Duck, The Football Arts

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January 5, 2012 by David Gillaspie

(originally posted on

Cue the music

Do you know anyone who watched Oregon win the Rose Bowl, but for some reason won’t admit to being sports fans?

Big, strong, men of every age join that chorus along with their well-read partners. They know the difference between a third down and a touchdown, but to them it makes no difference. It’s simply not important enough.

“I’m not a sports fan,” they say. “Never have been, never will.”

You could leave it alone. Remember, not everyone likes what the next guy enjoys. It’s the same in every country on earth. In Spain, a Real Madrid soccer fan might not be a Real Madrid basketball fan who might not be a Picasso fan who might not be a Gaudi fan.

But this is America, not Europe. Find a way. If you’ve looked all your life and still can’t find a way, or know someone who’s searched for the sports fan button on themselves and come up empty, give it one more shot.

Go to the fine arts. If they don’t acknowledge their fanhood after you’re done, then their liberal arts degree is not worth the vellum it is printed on. You’ll need to memorize a few things then practice like an athlete before opening the book on this subject.

Remember, win the day is important inside the locker room but more important on the outside. Start with team leadership. Non-sports fans understand authority. Too much authority from leagues, conferences, and referees might be why they don’t like sports.

That can change.

Describe Oregon coach Chip Kelly as the George Balanchine of the side lines. Explain the physics of ballet movement, then transcribe it to football using Newton’s equation for motion. Explain carefully that F = m x A, or that Force equals mass times acceleration. They probably know it already, but talk slow as if explaining it for the 1000th time.

Balanchine’s troupes often danced to the strains of Igor Stravinsky or Tchaikovsky followed by polite applause in places like the Kennedy Center. The huzzahs following a command performance is enough to make every chest heave with passion.

The Oregon Ducks perform to the primal howl of rabid humanity inside Autzen Stadium where tailgating traditions produce a similar heaving sensation along with the passion. The “O-O-O-O” chant before the first kick of every game is enough to turn even the most cultured among us into foot stomping Duck-heads.

If you need further proof of the direct link between football and ballet, run the youtube clip of Chip ‘Tiny Dancer’ Kelly’s footwork on the sidelines after the Michael Clay fumble recovery. The precision, the execution, the joie de vivre. Magnifique!

After convincing the non-sports fan with Coach Kelly as choreographer, add defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti as the conductor of destruction. Use Eugene Ormandy of the Philadelphia Orchestra as a role model. Talk about Ormandy’s legato style being similar to Aliotti’s prevent defense and sliding responsibilities down the field.

Eugene Ormandy is the ideal candidate for defensive coordinator comparisons because of Philadelphia, the hometown of the Flyers (known in the day as the Broad Street Bullies), Heavyweight Champion of the World Smokin’ Joe Frazier, and the silver screen’s Rocky. They still pack a punch that leaves a mark.

When Coach Aliotti released John Boyette and Kiko Alonso on the Wisconsin Badgers you could almost hear the 1812 Overture in E flat major. More than a few Badgers saw fireworks going off inside their helmets.

On the other side of the ball, DAT and LMJ remind the over-literate crowd of the spoken word. De’Anthony Thomas spewed a free verse rap of beauty down the field for ninety-one yards, then again for sixty-four. With the ball tucked away and no strong-armed Badgers ripping at it enough to shake it loose, Thomas showed Duck Nation what they have to look forward to next year.

Cast LaMichael James as Shakespeare. As The Bard, James is re-writing the Oregon record book. His career includes drama, comedy, and tragedy, beginning when he took the ball and ran after LeGarrette Blount’s punching suspension a few years back. Blount clocking a Boise State Bronco combined with a Duck loss spelled out a step back in Eugene, except James whipped through a season that ended in the Rose Bowl with Ohio State.

This year, injured elbows put his future in doubt, but he sprang back. Think of a dislocated elbow on a football field; is there a pad made that could protect it? Yet there stood James one the sideline, wrapped and ready. With the media focused on Thomas, James finished the year as the top runner in Oregon Duck football history, and one of the best backs to ever play college football.

The question ‘To be, or not to be’ became one of ‘To run, or not to run,’ and LaMichael James made his case in the third act.

The symphony of players and coaches, along with the crescendo of Oregon playing big games for huge stakes, leaves the 2011 season as one for ages. That happens when you shake a 95 year old Rose Bowl monkey off your back. It ought to be enough to make self described non-sports fans admit their urge to cheer the best football team to ever paddle in this pond.

They are indeed magnificent.


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