It's been a pathetically long time since I've written a blog post. But with good reason: I've been working longer hours the last few months than at any point in my life. The other night, I was up until about 2:30am working. Last night it was only until midnight. I say this not to solicit sympathy--I don't deserve it, since I have a job I like better than virtually anyone else's. But lately the workload has felt a little bit like that I Love Lucy skit where Lucy and Ethel are working in a chocolate factory on an assembly line and, when they can't keep up with the pace and begin to panic, frantically start stuffing chocolates into their mouths.
The biggest culprit has been the book I'm writing, Tales From the Oregon Ducks Sideline. (The title is the publisher's choice. I wanted to call it Kenny Wheaton's Gonna Score.) There will be about 52,00 to 55,000 words total, and so far I've written about 43,000. To give you an indication of what that means, consider that the average feature article I'd write for a magazine or newspaper would run usually between 700 and 1,500 words. So the book is like writing about 50 articles. And it's not even a very big book! It'll only be about 200 pages, including about 30 photos.
It's not that the process has been overwhelming, because it hasn't. I've been able to stay pretty organized by plotting everything according to an outline. Writing the entries themselves is pretty easy. You're mixing in statistics, game descriptions, analyses of how or why certain moments or seasons represented larger trends or trajectories. It's something that comes easily to me because as I've been a Duck fan since I was a young child and thinking in those terms ever since.
In fact, though, my Duck fandom almost presents a danger: I feel like I could write the whole thing using no quotes, just one long narrative I've woven in my mind over the last 30 years. But the recollections of players and coaches are what make the moments come alive. Since I'm such a rabid fan myself, I have to remind myself to make sure the writing successfully communicates that sense of drama and importance that I feel. And then there's the fact that we're talking about sports, which doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, and for a lot of people is a lighthearted, entertaining aspect of their lives. But my inclination is to write about it as if I were a historian at West Point delivering a dissertation Waterloo or Pickett's Charge. This is deadly serious stuff!
When Oregon's Mike Jorgenson threw a last second touchdown pass in 1984 to beat Oregon State 7-6, maybe the outside world saw two losing teams and rain-soaked astroturf. But as I shivered wet and cold in the upper bleachers of Parker Stadium that Saturday afternoon, I saw a glorious victory for the all-conquering Fighting Ducks that would make Patton marvel.
I also feel a little bit like Oskar Schindler at the end of Schindler's List, that sappy ending to an otherwise incredible film: "This watch?! I could have sold this watch!!" I've barely scratched the surface when it comes to interviewing players and getting insights into the games that took place. There are games that I watched as a kid that were magical, but won't make it into the book. Even if it were twice as long (which could easily happen if there weren't a limit on my word count), I'd still have to make those kinds of omisssions.
And I also worry about things like the graphics and fonts, which I don't really have a say in. I want it to look clean, elegant and timeless. The cover image you see on Amazon is a temporary one, by the way.
But other times I have to pinch myself at the good fortune. After all, I'm getting to talk to my heroes! Today I spoke for about a half hour with Akili Smith, the Oregon quarterback of 1997 and 1998 who was the 4th pick in the NFL draft. Akili's 1998 team with Ruben Droughns was as good a Duck team as there's ever been - until Droughns broke his leg against UCLA.
The first interview I did for the book was with Joey Harrington. It was also one of the only ones I've been able to do in person - most of the others have been over the phone. But Joey was exceptionally generous with his time. We had about a three-hour lunch last summer at a jazz bar over on Northeast Broadway. (He had this long feathered hair and a beard!) I remember him picking up the printout I had of my list of topics and crossing out where I'd mistakenly written "double overtime", referring to a crazy comeback win against the USC Trojans, and writing "triple".
I also got a particularly huge thrill from interviewing Kenny Wheaton, who as a freshman made the biggest and most celebrated play in Ducks football history: a 94-yard interception and touchdown to beat Washington and propel Oregon to its first Rose Bowl in 37 years. Wheaton never made it in the NFL, but he's still playing 12 years after the famous play, for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts. God bless, Kenny.
Another big hero from childhood I had a great time talking to was Bill Musgrave, the quarterback who in 1989 took Oregon to its first bowl game of any kind in 27 years: the Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana. On that night, this so called 'toilet bowl' of a lowly bowl game might has well have been the Super Bowl. It was a really close game, and I remember my dad drinking about a half-case of beer during those agonizing three hours. Afterward he kept saying with a slight slur, "They went in there..........and they did it." Musgrave was another Duck hero who never panned out in the pros. He was scrawny and not much of an athlete, but he was a winner. Even in his first game as a true freshman, Musgrave led the Ducks to a road win against heavily favored Colorado. I remember being at a game early one season where he threw a touchdown pass, but it was called back on a penalty. Next play: another touchdown, as if it were the easiest thing in the world.
I know it's just a book about a college football team. It'll have zero interest to people who aren't already Oregon Duck fans. And in years past when I daydreamed about writing a book, it was never one like this - it was always something more intellectually and artistically inclined. But I'm just enough of a nutcase when it comes to the Ducks that I take being even their unofficial historian very seriously.
It'll be so wonderful to have the burden of writing it eased a few weeks from now, but even with all the work and the peanuts that will serve as compensation, I remain giddy at the idea of putting this out there. There has only been one other history of the Ducks football team written, and that came just after the 1994 season. Considering the team's most consistently successful period came after that, I'm in the rare position of writing a history that's never been written before. And it feels good knowing the Beavers, Huskies and (more recently) Sooners will in this narrative fall and kneel before the awesome juggernaut that is the Duckies.