By Connor Buestad
When 82 year old broadcasting legend Keith Jackson lays his head to rest each night, I suppose this is the type of game he dreams about. Undefeated PAC 10 stalwart Oregon pitted against undefeated SEC behemoth Auburn, for the chance to claim the all elusive National Championship Trophy. A Heisman Trophy winner, 92 points per game of combined offense, Nike inc., sanctions and allegations, 40 days and 40 nights worth of hype… this game really has all the fixings.
Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Mr. Jackson will not be in the booth come January 10th. Moreover, the game won’t be played under the sun splashed San Gabriel Mountains of the Rose Bowl, nor will you hear the best hangover cure known to America, “Whoa Nellie”.
What you will get in Glendale, Arizona is one of the most anticipated offensive matchups in recent memory, coupled with two fan bases that possess a sopping wet appetite for national supremacy in the college football world. This insatiable appetite for winning has been a long time in the making for Oregon and Auburn, and this clash is in some senses a perfect storm for college football fans.
When you talk about the University of Oregon athletic department, you shouldn’t go too far without mentioning Nike, and subsequently, Steve Prefontaine. The late Prefontaine (1951-1975) is the subject of two movies, “Prefontaine” (1997) and “Without Limits” (1998), both of which I highly recommend. The reason Pre is so important to this whole equation is his influence on Nike. The runner from Coos Bay, Oregon who was always “too small” and “not fast enough”, ended up turning himself into the most captivating long distance runner of our time, all the while wearing a pair of Nike’s on his feet and OREGON across his chest.
Bill Bowerman, who died in 1999, started Nike with current CEO Phil Knight in the 1960’s. His big technological breakthrough came in the form of a waffle iron, with which he made running shoes for his brash pupil, Steve Prefontaine. Pre left an indelible mark on the “U of O” and gave the Nike brand all the athlete endorsement direction they needed (see Jordan, Michael).
The road to prominence for the Duck football team has been a long and winding one indeed. Oregon did manage to make the Rose Bowl in 1995, but it wasn’t before Coach Mike Bellotti and Quarterback Joey “Captain Comeback” Harrington came along when things started to pick up steam. In 2001 the Ducks made it all the way to the Fiesta Bowl behind Harrington’s arm, where they defeated Colorado. The next year, Autzen Stadium was renovated, Harrington found himself on a billboard in Manhattan, and it seemed as though Phil Knight and his checkbook were “all-in” for the years to come.
What followed was a decade of dominance by the USC Trojans of Troy. No matter what uniform scheme Oregon seemed to try, Southern Cal’s high powered offense and slimy recruiting practices were always one step ahead. It wasn’t until Reggie Bush had his Heisman confiscated and Uncle Pete fled north to the NFL, that Oregon had a chance to truly spread its wings in the PAC 10.
Oregon’s first chance at being BMOC came last year, Coach Chip Kelly’s first year. The 2009 campaign started off about as rocky as one could imagine. After week one, Oregon was 0-1, LeGarrette Blount was suspended for throwing haymakers, Running Back LaMichael James was suspended for domestic violence, and QB Jeremiah Masoli was being investigated for stealing laptops and hippie lettuce from a Eugene frat house. Despite all these setbacks, Chip Kelly somehow led his troops all the way to the Rose Bowl where they lost to Ohio State.
The 2010 version of the Ducks has been a sight to behold. Founded on speed, the Ducks offense rarely huddles and routinely strikes for big scores. With Darron Thomas at QB, LeMichael James in the backfield and Jeff Maehl at Wideout, Oregon has a triple threat in the truest sense of the word. The Ducks closest call came this autumn in Berkeley, where my Bears executed an extremely “smart” gameplan that came this close to setting off bedlam in Berkeley (Never trust a Campolindo High School kicker, btw).
On the other side of the ball, the Auburn Tigers have earned the right to play for the Natty by navigating through the toughest conference in football without a blemish. Of course, the Tigers are led by the LeBron James of college football. An athletic specimen that goes by the name of Cam Newton, aka “The Second Coming”, aka “$cam Newton”. Perhaps the best compliment you could grant Cam is that he has many an Alabamian believing he is the best athlete Auburn has ever seen, Bo Jackson and the “Round Mound of Rebound” be damned.
Newton grew up in good ‘ol Fulton County, Georgia (I suspect he saw his fair share of Braves games at Fulton County Stadium). Upon graduating, he packed his bags and set off to Gainesville, Florida to play ball for the Gators and Urban Meyer. Unfortunately, Cam found out real quick he was stuck behind Tim Tebow on the depth chart and that wasn’t soon about to change. Undiscouraged, Cam decided to take the JUCO route and take his talents to Blinn Junior College in Texas. In just one season, Newton led his squad to the JUCO National Title, while breaking pretty much every Junior College record they bother to keep track of.
Meanwhile, Cam’s Dad, Cecil Newton, was busy shopping his son’s services around the SEC. At one point Cecil “allegedly” called up Mississippi State and asked for $180,000 in exchange for his son’s letter of intent. In the end, Cecil and MSU couldn’t come to terms with said pay-for-play scheme, and Cam ended up in Auburn, Alabama quarterbacking the Tigers.
Coming from the college football crazed South, Auburn surely has a more storied football history than Oregon. Three Heisman Trophy winners, a National Championship in 1957, Bo Jackson, and an impressive track record in the ultra competitive South Eastern Conference all add to Auburn’s lore. The school is also known to have an epic tailgate scene that is second to none. The “Tiger Walk” in which thousands of Auburn supporters line the streets leading up the stadium was the first of its kind. Today, countless college football teams have copied this tradition of cheering on the players as they walk from the bus to the locker room.
It is also worth noting that Auburn’s battle cry is “War Eagle” or better yet, “War Damn Eagle”. This is an ode to one bad-ass eagle that was found during the Civil War and later proudly flew above an Auburn v. Georgia football game in 1892. It just doesn’t get more American than that, now does it.
In a sport that thrives on hype and speculation, this Auburn-Oregon clash will benefit from roughly a 40 day layoff. The spread for this game has already swayed 6 points, from Oregon (-3) to Oregon (+3) and there’s no telling how much that line may change in the coming days. Barring any unforeseen developments, Cam Newton will be free to play with no NCAA restrictions or penalties. Luckily for Oregon there are no Frat Houses in Glendale, so they should stay out of trouble as well.
So for now, join me in enjoying the hype, and lets all hope this game lives up to it. Something tells me it will.