Five Stages of Death, Dying, and the Ducks

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November 22, 2011 by David Gillaspie

Grieving The End Of Oregon’s Season

by David Gillaspie

originally posted on

Sports fans love new teams on their radar.

A fresh splash of color makes everyone take note; a flash on the field that piles up wins opens more eyes.  Fans love being the first to give predictions and why they are true.

When their predictions don’t work out, the fans late to the new teams are the first to jump off the bandwagon.

The sound you heard after the 2011 Oregon v USC game was feet hitting the ground. The Ducks lost and now fans need another team to push if they can’t get behind LSU, Alabama, or Arkansas. If the SEC leaves a foul taste in their mouth, they need something sweeter.

Boise State had been a favorite until they stepped on a Horned Frog. Oklahoma State carried a lot of hope this year until a Cyclone knocked them down.

Oregon was different.

An opening game loss to LSU left fans questioning the wisdom of starting so big. Coach Kelly explained in rapid words, “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”

LSU has been the best all year while the Ducks paddled upstream from game one. 

The USC loss seemed like the end of the season for 9-2 Oregon, and the end for the front-runners who may need a little help adjusting to the rest of the schedule. Luckily, Coach Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has done the work needed to help the transition.

Her five stages of grief apply to those looking to process their sports dreams better. 

1)   Denial and Isolation

The Ducks fell into the ‘neutral field’ trap in Dallas and finally climbed back into the BCS National Championship Game conversation. USC killed that talk.

Oregon was the team who made it back from the scrap heap. Stanford is great. They beat USC, and Oregon beat Stanford. Losing to LSU isn’t the same as losing to the #18 Trojans and their NCAA-sanctioned program. Oregon had the momentum and home field.

The football God’s smiled on the Ducks right up until the end. It’s not fair. You want to close your eyes and make it all go away, but it doesn’t.

2)   Anger

The entire BCS system is rigged against the Ducks. The east coast bias is against the Ducks. Football people on the wrong side of the Mississippi don’t stay up late enough to see the Ducks in all their grandeur.

The uniforms and the offensive scheme turn people away from Oregon. Traditionalists want two sets of uniforms, home and away. They want good running backs, bruising blockers, and a crushing defense. Quarterbacks who throw and receivers who catch and run don’t play real football, just ask Alabama.

The haters watch the spread/option and think they see inferior athletes instead of innovative thinking. Sophisticated voters in the human polls see Oregon as the offense du jour. 

3)   Bargaining

Give the Ducks another chance. They’ll revert to the Green Bay Packer uniform model, like LSU, though not their ‘throw-back’ outfits. Those don’t belong anywhere near a modern football team.

They will field a team with just numbers on the jerseys. They will look at Notre Dame and Penn State as role models, though only for uniform style.

With another chance, Oregon will watch film of Jim Brown and Jim Taylor and any other Jim who ever ran a football. They will conjure up the ghost of Woody Hayes and import dust clouds from Ohio to sprinkle on their turf field after each three yard run.

Just tell the Ducks how to get better, and they’ll do it.   

4)   Depression

Oregon doesn’t deserve the recognition they’ve earned. They’ve been horrible for decades and will sink back into their swamp. One national championship game appearance in the history of the program feels about right when they can’t even win the granddaddy of all bowl games when they get there.

Good players will either stay in Texas with Willie Lyles or head to the dog pound at UW. Oregon will be an afterthought for the two star recruits. Junior college coaches will keep sending their academically challenged players to Boise State.

No one really wants to be a Duck, anyway. The biggest threat from an angry duck is watching it fly over your car and drop one on your windshield. Other mascots bring more menace than that. 

5)   Acceptance

Finally. The last stage is the best stage, the time when you can sort things out, when you put your affairs in order.

But now isn’t the time for acceptance.

When you play a game, you start out knowing you’ll either win or lose. You start out knowing it’ll take effort and luck to feel good about the end result.

Over the past few years the Ducks started each season near the top of the polls. Why? Because they deserve to be there. This is not a fluke team on a lucky streak. It’s a program designed for the long run.

Real Oregon fans see the Golden Era of Duck Football right now. And it’s not done. They’ve lost three games in two years. Kickers decided the national championship and a chance to return this year.

With no time left, Auburn booted one through for all the glory and bragging rights of dominating Oregon. If you win a game with a field goal on the last play, you’re not dominating anyone. You might win the natty like Auburn, and your stars jump early to the NFL, but it’s not the beat down of the ages they pretend it was.

On the other hand, if you kick for the tie and overtime like Oregon did against USC, you’re fighting back against a game that had the feel of a runaway. Just the chance of kicking to play longer felt like a miracle. It was a wide right miracle, but getting that opportunity is the difference maker.

Two kicks in two years with no time left decides if you’re an Oregon fan, or not? Every team at every level of sport would take the team with those plays. And so should you.

The three games left in the 2011 season will tell us more about the future of Oregon Duck Football, and the sort of players calling Oregon home, than any games in Oregon history. A season that ends with a Rose Bowl victory is one to hang on the wall.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the great Keith Jackson say, “Great teams have great character. These are teams that are not distraught that they’re down at halftime.”

These are the Oregon Ducks.


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