Brown: Oregon football, track team could learn something from each other
Oregon track and field is basically the antithesis of Oregon football.
Sure, they share some of the same qualities. A love of speed. A thirst for championships. A rabid fanbase. For a while there, between 1919 and 1966, both programs competed at historic Hayward Field. They even share athletes, with cornberback Dior Mathis and running back De’Anthony Thomas competing for the Ducks on the oval.
In philosophy, however, the two programs couldn’t be more different.
At this weekend’s Pac-12 Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field, the men and women of Oregon broke out some pretty sweet throwback uniforms. They wore pale yellow “Oregon”-emblazoned tops over green shorts, the very same uniform that Oregon legend Steve Prefontaine so often wore.
It was an obvious nod to Pre and to all he brought the program. He helped propel Oregon to the top of the collegiate running world, and forever ingrained a love of the sport into the heart of Track Town USA.
Oregon football has made its attempts at throwback uniforms, most notably (at least in my mind) in that 2009 game against Cal. But with football, the throwbacks are always tweaked or altered so that they are totally modernized, and don’t seem to have a real connection to the history of the program.
Not so with these track unis. The instant you see them, you know who you’re supposed to think about: Pre. And the beginning of Oregon’s middle-distance domination.
Oregon track and field is intimately and irrevocably connected to the past. You can see it on the gates of Hayward Field, where the history of not only Oregon track and field but the sport itself is illustrated. You can hear it in the names of some of the most prominent meets: the Bill Dellinger Invitational for cross country, the Prefontaine Classic that’s been held at Hayward Field every year since 1975. @@http://www.goducks.com/SportSelect.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=500&SPID=238&[email protected]@
Oregon track fans, while passionate, never seem to fully be in the here and now. If it isn’t Pre and Alberto Salazar they are reminiscing about, it’s Andrew Wheating and Ashton Eaton, now just two seasons removed from their Oregon careers.
With Oregon track, you can’t talk about a current athlete without talking about a former one. With Oregon football, it’s always about who’s coming next.
When a player leaves the football team, there is no time to mourn the loss. Fans are too busy worried about the guy who’s going to take his place. LaMichael James? Yeah, it was a great three years, you were awesome, good luck in the NFL. We’re worried about De’Anthony. Darron Thomas? So long, hope you find a place to play. We’re too invested in the Bennett/Mariota debate to think about you.
Oregon football doesn’t bother with history. The closest they’ll get to reminiscing is that clip of The Pick they play at the end of every introduction video in Autzen.
When you’re evolving as quickly as the football team is, it’s nearly impossible to maintain meaningful ties to the past. And perhaps the team suffers because of it.
Part of it, of course, is that until recently the football team just wasn’t very great. They didn’t have the wealth of success historically that the track team does. Perhaps they don’t want to remember the years of mediocrity that preceded these recent good times. But they owe it to the fans and to the players who gave blood, sweat and tears to make the program what it is today to honor them.
And the track team needs to honor their past stars by propelling themselves into the future. They’re on the right track (if you’ll pardon the pun) with their plans to build a state-of-the-art indoor track facility next to Hayward Field, but the Ducks need to find a way to make themselves as innovative and exciting as the football team is.
The two programs are already national leaders. If they learned something from each other, maybe they could become world-class.
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