Best College Football Moments in Oregon History

Jeff Bell@@JrayBellCorrespondent IOctober 28, 2013

Best College Football Moments in Oregon History

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    Oregon RB LaMichael James after a 1st down in the 2012 Rose Bowl
    Oregon RB LaMichael James after a 1st down in the 2012 Rose BowlHarry How/Getty Images

    It's 2013, and if you're a fan of college football and the Oregon Ducks, things couldn't be much better.

    The team currently sits at 8-0, the program is coming off four straight BCS appearances, including wins in the latter two, and fans have had the pleasure of watching players like LaMichael James, De'Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota turn the offense into one of the most feared units in the game.

    But if you followed the Ducks before the turn of the century, you'll know that things weren't always this way. The team was mired in a string of awful seasons throughout the '70s and '80s, and Eugene was more likely to be some long-lost uncle for recruits than a destination for football.

    Many players, games, coaches, fans and boosters have played a prominent role in Oregon's rise to the top, and it's impossible to narrow down this list to just a few key moments.

    However, there are certain parts of Oregon lore that are firmly implanted in fans' collective memories, never to be forgotten and never to be surpassed by what is to come.

    Let's take a look at some of the greatest college football moments in Oregon history.

Re-Branding into the Oregon "O"

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    An Oregon helmet from the Fiesta Bowl
    An Oregon helmet from the Fiesta BowlMatt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    It's hard to imagine a more successful rebranding than the one Oregon underwent in 2001.

    This piece talks about the "O," which replaced the interlocking "UO" that had been used for decades prior.

    Today, you see players all across the country aware of what the "O" means. It goes hand-in-hand with the Oregon Ducks, and fans throw their hands in the air to form the letter at the kickoff of each game.

    When LeBron James visited the sidelines before USC's visit in 2011, he threw up the "O." Now, if you're a college football fan, you probably recognize the majority of logos. But Oregon's has become a real symbol of what this team has become—innovative and far-reaching.

    The story behind the logo is also uniquely connected to the University. The outer ring represents the shape of Autzen Stadium, which has developed a reputation for how loud it gets when the Ducks are on defense.

    The inner ring represents Hayward Field, the epicenter of track town USA, and where running greats like Steve Prefontaine would show off their talents.

    You can't become a national powerhouse without a successful image, and with the creation of the "O," Oregon forever rewrote its history.

Beating OSU to Reach BCS Title

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    WR D.J. Davis in 2010
    WR D.J. Davis in 2010Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    In 2010, Oregon began the season with a string of blowout victories.

    There were some contests that remained tight until midway through the third quarter, and then turned into a landslide later on. The Ducks simply rolled through the Pac-10 (as it was back then), which included a dominating 52-31 victory over Stanford in a game where Oregon trailed 21-3 in the first half.

    Stanford went on to win the Orange Bowl, and Oregon made it unscathed all the way to the Civil War, where the rival-Beavers wanted nothing more than to knock off the Ducks and end any national title hopes.

    But it was meant to be for Chip Kelly's team, as it won 37-20 to all but secure a trip to the national championship.

    Fans dashed out on to the field and celebrated with the team, as the chant "BCS!" erupted in the end zone just in front of the visiting section.

    It was proof that the once-lowly program had made it to the top and would be playing on college football's grandest stage.

    Oregon went on to lose to Auburn 22-19, and the game itself, while tight and heart-stopping throughout, didn't have the same magical feel as the Civil War from that season.

Replacing Rich Brooks with Mike Bellotti

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    Oregon head coach Mike Belotti
    Oregon head coach Mike BelottiTom Hauck/Getty Images

    This list is all about special moments on the field, but we're sprinkling in several watershed moments to give you some background on how this team climbed the mountain.

    One of those moments came following the 1994 season, after Oregon had played in the Rose Bowl. Fans were happy and success was new and sweet for a team that had suffered for so long.

    Head Coach Rich Brooks departed for the NFL, and offensive coordinator Mike Bellotti was selected as the man to replace him.

    The move paid off.

    Bellotti went on to lead the team to a 116-55 record which included a win in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl over Colorado.

    He played an integral role in the Ducks' ascendancy toward the realm of college football's elite, and it was his cooperation with uber-booster Phil Knight that became a catalyst for the innovative facilities you see today.

    Mike Bellotti also brought in a certain offensive coordinator in 2007, who helped change the way offense is played. But more on that later.

    Bellotti is truly one of if not the greatest coach in Oregon history, and the moment he was tapped to replace Brooks was a moment that Duck fans will remember forever.

"The Catch"

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    In 1997, Oregon was still searching for its identity after a Rose Bowl appearance several years earlier.

    The mighty Washington Huskies still owned the northwest, and Duck fans knew that a trip to Seattle meant a loss in the record.

    But things began to change that season thanks to quarterback Akili Smith and wide receiver Pat Johnson.

    After Washington had come back in the game to take a four-point lead, Oregon drove down the field and was within striking distance with two and a half minutes remaining.

    What happened next was one of the best plays in Oregon history.

    Smith dropped back and threw a beautiful pass down the sideline, where Johnson was neck-and-neck with a Husky defender. At the last minute, he dove forward and secured the pass while the official made sure he landed in bounds.

    The video above features Jerry Allen, Oregon's play-by-play guy, who wasn't sure if it was a touchdown for at least a second or two.

    The score propelled Oregon to victory over the evil empire that was Washington in the '90s.

Bringing in Chip Kelly

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    Oregon head coach Chip Kelly
    Oregon head coach Chip KellyJennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

    The final watershed moment on the list is when Oregon brought in Chip Kelly to be the offensive coordinator in 2007.

