This past Saturday, less than 48 hours ago as I write this, my beloved Oregon Ducks earned what is easily one of the greatest victories in their 113-year history. Playing on the road against Michigan, college football's all-time winningest program, the Ducks absolutely torched the Wolverines: 39-7. They did it before the largest gathering of people in America that day: more than 109,000 at legendary Michigan Stadium, the "Big House". And the game was actually even more lopsided than the score indicates. Oregon could easily have scored 60.
As most sports fans know, Michigan was having a tough time this year even before the Ducks came calling. A week before the Wolverines, then #5 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll, had become the first ranked team to lose to a lower-division squad in falling 32-31 to two-time Division 1AA national champion Appalachian State. So it's not as if the Ducks were facing one of the best teams in the history of the "Maize and Blue". But Michigan's offense is laden with seniors, and are still probable to rebound. This is largely the same Wolverine squad that was ranked #2 last year going into their season-ending battle with #1 Ohio State.
Besides, I'm not letting even a sub-par Michigan squad detract from how astonishing this win was. Year after year, Michigan's recruiting classes are ranked in the top five. They're the gold standard of college football, with 11 national championships and a legacy second only to Notre Dame (and perhaps USC). Nearly every game is on national television, and their every move gets more media attention than if Oregon were to play naked. (Wait, don't give Nike any ideas - I can already envision see burly nude offensive lineman with a swoosh tattoo.) Beating Michigan on their home turf, no matter what the circumstances, is incredible. And Oregon didn't just win. This game wasn't even close. It was over before halftime. I wouldn't have thought to even wish for an outcome like that.
Yesterday I happened to run across our next door neighbor outside, and she said, "I heard you screaming yesterday. Was that the Oregon game." Yes it was, I told her. Yes it was.
I waited to really yell until the game was over. I'd kept it internal up until then, so much so that I had to keep turning the TV on and off as the nervousness became unbearable. You'd think having a huge lead would make it easier, but that just sets one up for worrying about some colossal comeback by the other team. After all, in 1993 Oregon was victim to the biggest comeback in college football history, losing 42-41 to Cal after enjoying a 41-0 halftime lead.
When the clock finally hit zero, I screamed a long loud version of "Yeah!" that reminded me of that old Tears For Fears Song: "Shout. Shout. Let it all out!" It was really a primal scream, and it felt great.
It's really ironic for me to talk about yelling in a positive way, because I'm the most noise-sensitive person I know. I'm always crabby at the neighbors for the endless stream of noise coming from their assorted lawn equipment, home improvement tools and young children. But with my scream we're only talking about four seconds. I'm sure they were OK with it.
Besides, it's so rare in life that one feels such a moment of pure joy. I know, of course, that a football game is totally meaningless compared to real-life issues. But when you've supported a team your whole life, and now even written a book about them, and you experience a win of this magnitude that happens maybe a handful of times in a generation, then it's really something to savor.
For all I know, Oregon's season could be all down from here. That was certainly the case last year when another historic Ducks win, this time over Oklahoma in dramatic comeback fashion, was followed by a second-half collapse that saw them finish 7-5 and suffer a miserable Las Vegas Bowl loss. Controversy also tainted the thrill of beating the Sooners, because most people around the nation incorrectly believe Oregon benefited from a wrong onsides kick ruling.
There was no questioning who was the best team on the field at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. Dennis Dixon looked like a second coming of Vince Young or Michael Vick (the football player, not the dog killer), practically toying with the Wolverines as he ran in an out of defenders on some plays and completed perfect long bombs to Oregon's speedy receivers on others. Then there was Jonathan Stewart pounding the ball up the middle, and Jeremiah Johnson going around them. Johnson also made perhaps the best stiff-arm move I've ever seen, pushing a would-be Michigan tackler to the ground with one swipe.
That stiff-arm of Johnson's made the "Top Plays" countdown on ESPN's SportsCenter at #9. But even better was the #1 highlight on that same telecast: a pair of "Statue of Liberty" plays, one a fake and one the real thing, but both for touchdowns. Boise State made the old schoolyard play famous again in last year's Fiesta Bowl by beating Oklahoma in overtime with it. We doubled the pleasure on what is arguably college football's most hallowed ground.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch my video tape of the game some more. Hell, even Oregon's usually terrible uniforms looked great on this amazing day.