Ten ways I’ll survive Ducks’ loss

posted in: Blog, Life in general, Sports | 48


I AWAKEN TUESDAY MORNING lost in a Pacific Crest Trail dream, trying to find some high-mountain trail near Mt. Hood, when, as undoubtedly happened with a lot of Duck fans about the same time, it hits me: we lost the national championship game the previous night. Worse, we got thumped, 42-20 by our nemesis Ohio State, whom we’re now 0-9 against. Ouch.

The season of a lifetime suddenly is shattered, college football’s answer to James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” lyrics: “sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”

How do I possibly get through this?

1. I remind myself that nobody died and none of my family members is lying in an emergency room. I put into perspective not what this is but what it isn’t. 

What helps me remember that? The realization that for another family I know, someone did die. The e-mail arrived Sunday night amid flurries of pre-game giddiness with news that Jean Glausi, 77, a gracious Eugene woman who opened the world of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to Sally and I, had lost a long struggle to illness. And I think to myself: there’s a family being reminded that life is wider than a football field.

As I finish writing a book about a millionaire who gave away all his money to the poor and then died of cancer—ironically, a man from Dallas, home of the Ducks’ despair—I remember something he said months before he died: “Nobody in a cancer ward grumbles about their football team.” (OK, maybe a few.)

2. I think of something funny. Not “funny-at-the-time” funny but “funny-now” funny. 

As a kid, our family was camped on an island on the Columbia River with some friends, when my teenage sister went water skiing before breakfast.

As she let go of the rope to finish, she came straight into the sandy beach, hit the sand with her two skis and popped out of the bindings like a champagne cork, landing flat on her face. My mother, making hash browns and eggs, sprinted to her side, certain she had broken her neck.

It turned out to be only a broken arm.

“Oh, well, then,” said my mom, “let’s go back and have some breakfast.”

It was a flippant comment, to be sure, but you get the idea. This isn’t a broken neck, Duck fans. More like a broken arm.

3. I remind myself that I’ve been through plenty of sports defeats in life and I still have a measurable pulse.

The time my younger son’s Sheldon High baseball team was one pitch away from making the state finals and lost. The time a Kidsports team I coached was primed to win the city championship only to have the final game rained out, me standing in the banquet room at Papa’s Pizza on Coburg Road trying to put a happy face on a kiss-your-sister tie. The time we all knew that Auburn guy was down but the ref said no and Oregon lost a chance for a national title.

I’ve survived three generations of defeats — 60 years’ worth — and I am still ticking: playing on a middle school football team so bad that when we tied a game 0-0 we went to Shakey’s Pizza to celebrate. Watching my sons in Kidsports anguish. Then, last night, saying goodbye to a grandson stretched out out on his bed in despair. The latter triggered one of my earliest memories:  crying incessantly in the bathtub as a 4-year-old over an Oregon State loss, back when I was a Beaver fan.

And guess what? I’m still alive. The sun still comes up. Life is good.

4. I remind myself that there but by the grace of an out-of-position referee Oregon gets called for pass interference against Washington State as the Cougars are coming in for a possible winning touchdown, and we never make it to Dallas.

Or if Marcus Mariota doesn’t make that backhand flick to Royce Freeman on third-and-forever against Michigan State for a first down we never make it to Dallas.

Or if the Utah player waits a second longer before dropping the ball at the goal line we’re down 14-zip on the road and, perhaps, we never make it to Dallas.

Or if the powers-that-be hadn’t instituted the new playoff system this year, the Ducks wouldn’t have been playing at all last night. Florida State and Alabama almost certainly would have been, based on the old BCS setup.

It’s easy to play the “what-if” game when we feel we’re the victims. But it’s just as easy to overlook the times the “what-if” game gave us opportunities we might not have had: to be on the nation’s largest stage as one of the last two teams out of 128 still standing.

5. I remember the photograph. 

Turkey Bowl, mid-1980s. Bellevue, Washington. Ryan and I vs. Sally and Jason. True Civil War. A family divided. Back then, KIRO TV in Seattle would run Turkey Bowl scores in its sports news segment and ours made it: Ryan and Dad 35, Mom and Jason 28.

A photograph that I took shows Sally reaching out to console a 5-year-old Jason who had melted into post-game tears while Big Brother stands proudly, arms crossed in smugness.

A quarter-century later, Jason is a happily married and the father of three cool little boys. He got over it. Ryan is less smug. The four of us still love each other and have expanded to eleven. Life goes on.

