At midseason, a couple of bleacher bums are going to evaluate Dan Lanning. He gets an F.
Quarterback Bo Nix said the same two weeks ago, and if you watch the Oregon sideline on these Chip Kelly-like romps through conference foes, you see it. Lanning gets an F — for fun. “Nix is having a blast,” a friend texted after Oregon disposed of Arizona. Everyone on the team seems animated. Nix said he hasn’t had this much fun playing in many many years.
“Give Lanning an F,” my friend texted. “Duck football is fun again.”
The Oregon sideline is as lively as it was in the Kelly years. Remember those days? Kelly was cult leader. Players huddled around him on the sidelines, hanging on every word. Then they executed, scored in mere seconds, jumped 280 feet in the air to bang backsides and couldn’t wait to get back on the field for more.
It’s early yet, but head coach Dan Lanning appears to be edging toward similar guru status. Lanning smiles a lot and his team clearly drinks in his words, which apparently include cracking the whip. He appears to fix problems quickly. Abysmal tackling at Georgia? Not since. Poor pass defense at Washington State? Much better next two games. Too many penalties against Stanford? Not so the next week. However he’s selling it to his players, they’re buying.
Also check the mood in the bleachers this year. Lots of high fives and laughter. Losing is never fun. But losing when you play up to your potential ain’t so bad.
UCLA at Autzen: A Series of First Time Events
Lanning’s first game against Kelly will be one for the ages, judging by history.
Saturday will be the first time in 71 contests that both teams are ranked in the top 10. (Fun fact: UCLA’s website says the two teams have met 70, not 71 times. What’s the difference? In a trick worthy of its “Magic Castle” neighbor, UCLA zapped from history the Bruins’ 49-31 loss in the 2011 Pac-12 championship game. Loss? What loss?)
- The first ESPN Game Day in Eugene? Against UCLA in 2000.
- The first time Lee Corso donned the Duck head? That game, hours before unranked Oregon took down the No. 6 Bruins 29-10.
- The first game after Oregon reached No. 1 in the AP poll? Against unranked UCLA in 2010, Oregon’s first Natty season. The Ducks demolished UCLA 60-13 and held on to the No. 1 ranking for seven weeks.
- The first ever Pac 12 championship game? Against UCLA at Autzen in 2011.
- The first time Oregon played against a coach who had been fired by UCLA the week before? Same game, Rick Neuheisel, 49-13 Ducks. That appearance by Neuheisel also launched a glorious run of 11 years and counting when Mr. run-up-the-Cotton-Bowl-score hasn’t been on an Oregon sideline–not for Colorado, for Washington, for the Bruins. Hallelujah and pass the karma.
How Far and How Thankful We Should Be
Last year, a fellow fan stopped watching games because they became ordeals of disappointment. The team played below its talent. True, but at least one fan goes back much further, to a dismal afternoon at Autzen in 1974, a late-season game under gray-black clouds spitting rain. The north bleachers were nearly empty above the first dozen rows. A friend and I walked from the student section to the 50-yard line and sat halfway down the stadium. The only people near us were two older gents five or six rows below.
As the Ducks slogged on, my friend and I started musing sarcastically about Oregon’s sorry play. After a few minutes, one of the gents below us turned and asked politely: Could you keep your comments to yourselves? We’re here to watch our team. I understood immediately, and shut up.
A half century later, when I think of how far Oregon football has come, that’s my baseline. The day two elderly die-hard Oregon fans sat in the rain, still believing, as the Ducks worried their way to a second straight 2-9 season. Those men undoubtedly passed on before Oregon became a sustained winner. They never experienced the joy of a top-10 matchup at Autzen like we will see Saturday.
Welcome Back, Coach Kelly
Kelly comes full circle Saturday to the scene of his greatest success. At risk of irking many of the Forum Irregulars, let it be said here that least one Duck fan will stand and applaud as he enters Autzen. He brought Oregon fans unrivaled joy. And some of us will always miss his staccato, side-of-mouth wisecracking. Kelly was reared in laid-back New Hampshire, but c’mon, somewhere he morphed into a New Yorker. New Yorkers break out into song on elevators. Kelly would tell them to stay on key.
So welcome back, Chip. May your flight back to L.A. be quiet and long.
Los Angeles, California
Top Screenshot from Joe Jackson Jr.
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
Drex came to Oregon from the Alaska bush at a time that Dan Fouts, Ahmad Rashad and future New York Giant great George Martin (a freshman dorm mate) roamed Autzen. He was Emerald editor-in-chief before going on to a 44-year career at newspapers in New York, Alaska, Nevada and California. He spent half of his career at the Los Angeles Times, including stints in New York and Washington D.C. bureaus, where he was foreign affairs editor.
Drex worked in news, not sports, but did occasionally indulge his passion for football and once covered a tickertape parade for the New York Yankees. He directed investigative stories in 2008 that won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize gold medal for public service. He retired in Los Angeles but has a season seat at Autzen and flies up for most home games.
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