October 6, 2011 by David Gillaspie
Originally Posted: http://www.oregonsportsnews.com/oregon-ducks-news/oregons-defense-a-fans-collection/
The graceful dance of receivers down a sideline draws a refined sort of fan. They appreciate the body control and balance on display, the sort of physical poetry found in the great ballet troupes of the world.
It’s the other part that draws core football fans, the part where defensive backs launch into the soft underbelly of the receiver stretching up as far as they can.
That part is called football and often carries a penalty, but it’s the sort of hit the media loves to replay. The faint of heart see it and react in horror that one human being could do that to another. They want the rules changed.
High impact collisions make the rest of us cringe, too; they make us pledge to tighten up. When receivers jump to their feet and trot back to their huddle, we know we’ll never tighten up enough to take that sort of hit.
But we might be able to give one.
We could fall in front of someone who would trip over us. We’re still in the game for at least one debilitating moment. The dream is still alive.
Defense is the last stand, last ditch, fight to the last man side of the ball. It’s desperate and dangerous and attracts a different sort of athlete. Players who refuse to lose, the ball hawks, the late hitters, all take their shots on defense.
Championship runs are defined by defense, or lack of it. We respect teams that win on their defense.
The Ducks need defense to step up for their due at the respect table. They’re ready; they’re hungry. The offense is set with fine-tuning each game. It’s the D turn.
The Ducks listed below could play on any team from any era, college and pro.
OREGON’S BEST, (from this fan’s perspective):
Defensive Lineman: Haloti Ngata.
Igor Olshansky pushed 225 lbs more than anyone at his Combine, but Ngata is the man among men. Clips of him playing rugby as a youngster show it. He was unstoppable. He still is.
How many Ducks and Baltimore Raven running backs are glad they’re on the same team as Haloti Ngata? All of them.
Linebacker: Dave Wilcox.
If Lawrence Taylor gets credit for reinventing the position of outside linebacker, Dave Wilcox gets credit for being LT before LT. Before stats were kept for everything a player does, Wilcox did it all.
On top of that, this is a man whose two sons also played for the Ducks. If you talk about a football family tradition with the Matthews’ clan, you have to talk about the Wilcox men of Oregon, too.
Defensive Back: Kenny Wheaton.
Without Wheaton’s monumental interception, would the Ducks be on the same climb the past decade? His one play proved the Football Gods looked favorably on Oregon.
Every defensive back dreams of the moment to change a game; Wheaton found a moment to change the direction of an entire program.
Until a Duck d-back makes an end zone pick on the winning pass of a tied game for the National Championship, then tip-toes down the sidelines like Baryshnikov in Swan Lake, Wheaton is the boss of the d-backfield.
Special Teams: LaMichael James.
Who else would you want taking kick-offs or punts? For all the talk about Duck history, no one shows up like James.
In the 118 years of Oregon Duck Football, who could have imagined this Texas tornado landing in Eugene? Guys like James are Longhorns or Sooners, maybe a Cornhusker. They suit up for LSU or Alabama, not Oregon.
Finding him in a Duck uniform is another reason for the Football Gods to smile on Autzen.
All-Time Duck: Mel Renfro.
Runs the ball? Yes. Defends the ball? Check. Runs back punts and kickoffs? Yes.
If Dave Wilcox was LT before LT, then Mel Renfro was Deion Sanders before Deion. He was Charles Woodson before Woodie.
Renfro had track sprinter’s speed, the rugged durability of a Baja race car, and the football instincts you see in the legends. He brought it all to that moment of high impact with a refined elegance every fan appreciates.
When the University of Oregon installs their Ring of Honor around Autzen, when they erect statues of the greats, these are the players at the front of the line.
They’re not the only ones. Who are yours?