6. I remember how bad it once was.

Nobody likes to get as close as the Ducks did and lose, myself included. But I compare last night’s loss to Ohio State in a championship game with a 5-zip non-conference loss to San Jose State at home in 1975 and, in the words of a singing Julie “Sound of Music” Andrews, “then I don’t feel so bad.”

I was sports editor of the Oregon Daily Emerald when the Ducks had a 14-game losing streak. When the university president wasn’t touting his team’s lopsided Rose Bowl victory but saying (after the San Jose State loss), “I’d rather be whipped in a public square than watch a football game like that.”

This season, I watched 13-2 Oregon win three more footballs than the Ducks won in my entire four years as a UO student from 1972 to 1975 (10). I didn’t know what the phrase “bowl game” meant.

It puts it all in perspective for me.

7. I remind myself that, though I love them, life is bigger than Eugene, Oregon, and the University of Oregon and football.

ESPN’s story on Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones Monday afternoon moved me to tears. It was about a kid raised in a vacuum of love tattered with drive-by gunfire. A kid saved by the love of a social worker and a school principal who didn’t treat him like dirt, but called him a diamond. Believed in him.

Good for Cardale Jones. A third-stringer who, in his only three starts, won a Big Ten title, a Sugar Bowl title and a national title. Great story.

And if the roles had been reversed, if we had won, I would hope Ohio State would appreciate the Ducks’ amazing story, too, which leads to ….

8. I remember the amazing story Oregon created in 2014-15 — and feel privileged to have been part of it.

A little-known quarterback from Hawaii who comes to Oregon and wins the Heisman Trophy. A team that overcomes injury after injury after injury to get to the first-ever Football Playoff Championship. A team that many had given up for dead after the loss to  Arizona but didn’t give up on itself.

It’s a cliche but it’s true: the journey is the destination. If you live only for results and not for the richness of processes, you will be elated on occasion and miserable often.

“Just remember,” I told my grandson last night after the game, “it hurts and it should. But nobody can take away all the good stuff we got to experience. Nobody can take away you and your dad going to that Rose Bowl game.”

9. I dismiss the haters. Actually, I feel sorry for the haters.

The best advice a journalism professor ever gave me came from the UO’s Dean Rea, when I’d slunk to him after a reader had ripped me particularly viciously about a column I’d written.

“Consider the source,” he said. “If you’ve been criticized by someone you respect and has your best interest in mind, listen to them. If you’ve been criticized by someone who’s just out to make you feel bad or lord their superiority over you, ignore them. Let it be water off a duck’s back.”

Now that Oregon’s dream season is over, plenty of fans from teams whose schools lost to the Ducks will come out of the woodwork to gloat about the Ducks’ defeat — even though they’d trade their season for yours in a heartbeat.

Water off a Duck’s back.

10. I go hike Mt. Pisgah.

In other words, I get on with my life. The suggestion isn’t that I can slough off a loss like last night’s as if it didn’t mean anything. No, no, no.

Losing hurts. Whenever you invest in a relationship — in this case, with a team — you do so realizing you’re going to get to enjoy the good times but must endure the pain of the bad. The two are inseparable.

I love the Ducks. I hurt. If I didn’t, if you didn’t, then the relationship wouldn’t mean anything to us. That’s why death hurts so much: it’s a badge of honor reminding us we had something special with the person who is gone.

But whether it’s a football game or the bigger stuff of life beyond, we live daily by choosing to either be thankful for what we have — and have had — or bitter about what we don’t.

I choose to be thankful. For 13 wins, none sweeter than the 59-20 Rose Bowl win over Florida State. For the lesson in why you should never give up, as some thought the Ducks would do after the Arizona loss. For all the wonderful evenings when our three generations of family walked home from Autzen talking about this great play or that. And for a kid named Marcus Mariota, who proved that nice guys don’t necessarily finish last.

Every life experience can enrich us or enrage us. We choose.

So this morning I take Marcus’ smile and that tearful Heisman acceptance speech and Tony Washington sprinting into the Rose Bowl end zone and Mark Helfrich being a class act, win or lose, and “Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota” and bandwagon fans painting their fingernails green and yellow and “Watch the game here!” marquees and businesses closing early — and stuff it all in my backpack.

Then I go hike Mt. Pisgah, wondering what will happen next.

 

48 Responses

  1. Lorna Hudson

    I always appreciate your columns.Well saod. We have so much to be grateful for. Feel bleesed to be an Oregonian & a Duck fan.Life is good despite the game loss.

  2. Dan Nims

    A most perfect response to the championship game. You, Bob Welch, are a community treasure!

