Eugene Weekly : Squawk : 9.9.10


Flying Feathers
A Duck walks into a punchline
by Rick Levin

It’s said that if you want to make any joke funnier, simply stick a duck in it. Ducks are just so damn hilarious. The pope, the president and a duck are trapped on a sinking ship. A duck walks into a bar. A duck walks into a fraternity. A duck walks into a domestic dispute. A duck walks into Bronco Stadium … but you already know the punch line to that one.

Some jokes are funny ha-ha; other jokes are funny like the sensation of déjà vu or biting down on dry sponge. What with the recent compound controversies piling up like shrapnel around the UO football program — including, but not limited to, LaGarrette Blount’s post-game coldcocking of a Boise player last season, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli getting tossed from the squad for a pot bust and LaMichael James’ one-game suspension for pleading out a harassment charge, to mention the biggies — it’s hard to imagine there’s been a lot of yukking it up among players or personnel. In fact, you heard nary a peep, much less a chortle or upchuck, all summer. Taking a cue from the art of political housecleaning, head coach Chip Kelly and crew closed ranks and got down to the business of football minus the fuck-ups.

Of course, whatever wagon-circling the athletic department enacts will be abetted forever by those that suckle the teat of the Nike swoosh — meaning, we can count on local media coverage of the Ducks to be about as boosterish and forgiving as Mom and Pop at Junior’s eighth grade school play. Don’t mistake this for a general amnesia, though; step foot outside Eugene’s pigskin love and the recent travails of the Ducks continue, intermittently, to make national news. Anyone crazy enough to rise early Saturday morning for ESPN’s game day coverage in Chapel Hill was treated to an interesting sight. Among the banners waved behind the sportscasters at the UNC vs. LSU game was this double-take dandy: “Masoli for Heistman.”

Needless to say, despite the woeful state of New Mexico’s football program, the Ducks carried something of a burden, or perhaps shoulder-chip, into the season opener Saturday, Sept. 4, at Autzen Stadium. With the permanent absence of one Heisman candidate and the temporary suspension of another, all focus landed on sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas and James’ backup, sophomore Kenjon Barner. By the end of the first quarter, thanks to confident and explosive performances by Thomas and Barner, and aided by a stifling, gang-tackling defense, the Ducks had the game well in hand, scoring three touchdowns in the final three minutes and running the score to 28-0. Barner ended with 147 yards rushing, and broke a Ducks record by crossing the end zone five times, while Thomas threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns. In the first half.

For better or worse, winning has a way of erasing a whole load of bad memories, and the Ducks 72-0 evisceration of the Lobos was an absurd collective narcotic that had the Autzen faithful so loaded on triumph that folks were filing out by the third quarter. It was difficult not to feel bad for the boys from New Mexico, who despite such a severe and all-encompassing ass-kicking, largely refrained from stupid fouls or after-scrimmage flare-ups. And to the Ducks’ credit, they were all business: There was no sense of unduly running up the score, nor were the touchdown celebrations excessive or obnoxious.

But, judging by the local and national coverage, the game’s biggest hero may have been the Duck himself, whose tradition of doing one push-up for every point scored found the mascot forced into a total of 506 arm burners. In an ESPN interview, the Duck, through the auspices of translator Dana Guthrie, said he was so sore that all he could do Sunday was crash on the couch and watch reruns of Jersey Shore.

Sounds like the set-up for a joke, doesn’t it?