    Most people will remember what he did as a head coach, but Duck fans will remember him as the guy who helped turn Dennis Dixon into a Heisman candidate.

    Dixon, who had split time with Brady Leaf in 2006, always showed athleticism but was inaccurate and mistake-prone throughout his first couple seasons as a Duck.

    In 2007, he began the season hot and introduced himself to the world in a game at Michigan that the Ducks won 39-7. Dixon ran the ball well and had three long touchdown passes that helped to jump-start his Heisman campaign, which would later end due to an injury.

    Kelly took over as the head coach in 2009 and proceeded to lead the team to four straight BCS bowl appearances, which included two Rose Bowls and a national championship. The Ducks won the final two before Kelly decided it was time to give it a go in the NFL.

    What he left was a legacy that cannot be defined. His imprint is on every aspect of the program, and much of football changed forever when Chip Kelly got his chance to shine with Oregon.

Howry-to-Harrington in the 2000 Holiday Bowl

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    Starting at the 3:16 mark in the video, you can check out one of the signature plays in Oregon history.

    The year was 2000, and the Ducks were matched up with the Texas Longhorns in the Holiday Bowl.

    Up until this point, Oregon had a legacy as that team that was starting to become pretty good, and Texas had the legacy of an all-time powerhouse. Just playing the Longhorns was a treat for Duck fans, but the game turned out to be a classic.

    Oregon won 35-30 in dramatic fashion, but it was the play between wide receiver Keenan Howry and quarterback Joey Harrington that will be remembered forever.

    Harrington took the snap and tossed it back to Howry, who looked like he might take the pitch and turn up-field. Instead, he turned to throw it back across the field to a wide open Harrington, who had sneaked away from the pack and dashed down the field in the opposite direction.

    Harrington caught the pass, lost his balance and stumbled into the end zone, falling just across the goal line. It isn't the most unique play and you've undoubtedly seen it run since. But it let the world know that the Oregon Ducks were becoming a program to be reckoned with.

    The innovative nature of it all was perfect, and the play will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Fiesta Bowl Win in 2002

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    Quarterback Joey Harrington, an all-time great
    Quarterback Joey Harrington, an all-time greatBrian Bahr/Getty Images

    The 2002 Fiesta Bowl featured a matchup of teams who would rather be playing in the national championship.

    But only the Colorado Buffaloes played that way.

    The Oregon Ducks, meanwhile, played their best game of the season en route to a 38-16 victory.

    The Buffs had previously beaten Nebraska, who was in the championship, 62-36. They were hot and had a powerful ground game that many thought the Ducks would be unable to contain.

    But Oregon held Colorado to just 49 yards rushing and stifled what had previously been an extremely potent offense.

    However, the real story of the game was quarterback Joey Harrington, who capped off a magnificent career in style. The senior threw for 350 yards and four scores in the win.

    One of the touchdown passes was a 79-yard bomb to wide receiver Samie Parker. Another big-time play came from Maurice Morris, who took a handoff, ran up the sideline, and appeared to be down after a 25 yard run. In reality, he rolled over his defenders' back, got up, and took it the rest of the way amidst confused defenders.

    It's fun to pick out specific plays for the list, but this game had too many to count. The win was the ultimate reassurance that the Ducks had become a real player in the college football world, and the victory was one of the biggest in program history.

Rose Bowl Win in 2012

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    RB De'Anthony Thomas
    RB De'Anthony ThomasHarry How/Getty Images

    Before the 2012 Rose Bowl game, Oregon fans were very aware of one number.

    The number 95.

    As in, it had been 95 years since the Ducks won a Rose Bowl, and for all the success in the '00s, that had to end soon.

    It did, and in dramatic fashion against the Wisconsin Badgers.

    The final score was 45-38, but the game was back and forth throughout and it became an instant classic the second the clock ran out.

    The best performances came from running back De'Anthony Thomas and wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei. Thomas had just 2 carries but they went for 155 yards and a pair of scores. His 91-yard scamper to end the first quarter showcased speed like you've never seen before.

    Tuinei caught eight passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns as the Ducks finally erased that ugly "95" from memory.

    Kiko Alonso's interception turned the game around in the second half, and Michael Clay's fumble recovery near the sideline in the fourth quarter gave the Ducks a chance to bleed the clock and ultimately secure the victory.

    After two previous seasons that ended in BCS defeat, this win was one of the greatest in the history of Oregon football.

"The Pick"

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    If there's one thing to know about the history of the Oregon Ducks, it's "The Pick" which many will point to as the catalyst for all the success we've seen since it happened.

    It was 1994 and the Ducks were in the middle of a Rose Bowl run. Standing in the way were the Washington Huskies, fresh off several seasons of national success and spotlight.

    Late in the fourth quarter, the Huskies were driving down by four points. With just over a minute to go, Damon Huard went back to throw the ball...and the rest is history.

    A description doesn't do it justice, so check out the video, too. But Huard tossed the ball toward the corner of the end zone where it was intercepted by Kenny Wheaton, who returned it all the way for a touchdown.

    The Ducks went on to win 31-20 and eventually, they made it to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl.

    The play itself is special, but it becomes legendary with Jerry Allen's radio call. A hoarse Allen is screaming and out of breath by the end of it all, and the scene is played out on Autzen Stadium's big screen before each game.

    You might be able to argue about the placement of certain slides in this piece, but the No. 1 spot will never change. Barring a national championship (and maybe not even then), "The Pick" will always be the greatest college football moment in Oregon history.