BY RICK LUND
For many Husky football fans, another helping of Duck for New Year’s Day dinner is no way to ring in 2015.
It’s an awkward dilemma, that’s for sure, when Oregon squares off with Florida State in the Rose Bowl. Does a Washington fan root for the Ducks or the Seminoles? It depends on your perspective.
Do you view the Ducks as a bitter rival, one that has dominated the Dawgs for the past decade and taken great pride in rubbing your nose in it?
Or do you take pride in an Oregon team that is carrying the banner for the Pacific Northwest and Pac-12 against the defending national champions from the football-hallowed South?
As a longtime follower of Washington football who has seen ebbs and flows in this series, here are a few thoughts:
Oregon fans have always been viewed as having chips on their shoulder long before a guy named Kelly arrived. But this team is likeable. What’s not to like?
Marcus Mariota is not only a flame-throwing quarterback with wide-receiver speed, he’s also a prince of a guy. The humility he showed while accepting the Heisman Trophy was memorable.
The quarterback for the Seminoles? Let’s just say Jameis Winston has some issues.
Even Oregon’s second-year coach, Mark Helfrich, is hard to dislike.
While his predecessor, Chip Kelly came across as arrogant and smug, Helfrich is low-key, has a dry sense of humor, and seems more of a players’ coach than the autocratic Kelly. While Kelly grew up in the Northeast and used the Oregon job as a stepping stone to the NFL, Oregon’s native son doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to go anywhere else. Helfrich was born in Medford and grew up rooting for the Ducks. He was the star quarterback at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Ore., and turned down a walk-on offer from UO only because he was given a scholarship to play at Southern Oregon University, where he led the nation in total offense.
The Ducks are trying to become the first West Coast team since 2004 (USC) to win the national title. Florida State’s victory over Auburn in last year’s title game broke a run of seven consecutive national championships for the SEC.
Is anyone else tired of listening to the talking heads on ESPN proclaim the SEC as the best conference in the country? That “real football” is only played east of the Mississippi River and south of the Mason-Dixon Line? The knock on the Ducks is they are “soft,” and the play on the line of scrimmage early in the Rose Bowl will be very telling against Florida State, and even more so in a potential national championship matchup with Alabama.
But if you believe a rising tide – not in Tuscaloosa, but in Eugene – lifts all boats, then you have to believe a national championship for Oregon will make football programs at Washington and other schools in the Pac-12 even more attractive to national recruits.
Washington fans have mocked Oregon fans’ hand formation of the “O” to mean “zero,” as in the number of NCAA football championships the school has won. That may soon change. And if you can’t stand the thought of Duck fans celebrating that title, be happy for the players and coaches – if you can.
Rick Lund is a season-ticket holder and lifelong follower of Husky football. His fondest memory is a 1970 game at Husky Stadium, when a sophomore quarterback named Sonny Sixkiller passed the Huskies to an improbable 42-16 victory over Michigan State. He is a presentation editor and a former assistant sports editor at The Seattle Times.
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