oregon game that I have ever been to.
But this is ok. I can’t expect us to get it right away. Like Aristotle said, we learn by doing.
Now that we have been on the big stage, the crucial transformation is learning from our mistakes. This experience needs to teach us what to expect and how to act for next year, when we’re right back in the Rose Bowl.
We need to build a winning tradition, one where “just being there” isn’t enough. And this takes time. It needs to be instilled from birth (for fans) and letter of intent (for players), read everyday in the newspaper and seen everyday on tv.
If Oregon wants to take the next step in terms of national prestige, fans and media will have to act like we belong with the traditional powers like Ohio State, Florida and Notre Dame.
The reason these powers have been able to maintain excellence is because the fans, the media, the players and coaches are very critical of themselves and involved in how to make improvements. And those teams listen.
If Ohio State had lost last week, the media and fans alike would be calling for Jim Tressel’s head. Yeah, he’s done a great job for the program, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you win it all.
The powerhouse programs are victims of their own success, but that is a positive. It shows they care.
As it stands right now, Oregon is just the little engine that could, waiting for its chance to finally join the popular group.
We as fans and the media need to start treating the team like grown men and not just kids who need to hear repeated encouragement.
“Nice try, sport, you’ll get ‘em next time” only goes so far.
After a Rose Bowl loss like this one, we can’t pat ourselves on the back and say it was a good try, we need to find the reasons why Oregon lost and improve immediately.
It’s up to us for Oregon to get there. We need to demand excellence, and if they know what’s best for themselves, they’ll listen.
It starts now.