I unconditionally love everyone who has put on an Oregon Duck uniform.
Yes, even Jabari Brown.
Sure, my love has a number of different levels and intensities. But the fact of the matter is, everyone who has been a Duck has a little bit of my heart. And, I assume, they have a little bit of yours as well. But clearly, there are a few that stick out as personal favorites. They aren't our favorites because they're physical freaks (Haloti Ngata), instant legends (Galen Rupp), or stone-cold hotties (Heather Meyers). They're our favorites because they speak to us, not only as athletes but as people. I'll give my top 5, but I fully expect all you, gentle readers, to share your stories in the comments section.
Casey Matthews (Football, 2007-2010) - You already know his credentials; four-year contributor, All-American, field general and emotional leader of the best defense since Gang Green. But there is one reason why he's in my Top 5. One reason.
Bryce Taylor (Men's basketball, 2004-2008) - He wasn't the best player on the 2007 Elite Eight team (Aaron Brooks), but for one game, he was the best basketball player on the planet.
Entering the 2007 Pac-10 tournament championship game, Oregon was going up against USC, a team that had snapped their season-opening 13 game winning streak, and the only team the Ducks had played and failed to defeat, and they were playing them in Los Angeles. What happened next was vindication of the highest order: an 81-57 Ducks blowout that found the walk-ons entering the game with eight minutes to go and the Ducks up by 37. And it wasn't Naismith Award finalist Brooks that was the star, nor was it the tournament's MVP, Tajuan Porter. It was the junior guard from Encino, CA who put together one of the greatest individual games in Duck history. He took 14 shots: four twos, seven threes, and three free throws. He made every single one, for a total of 32 points. 21 of those came in the second half, as Oregon took a thirteen point halftime lead and ballooned it to 39 by the time Taylor left the game for good with 6:51 to go. With athleticism on both ends of the floor, it's no wonder he's found success playing overseas. But for that one game, there was nobody better.
Sonja Newcombe (Women's volleyball, 2006-2009) - She's one of the best Duck volleyball players of all time: #1 in points, #3 in digs, #4 in kills, #9 in hit percentage, #10 in blocks. She could be considered the Jonathan Stewart of Oregon volleyball: the constant, reliable performer that aided in the rise to prominence. Also, I may have been in love with her at a number of points during college. I'm not sure how much this has to do with it, but probably a lot.
Dennis Dixon (Football, 2004-2007) - The reason why DD is my favorite has nothing to do with his career on the field. Okay, that's an overstatement. The 2007 win over Michigan provided an iconic moment (The Statue), and numerous picture-perfect throws that proved he wasn't the inconsistent quarterback of year's past. His knee injury was the most gut-wrenching moment I've ever experienced in sports, and the Ducks' subsequent collapse over the next three games proved without a doubt that Dixon was the most valuable player in college football that year.
But DD truly makes the list for two reasons: First, at a 2009 basketball game, he sat courtside. During a second-half timeout, the cheerleaders ran around the court handing out T-shirts to the screaming fans. One cheerleader hands Dixon a shirt. He stands up, and looks to the rafters, and points at a guy in the top deck. He throws an absolute dart, and hits him right in the chest. Keep in mind, this wasn't a souvenir football: this was a cheap T-shirt, wrapped in rubber bands. It's the greatest athletic feat I've ever seen in person, and I saw the entire 2012 Rose Bowl.
Second, in 2008, he came back as an honorary captain for a game. Before every home game, the Green Garter Band tailgates around the parking lot playing tunes, and the final stop is in the Cas Center for the rich donors. After playing, I went to use the Cas Center bathroom. Mid-pee, I look to my right. Standing at the urinal next to me? Dennis Dixon.
To sum up: Heisman-caliber season? Secondary to throwing a T-shirt and urinating near me. This is the clearest picture of myself I have ever painted on this blog.
Ray Schafer (Men's basketball, 2004-2008) - Ray wasn't a star at Oregon because of what he did on the floor at Mac Court; the 7-footer's best year in a Duck uni was a 4 point, 3 rebound sophomore campaign in 2006. But make no mistake, Ray Schafer was a star at the University of Oregon.
His height made him an unmistakable presence on campus, and the fact that, much of the time, he rode a bicycle made for normal-sized humans made him that much more of a sight. When football or men's hoops players attend women's hoops or volleyball games, they usually mull around in their own section, hanging out and passively watching the action. You could find Ray Schafer in the middle of the Pit Crew, bouncing around and cheering with his fellow students. He was, and still is today, a tremendous humanitarian, playing a charity basketball tour with Athletes in Action, and volunteering his time in Japan, where he was playing pro basketball, in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
And on a personal note, he gave me the single most fun moment of my college life. I was able to get to know Ray just a little bit while a member of the band, especially on the 2007 run through the NCAA tournament. On Selection Sunday 2008, just after the Ducks were given a surprising at-large bid, I walked to the Safeway on 18th for some stuff. I turn into the frozen foods aisle and see Ray and his lovely wife doing some shopping. It had been at least a month or two since I'd seen him, and a good year since we had a conversation; I didn't expect him to remember who I was. He lets go of his cart, runs down the aisle, wraps me in the only seven-foot bearhug I've ever experienced, and says, "Matt, did you see? We got in! Are you gonna be there?" I barely knew him, and my being there made no difference in whether or not the Ducks would win. But he wanted me to be there. More than any other person I met in my time in Eugene, Ray Schafer most embodies the ideal of a student-athlete as an ambassador and a role model, and he's someone I'll never forget.
That's my five. Who makes your list?