While celebrating the huge victory tonight I've been thinking about what this team has overcome to reach this point. Not just a good season, or making up for some low points, but a Pac-10 Championship.
Everyone will talk about recovering from Boise State and that's big for sure, not just to the players but to Chip Kelly and his staff. But we've beaten that horse enough. We had an ugly start and a beautiful finish, the 2009 Oregon Ducks are like a really good (or really predictable) movie script.
Next is LeGarrette Blount and his journey. From the punch to start the season to a crucial touchdown in the biggest game to close it. Personally I'm happy for him and proud of this team and university to helping him to get here. They didn't give him the easy way out and they didn't give themselves an easy way out. But the result is a great story.
Those are the big ones I'm sure we'll be reading about for days, but looking back over this season this team has overcome so much, both on and off the field. Here are the ones that stand out to me:
The Defense. They overcame the loss of perhaps their best player in Walter Thurmond III and another great player, Willie Glasper. They lost TJ Ward for much of the season, and despite these losses along with so many players leaving last year they still put together a remarkable season. Imagine what you would have said if somebody came to you in August and said those guys would all go down and by the end of the season we'd have a true freshman (who showed up late!) starting at CB. I sure wouldn't have predicted a Championship.
Chip Kelly and his staff. He came in with no head coaching experience, suffered through Boise State, and never blinked. He stepped in to fill some very large shoes and did it with his own style and system. We didn't lower our expectations for him and say "Well, this is a transition season while the new guys all get adjusted." In a sport where one awkward fall or bounce of a very oddly-shaped ball can change the course of a game or a season, Chip Kelly has withstood more craziness and frustration than any new coach could be expected to. We couldn't have asked for a better first season from Coach Kelly and I'm no expert but I think we should keep this guy around for a while.
Jeremiah Masoli. Can you really believe that last year he was booed at Autzen? That there were serious debates about his status as a starter? Or that he started out so far down the depth chart? He plays wild and loose and when he "chicken wings" that ball I want to yell at him through my TV but man, what a special player. He hasn't had the Tim Tebow "Golden Boy" treatment but when the game is on the line he gets the job done as well as any player out there.
Nate Costa. Costa is my favorite story of this season and I think he is as important as any other Duck in the Championship we are celebrating tonight. Twice he's been the next in line to lead this team, the QB of the future, only to suffer serious injuries. I can only imagine how difficult it is to not only recover physically but to go from "next in line" to watching somebody else take your job. Some players would look for a new gig elsewhere or tell themselves that they cannot contribute to this team. But Costa has made huge plays with the kicking team, both throwing and running. He saved the Arizona game with his clutch recovery and hold on the final PAT in regulation. And when Masoli went down he stepped in, took us down to UCLA, and did his job to bring home a W. Masoli, James and all the rest are remarkable players but this team needed Nate Costa to win the Championship this year.