Oregon Football hasn’t yet fallen far enough to need a comeback. But the signs are there this evening has come to an end.
By Andrew Pridgen
Oregon Football is holding a foam-lined pint glass in one hand and its iPhone 5c in the other hovering over the far corner of New Max’s bar. He’s framed by a trio of groomed blondes who resemble aging labs: attentive, demure and unsuspecting of their own mortality. Their hips look like they’re about to give out after a night spent on six-inch-heel stilts navigating various pitcher overage spills. Oregon Football says nothing but occasionally he teeters like a Bozo Bop bag. He lurches back to center and braces himself on the bar in the fake casual way of a seasoned drunk. One of his goons stands by, possibly waiting to catch Oregon Football’s fall as he whispers to a couple outlying bros about the New Max’s not being as good as old Max’s and how old Max’s was the inspiration for Mo’s Tavern. Oregon Football listens, or at least wants to give the appearance of listening, but says nothing. Oregon Football hasn’t said much of anything this evening.
Oregon Football forgets he emptied his pint glass already. He tips the lip to his and pretends to finish, gesturing for another. The bartender already has one full under tap and puts a quick layer of foam frosting on it before sliding it over. Oregon Football gestures demurely for the effort but offers no tangible payment in return as if his presence at the bar is enough. Indeed, Oregon Football’s presence in Eugene has been enough for the last decade and change.
The bartender brings the lights up to a dim—the reverse effect of when a movie is about to start. Whatever expectation came along with earlier in the evening leaves the bar in a mindful shuffle each time the doors open and patrons exit. In the background, bros rub their eyes and scramble to finish pitchers not yet realizing the girl they were working all night has just disappeared into the bathroom for good. Oregon Football’s guardians standby, the mood of the night emptying out trapped in their gaze.
The blondes look at one another with a glance that’s more a shrug and grab their clutches. They slide away from Oregon Football with nary a look back and giggle as they join the darkness. Oregon Football wasn’t in the mood to chase, or to be chased. Instead he takes a sip and considers this stillness for a moment.
Oregon Football a year ago seemed to be the only program in America. He could do no wrong, no harm. Everybody, even the old guard, wanted to be him. Everything: sequins on the uniform and a practice facility that looked like what the Playboy Mansion did in the day—was just right. All marketed and mainlined from unassuming and fauna-rich Eugene, the perfect backdrop for a fall sport luring recruits from the traffic of LA, the plains of Texas and the sex-with-teacher accusations of Florida. Leaves turning as rain is unleashed. Design and style trumping substance and staying power. He was Adam Driver.
The East Coast pundits had finally started to embrace him. Oregon Football, for its part, made them look right and continued with an efficiency that could be mistaken for exuberance and flash and new uniforms every week that could be mistaken for individuality. There was guile not guilt. In a time when sexiness matters above all, Oregon Football was busy holding gridiron tradition by the pinkie toe and dangling it over corporate sharks in front of the ever-stuffed bandwagon of the masses.
Oregon Football hasn’t fallen far enough to need a comeback.
But it’ll happen, soon.
Suddenly, they’re the standard bearer in the stuck-wondering-what-else-there-is-to-say-and-do-after-nine-months-of-marriage Pac 12 North. Utah is self-righteous and pitiless enough to dethrone the Ducks. Stanford still graduates its techbros to profit off the share economy jobs you dutifully take because there’s really no other way to offset the cost of becoming a singer-songwriter. Cal is nervously waiting in the wings, suddenly finding their name on the minus side of the spread. The Washington schools haven’t figured out a way to not cancel out one another but are slippier than their wet helmets and Oregon State will be there waiting, at the end, at home—to exact their revenge.
Oregon Football did what it could to re-energize its base before kickoff against Michigan State last weekend. It manufactured nostalgia biting off its alter ego Faber College and the Toga party we all wished we could have gone to during undergrad. Pandering, yes. But an effective move to stir up the faithful if not for the fact that most of its posterboy athletes are better aged for Flomax commercials now. Even Number 8, who packed his ukulele for Music City, seems a memory distant only one fall later. The affection Duck fans must feel for the most recent nostalgia must be disconcerting for the current staff and players.
But now, standing at New Max’s at closing time, Oregon Football is in its desperate hour. A head coach, who would be better suited for UPS shorts than a headset, doesn’t have the football pedigree nor motivational stockpile to convince the unconvinced. The defensive coordinator, looking lost with recruits of questionable size, speed and dedication. The offensive coordinator and future star, polishing up his LinkedIn profile. The post-graduate fellow under center, a payday loan version of a quarterback working out his gap year before the CFL.
Oregon Football for the first time in a long time is desperate at 2 a.m. He checks his phone again but at some point, he let the charge expire. The screen is black. His lovely song of speed and set pieces now a blurry memory of a time not so long ago in reality, but long ago in memory. Oregon Football remembers getting ready for the big night. For the right to hoist the first championship trophy. And then, it too was suddenly out of reach and out of reach for good. The couples at New Max’s who did find each other and chatted away the rounds are now leaving in twos. Oregon Football, still the star of a town on the dark far left corner of the map, now finds himself difficult to recall by a public whose adulation has moved on. Oregon Football finishes his beer and slips out into the night, unnoticed.