PASADENA, Calif. — Justin Herbert wasn’t done.
He was getting mobbed by numerous fans asking for pictures with the star quarterback. He couldn’t walk more than a few steps before fans on the field of the Rose Bowl were stopping him, and he didn’t deny a single one.
In the midst of a photo, director of football operations, Matt Noyer, tugged Herbert’s arm to signal that it was time to start heading back to the locker room. Herbert refused and pointed towards the east side of the stadium.
He wasn’t done saying goodbye.
The first two people he found were his mother and father. They shared a tight embrace over the hedge of grass that separates fans from the field. He continued 30 yards to his right to greet every fan with a high five and the occasional photo. Finally, Herbert jogged off the field for one last time in an Oregon jersey, leaving fans with more than just a memorable Rose Bowl performance, but a memorable four years as quarterback.
“It’s incredible to see how far he’s come as a leader, as a human being in these four years. There is nothing like it,” Noyer said. “Who wouldn’t want their kid to be No. 10? Hopefully that inspires the next person and they become an Oregon Duck”
Herbert capped off his four years doing something that came as a rarity before Wednesday night, and that was becoming a running quarterback. He finished the night going 14-20 for 138 yards and no touchdowns through the air, and his arm did little to help the Ducks win. Instead, it was his legs. His three touchdowns and 44 rushing yards helped the Ducks secure a narrow 28-27 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers in the 106th Rose Bowl.
“We’ve been telling him to run all year,” linebacker La’Mar Winston Jr. said. “He runs in practices and torches. I told him ‘man, pull that thang and get loose.’ [He was] stiff arming dudes, juking dudes, is he a running back or quarterback?”
According to the record books, Herbert’s rushing touchdown performance will go down as the second best in Rose Bowl history for a quarterback, behind Texas’ Vince Young, who scored four against Michigan in the 2005 game. The historic night also earned him Offensive MVP.
After being just the second Oregon quarterback to pass for more than 10,000 yards, being the only active player with 95 career touchdowns in the nation and playing in 44 games, Herbert did not think it would take his legs to win this game.
“Realistically, no,” Herbert said when asked if his legs, and not arm, would be the difference. “Whether it’s through the air or on the ground, doesn’t matter who is scoring them as long as we have more points at the end of the game.”
It has not been all green confetti and roses for Herbert.
In his first start at quarterback, he replaced a struggling Dakota Prukop in 2016 against a No. 5 Washington Huskies team that hung 70 points on Oregon. And that Ducks team finished the season 4-8.
The following year, he had to adjust to an entirely new head coach and coaching staff. Herbert suffered a broken collarbone in the middle of the season and returned to play in the final three games of the season. Again, Herbert lost another head coach as Willie Taggart headed for his dream job at Florida State.
After a 9-4 junior season under Mario Cristobal, Herbert finally had stability as he entered his final season as a Duck. And now he wrote his ending with a 12-2 season, which came with a win in the Rose Bowl, and even he was in awe of what his career has become.
“Amazed,” Herbert said. “To realize where we were and where we are now, it’s been a great journey. And for us to stick together through those tough times, just a testament to all the guys on the team and all the hard work we’ve put in.”
The Eugene native did not waver, despite what the past four years threw at him and the rest of the seniors. Now, after never having left Eugene for football, Herbert will now become an NFL quarterback for the team that decides to pick him up in the upcoming draft.
Even though Herbert has no choice, he doesn't want it to be done.
“I wish it wasn’t over. It’s been the best four years of my life,” Herbert said.