What a weekend for sports fans in the Pacific Northwest.

I realize I’m a few days late to the party — it comes with having a mid-week column — but there are few weekends in my memory bank that match up to this one. Really, the weekend epitomized what has been a roller coaster of emotions over the last month.

It’s been a little more than three weeks since Oregon won its first Rose Bowl in nearly a century, but for most of us that’s starting to feel like a distant memory.

The first week after returning from Pasadena, Calif., LaMichael James announced what everybody saw coming as he declared for April’s NFL draft and began training at Athletes’ Performance training facility in L.A. to ready himself for the NFL scouting combine.

No surprises there.

Yet, the following weekend James’ backfield mate, junior quarterback Darron Thomas, caught people off-guard as he too opted to skip his senior season. The news came as shock to most, questions of Thomas’ character circulated and eventually fans accepted Thomas’ decision to go pro. After the initial displeasure, those with a decent knowledge of the situation understood his motives and were able to look at Oregon’s trio of young quarterbacks-in-waiting in an optimistic light.

Then Sunday happened.

It was a day — or rather a night — none of us who were paying any attention will soon forget. Even those who weren’t will surely remember the first time the Ducks nearly lost head coach Chip Kelly to the NFL.

The move is going to happen eventually. We all know that. But the way Sunday unfolded just didn’t feel right, did it? It seemed all too abrupt for a man that has every move planned to near perfection. Some felt disrespected, angry and eventually depressed at the loss of Oregon’s most innovative college football mind.

He’s here for now, and the collective sigh of relief has never felt sweeter.

Nobody wanted to lose the guy that, in just five years time, went from his offensive coordinator position at Division II New Hampshire to the top of the list for several NFL teams in search of their next head coach.

During that six-hour gap where Kelly was all but gone, you could feel the sense of collapse in the minds of fans. Losing James, Thomas and Kelly in a 17-day period felt, at least to me, like maybe Oregon was a three-hit wonder that could just as easily return to the middle of the pack.

The rise was quick, and the fall could have been just as swift.

Sure, Oregon football is bigger than any one individual. Kelly has preached that very sentiment time and again, and it’s hard not to agree with him.

At the same time, it’s difficult for fans to cope with the potential loss of three larger-than-life figures within the program they cherish so much. This is where loyalty comes into play. Being a part of big-time college football is a dream come true for many coaches and athletes, but it’s not The Dream.

I remember a conversation I had with former Oregon basketball player Malcolm Armstead around this time a year ago. He said that anyone who makes it to this elite level — major Division I athletics — aspires to make a living out of their respective sports. It’s why they’re here, and many of them are far away from wherever they call home. It’s pursuing a dream so many of us had as kids growing up. @@http://www2.registerguard.com/cms/index.php/duck-mens-basketball/comments/armstead-said-hes-leaving-uo/@@

It’s still never easy to see players and coaches go. Not in the slightest. These are individuals that fans have emotionally and financially invested in for months and in most cases years. Very rarely is there any personal relationship established between the groups, but the admiration is undeniable and loyalty is often expected in return. Though not always granted.

Players will come and go, coaches too. But the fans stick around much, much longer — in some cases a lifetime.

And if it wasn’t certain before, we know Kelly will be heading an organization with the world’s most elite football specimens sooner rather than later. So soak it up for now, Oregon fans, and remember the weekend we almost lost Chip Kelly.

I know I will.


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