  3. Dave Wamsley

    Thanks, Bob, for keeping things in perspective. I was born and raised in Eugene and have always been a Duck fan. I also live in Ohio for several years, but never gave up on the Ducks. I’m a retired journalist and have returned to Oregon where I will live out my days being a Duck fan, win or lose.

  4. Don Hunt

    Great column Bob, as usual. Several if your points hit home for me. As a young sports reporter, an angry and clueless reader ripped me in a personal letter. It hit me hard. My sports editor said, “hey, at least one person read your story.”
    Also liked your point about appreciating what you have and not mourning what you don’t have or have lost. Each day, we choose our own attitude.
    Keep up the good work.

  5. Stein Nielsen

    Thank you for the perspective and reminding me why I love college football. It’s always a great day to be a Duck!

  6. Eric Gilmore

    Thanks. I needed that. I was at Oregon from fall of 1972 to spring of ’77 and remember those painful football seasons.

  7. Elissa Kobrin

    Thank you, Bob for making a rough day much better and putting it all in perspective just the way I needed it to be today. It was a wonderful season for which I (as a fan and alumnus) am so very grateful! We made it to the National Championship!!! I’m going to celebrate that – then go hike Mt. Baker. Appreciation to you, my beloved team, my beloved school, and Duck fans everywhere.

    With Gratitude,

    Elissa

  8. Kevin Lamb

    Amen, Mr. Welch, amen. We can mourn the loss of a single game, but we don’t have to mourn the loss of hope. Duck football has a bright future. And who knows, maybe yesterday’s game will leave Marcus Mariota feeling like he has some unfinished business at the U of O. One more year! One more year! Guess we’ll know in the next 48 hours.

  9. Christine

    There s not a piece or a book that you’ve written that misses the mark. May God continue to bless you.

  10. Edie Jones

    Hi Bob,
    Thanks. Such a good reminder of what the year’s been like. Being a Cougar first and then a Duck, I’m even glad the Cougars didn’t win that game which would have kept us out of last night’s game. Thank you especially for the story about Cardale Jones and the importance of love and belief in kids. Tis the reason I wrote my book. Hope to see you at Yachats.
    Edie

  11. Marianne Campbell

    I love this column! It’s right on the mark as usual. Great Quarterback (I love Marcus) and Great Team. No loss can take that away. Ohio State played top notch football and good for them! We’ll be back!

  12. Susan

    Nice. Very nice….and refreshing on many levels….especially since I am in Ohio surrounded by Buckeye fans.

  13. Patty Roland

    Thank you !! This is beautiful !!! It is not the end of the world, ~
    God Bless,
    Patty

  14. Kris Sather

    Great recap and perspective. Have a huge grin on my face remembering Dean Rea, he was a great teacher! Thanks!

  15. Lynn

    Good thoughts. But that said, right now there is a loss to be dealt with — not just of a game, but of dreams and hopes. And that’s real. I suspect that most of those guys, especially Mariota, will put things in perspective; but for the moment, let them mourn. Let us fans mourn. Then we will go on.

    I wore my colors again today — solid support for a great bunch of guys who played their hearts out. For our state, which through this amazing season, gained notice and respect throughout the country.

    Go Ducks!!

  16. LeAnn & Bill Walker

    This is very good. I feel a lot better after reading it. As the old saying goes “it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.”

  17. Sherrey Meyer

    Well said, Bob! You have put it all into perspective. And it was a good football year. How much more could we have asked the Ducks to accomplish? Well, sure, they could have won last night. But they didn’t, and as you have said above, life goes on. However, I’ll not be joining you on Mt. Pisgah. I’ve got a memoir to write/finish.

  18. Richard

    They are winners by getting there, all those games won, and I’d like to put my 2 cents in about the uniform; Green and Yellow, school colors, If you had to wear that uniform, wouldn’t you feel apart from the school and a little pretentious?

  19. Chuck Shaw

    Just a reminder for those who are less than happy about our Ducks. A fan is fan, win or loose. This team was a winner the whole season and beyond. We are love our Ducks, come rain or shine, win or loose. Congats on a history making season.

  20. Cory Gant

    Yep, the sun came up and was bright and beautiful on Pisgah this morning. It helped a little to be up above the fog and see the blue sky and enjoy the warmth of the sun. #GoDucks!

  21. mary minniti

    Thanks for the longer term perspective, Bob. I attended Oregon in the early 70’s as well. This season was a gift. One I will remember for a long time especially Marcus’s poise, heartfelt gratitude for his teammates and family and the wild ride.

