I’m not going to lie. This loss stings. It stings a lot. But like all things in life, you can’t let it get you down Ducks fans. Sometimes, there are more important things in life than the outcome of a football game.
My dad passed away on August 11, 2014. Those first few moments after I got the call from my brother to tell me, it felt like the end of the world. After weeks of trying to understand why this happened, and attempting to get my life back to normal, August 30 came around. This marked the beginning of the college football season. Sure, it was a game against a team perceived to be an inferior opponent (South Dakota), but it was the first bit of normalcy I had in my life since my dad’s death. As I sat quietly on the couch watching the game, alone, one by one my three kids (ages 9, 7 and 2) came and joined me.
They asked a lot of questions. “Who’s playing daddy?” “Did they score?” “Who’s winning?” I think that day was the first time I smiled in weeks.
It’s funny. My dad and I had a close father/son relationship, but it was always this sort of “unspoken word” relationship. Two things we had in common: a love of music and sports. Sure, we watched games together as a family, both in-person and on TV (and even on this thing called a radio), but there was never an emotional attachment. I remember when I was little, sitting on my dad’s lap watching a San Francisco Giants or 49ers game, but we just never had those truly bonding moments that you see on TV or in the movies. I figured that it’s probably just a fantasy that doesn’t actually happen in real life, but I have strived to be different with my kids (and I think part of that has been done both consciously and subconsciously). It’s not bad that my dad and I didn’t have this, it’s just something that I look back on and wish could have been a little different.
Which brings us to the National Championship game and the basis of this post. My kids were very excited once they got home from school and they stayed up and watched most the game with me again last night (note that the 7 year old didn’t make it into our Kreuzer “team” picture below).
They don’t like sports all that much, but they have been to a few games with me. Mostly minor league baseball games. But I formally introduced them to Oregon football this season with that South Dakota game on August 30 and they watched a number of games with me this season. Sure, I’ve been a Ducks fan since 2002 when we first moved to Portland. But watching Oregon football this year was an opportunity for me to teach them the game. To teach them to love a team. And most importantly, to have bonding moments with them. Unfortunately, I think they got spoiled with this great team.
Last night, the two older kids were nearly in tears (like I was…not gonna lie) as the game got out of hand in the 4th quarter. They kept saying “it isn’t fair daddy.” “The Ducks are supposed to win daddy.” “Can’t we do anything.” It gave me the chance to talk about winning and losing. How there are going to be times where you have to understand that you can’t always win. During those final minutes of the game, they disappeared. I wasn’t sure where they went, and to be honest, it made me a little nervous that I couldn’t hear them.
But then they came back with these drawings in an effort to make me feel better about the loss that was about to be made official:
I couldn’t help but smile and give them the biggest hugs I think they’ve ever had. I realized at that moment that, like I had told them just a few minutes earlier, it wasn’t about winning and losing. It was about the time we spent together over the past six months, culminating with the National Championship game in Dallas. It was about healing from personal loss. Finding that one thing that brought us together.
Even though the Ducks didn’t have the fairly tale ending that we had hoped for, we were all together. We were spending those moments on the couch that I will never, ever forget. Dealing with the hardest time of my life through college football, while it sounds crazy, had not pulled us apart, like it seemed it would in those first two weeks. It had made us stronger. In reality, looking back, the 2014 Oregon Ducks had helped make me a better father.
When I look back at the season, I can’t help but be proud of this team and the coaching staff, just as I’m proud of my own kids. What a story of inspiration. I can’t think of another team that had to battle through so many injuries, and yet found themselves winning a conference championship, a major bowl game (and not just a major bowl game, but the Granddaddy of them all: The Rose Bowl) and played for a national championship. Let’s not also forget that Marcus Mariota brought the first Heisman Trophy to the University. All great accomplishments and much of the credit goes to coach Mark Helfrich.
Sure, people will say the Ducks aren’t tough enough. They make fun of the infinite number of uniform choices (thanks Nike!) But, at the end of the day, they finished this season behind only one team: The Ohio State Buckeyes.
I have to give a lot of credit where credit is due. The Buckeyes came into this game hungry. They, like Oregon, have had to deal with their own fair share of injuries. Can you imagine winning your conference championship game by 59 points, against a good Wisconsin Badgers team, with Cardale Jones, a 3rd string quarterback? Then, to take down the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl, again with a 3rd string quarterback? You get the idea. The Buckeyes won the National Championship with a 3rd string quarterback. A guy with 3 career starts! Phenomenal.
Let’s not forget the play last night by Ezekiel Elliott. Just a sophomore, he ran the ball 36 times for 246 yards with four touchdowns. Yes. four touchdowns in the National Championship game. This was his third straight game with more than 200 yards. He was named Offensive Player of the Game and broke the record for highest rushing total by an FBS player in a championship game. Again, phenomenal.
Finally, there’s Urban Meyer. You must now consider him arguably one of the greatest head coaches in college football history. I have no problem ranking him up there with anyone on the Mount Rushmore of college coaches. What he has done at Ohio State is amazing and I can’t help but think that there could be a dynasty forming in Columbus.
As for the Ducks, I just want to reiterate that this season was not a failure. So much good came out of this year that fans should not hang their heads. I’m not…and you shouldn’t either!
I know that we played hard, through adversity, and we will be back again next year. Yes, we didn’t achieve our end goal of winning a National Championship, but we played our hardest and finished as the second best team in the country. Again, we won the Pac 12. We won the Rose Bowl. Mariota is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Don’t be sad. Be glad that you were there to witness history.
I leave you with a few of my favorite lines from the movie “The Mighty Ducks”. Yes, it’s a hockey movie, but I think that the words ring true for us today, tomorrow and forever as Oregon Ducks fans:
“Have you guys ever seen a flock of ducks flying in perfect formation? It’s beautiful. Pretty awesome the way they all stick together. Ducks never say die. Ever seen a duck fight? No way. Why? Because the other animals are afraid. They know that if they mess with one duck, they gotta deal with the whole flock. I’m proud to be a Duck, and I’d be proud to fly with any one of you. So how about it? Who’s a Duck?”
While I never attended the University of Oregon, I have made many, many friends along the way who did and I consider myself to be a Duck. Like each and every one of them, I’m damn proud to be a Duck (and a father of the three best kids in the whole world)!