The Phantom’s Road From Autzen

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September 5, 2012 by David Gillaspie


The curtains parted for the 2012 Ducks on their operatic home stage while phantoms of a not so distant past hid in Autzen’s mystique. The players on Saturday didn’t react to subplots with explosions and floods and singing. Instead, they lit the house up with football fireworks worth the eight month wait.

In what felt like a special gift to fans, the Ducks scored on their first possession.

It wasn’t a first play/first score like USC, but a showcase of what to expect in another BCS run…which is where the phantoms linger.

Phantom One: Gus Malzahn

Arkansas State Red Wolves’ coach knows the Ducks. He was Auburn’s offensive coordinator before they played for the BCS Championship two years ago. He watched video, then he watched dominate SEC football stomp their way to the biggest win of the year on questionable calls and a last ditch field goal.

Coach Malzahn came to Autzen fully informed. He had a game plan and a game face. Before kick-off, did he tell StAte quarterback Ryan Aplin the same thing he told Cam Newton? If it included words like, “This is why you make the big bucks,” probably not.

Phantom  Two: Cam Newton

Any fans needing some Newton-love could run through channels Saturday and find him on the Auburn sidelines. His former team played another Tiger team, Clemson. Cam looked big. He looked confident. He looked happy to be there, which is more than you can say about former Buckeye and Oregon nemesis, the Newton-ish Terrelle Pryor.

Oregon lost to THE Ohio State three Rose Bowls ago. Since his MVP performance in Pasadena, a lovely bouquet of flowers, and a year of woe, Pryor isn’t allowed within sniffing distance of Ohio State football or players.

But, not Cam. He was cleared of any payed-to-play infractions by Auburn, the SEC, and the NCAA. The fine print on the deal says he wasn’t guilty if his father gave the dollar figure needed to get Cam on a campus, but didn’t tell his son the plan.

That’s a tight knit family in a tight lipped conference.

If echoes from the national championship game, an offensive coordinator turned head coach and a suspected cheater proudly supporting the school he soiled, were enough phantoms for the opening day of college football. But the line kept growing for the Ducks.

Phantom Three: Michael Dyer

Arkansas State coach Malzahn brought a ghost from Auburn.

Michael Dyer ran wild against Oregon in the BCS final, logging 143 yards and the offensive MVP trophy. The player who broke Bo Jackson’s freshman rushing record looked ready for a bright future.

The same Michael Dyer finished his run at Auburn by following Malzahn to Arkansas StAte. One traffic stop, one gun, and one bag of weed later, Michael Dyer’s college career shifted from football at Arkansas StAte to Arkansas Baptist College and no football.

From “Audio and some video from the 58-minute stop was recorded and revealed that (Officer) Denney spoke at length with Dyer about how he should handle getting in trouble.

“What if I talk to Gus Malzahn, or however you say his name?” Denney asked. “I really don’t want to tell him about this because of the NCAA crap. I know there’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind closed doors between coaches and players. I’m still in a predicament, even if I talk to coach.”

Denney scolded Dyer for allegedly having a gun, saying: “You don’t need it. If you think it makes you look cool, you’re stupid.”

“It pisses me off that someone of your stature and your ability does this kind of stupid (expletive),” Denney said. The trooper asked Dyer if he wanted him to hold onto the gun, and Dyer said he did.””

Dyer had all the ingredients for a standout college football career, along with the gear that ends those careers. His presence could have helped the Red Wolves in Eugene, but like most phantoms (and Cliff Harris), he disappeared.

Any game with a 50-3 score in the second quarter asks more about scheduling than distant players, but the phantoms kept coming. The game announcers added another ghost for Autzen.

Phantom Four: MM

Matt Millen the game analyst is the same Matt Millen in charge of the Detroit Lions from 2001 through 2008.

This is the man who (from wiki), “had no prior player development or front office experience.”

This is the guy “that NFL executives admit in private “has made more bad draft decisions than anyone else in two centuries.””

Joey Harrington went to Matt Millen’s Detroit Lions during “his eight-year tenure as head of the franchise (which) led to the worst eight-year record in the history of the modern NFL.”

The phantom Matt Millen heard about it from Michigan. At Lions, Pistons, and Red Wing games fans chanted “Fire Millen.”

Former Blazer Rasheed Wallace chimed in for the Pistons. From his famous Portland interviews with, “ball don’t lie” to “both teams played hard,” Wallace knows poor leadership when it looks him in the face.

Detroit even staged a “Millen Man March” to get him fired.

For the showdown between Matt Millen and Joey Harrington at Detroit’s Ford Field, Millen ought to receive the same treatment at Autzen that he got when he showed up to call the Michigan vs Michigan State game in 2010.

Those fans complained to ABC/ESPN to get him out of the booth. For the rest of the season Oregon fans need to do the same. Send an email whenever Millen is on the broadcast schedule. If you can’t do it for Joey’s time in Detroit, do it for Reuben Droughns (2001), Maurice Morris (2009), or even Beaver Bill Swancutt (2005).

As long as we’re writing things down, note this: From his halftime chair, Coach Lou Holtz will call Black Mamba ‘the greatest player he’s seen in college football’ before the end of the season.

Why? To pay it forward.

Coach Holtz once had a player named Rocket. From “Joe Paterno once called (Rocket Ismail) the greatest college football player he’s ever seen.”

Also noted, “Ismail is the only player in NCAA history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns twice in his career.”

I predict another member will make that club.

With Snoop Dogg/Lion singing his song, De’Anthony Thomas may not need a boost from Holtz. He’s already an Oregon Rocket.

(posted on


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