  22. Cindee Robertson

    Thank you, Bob, for a great reminder of why we are Oregonians and Duck fans. Yes, life does go on. Your brilliant writing lifted me out of the funk!

  23. Jonathan Hoffman

    Especially No. 6. Having endured all those 2-9 seasons, the Toilet Bowl, countless meltdowns of games we coulda woulda shoulda, countless other games in which we were humiliated, years and years of bring crushed by the Huskies, Trojans, Bruins, Beavers and everyone else, losing to SAN JOSE STATE at home, 5-0, I never imagined anything like playing for the National Championship. Twice. And feeling that we’ll be back. And will win it all in the not-too-distant future.

  24. Crystal

    Thanks for sharing, Mr. Welch. We’re a military family who’ve been stationed in Europe for 14 months, and they’ve been some of the longest and hardest of my nearly three decades. The Ducks have been the lone bright spot in my life since last summer. Through the whole game Tuesday morning (because it was 1:30 – 5:30 in the morning for me), I kept praying, God, I know it’s not important in the grand scheme of things, but please, just let this one thing go right in my life.

    Of course, the game didn’t go right. By the fourth quarter, I was instead thanking God that his Word is still true, that He is sovereign, that He is someday coming to make all things right (maybe we’ll get a perfect season then, haha). I would much rather have celebrated a win and attributed it to Christ. But the truth is, all good can still be attributed to Him, and that’s what I’m choosing to do with this team and this season.

  25. JOHN

    It’s always the same for any great loss. People die, pets die money lost. You go outside after and everyone walks by as if nothing happened. I guess we can be grateful that the people aound Oregon don’t spend every waking minute thinking about college football like the midwest and the south. A guy at Whole Foods saw my sweatshirt with the Ducks logo and asked me how the game went. It was Tuesday at noon. Are you kidding me I thought. I’ve spent the last season reading every little thing about Ducks I could find. This guy didn’t even know the score. There was another guy in a motor home made to look like an Ohio State helmut parked outside the Duck store in Portland. He went on camera and was extremely belligerant. Even I thought it’s just a game man. Jesus. The coverage on ESPN was way over the top too more even than the Super Bowls. So I’m wondering what I’m going to do with my extra time now that my grip has been loosened on the Ducks. Maybe I should root for the Beavers where I know I’ll be disapointed every week instead of 2 games a year. Nahh!

  26. Rachel I. Pearson

    The sun came up Tuesday morning… and Marcus Mariota and Mark Helfrich are still men of mighty character. OH… and we get to live here, in OREGON.

  27. Bill Deese

    Good stuff, Bob! I’d add my own #11 – I take the foot that is on the Duck football bandwagon and place it on the Seahawks bandwagon. Of course, the other foot is on the Trailblazer bandwagon. We have some good options this year here in the Northwest, enough so that its a bit of a relief that the football season is over (win OR lose). I only have two feet!

  28. Tiana

    Hi Bob – It’s interesting I didn’t even realize they were in the championships, but I have to say in general I’m disappointed, not because they lost in ten years no one will remember, I’m disappointed because every time I turn around I see a story on a football player with a DUII, the wide receiver who couldn’t play because he tested positive for drugs. In general I think college sports is out of control, only .0000005% will ever go pro and even if they go pro, do you know how many organizations there are that support pro-athletes after they get out of the pros. What I want the Ducks to know, is that I’m not disappointed about the loss. As an alumni for me what is most important is that these athletes become winners in life. I recognize that there are a lot of stand up athletes on the team, but if the rumors about pot use are true then are we really surprised they lost? For me what’s important is that when all is said and done they become successful citizens who contribute to their communities. After all it is just a game. I hope you are doing well.

  29. Randy Bryson

    Thanks for the great words, Bob, As a Ducks fan through those years you speak of where “Bowl Game” was an unknown entity, you matched my perspective. If everyone had a membership card from the Knothole Gang at Hayward field (like I do), then they might share our peace with the result.

  30. Summer

    Love this article – sums up how I am feeling and puts in into perspective.

  31. tom Camden

    You are right, it is just a football game. Those young men treated us to a skill level that few of us will achieve in a life time. And, the conduct during the season gave me another reason to be a proud duck.

  32. Roger Ness

    In the 72 years I have watched Duck games this is the best. I never get over the excitement of The Star Spangled Banner and watching the football game. I hope next year is just as exciting. Go Ducks.
    Roger Ness

    • Bob Welch

      Roger: Excuse my late reply. I’m just learning how to use my own web site. Pathetic. Anyway, I agree. Onward.

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