Disclaimer: My entire lifetime of Oregon Duck fandom spans only nine football seasons, from the fall of 2005 until now. There will undoubtedly be comments from many of you who lived through The Suffering who recall many the frightening individual, and I encourage you to regale us with stories of thunderous hits long past. So with apologies to any old Webfoots out there, this list is new-school.
The meteoric rise of Oregon football to college football's elite came about, primarily, by way of an elite and efficient offense. And there will be plenty of time to talk about them. But today is about defense.
When it comes to making the highlight reel in football, great catches, long runs, and perfect passes get ample time. But the play that really grabs YouTube views and retweets is a bone-crushing hit. Players like Jadaveon Clowney and Ndomukong Suh have earned college notoriety in the past few years for their sheer dominance on the defensive end of the ball, and for scaring the hell out of opposing offenses. And while an Oregon defender has never earned the Heisman hype that only a select few have gotten, there have been numerous Ducks that pass the "scary as hell" test. Now, what is the "scary as hell" test, you might ask? Here's mine.
- For what do I remember this player*? For instance, Walter Thurmond III is not on my Terrifying List. It's not because he was a bad defender; he was quite the opposite. But I don't remember him as imposing of intimidating. I remember WTIII for two things: his backbreaking pick-six in the 2008 Civil War, and for being the owner of the title of "World's Greatest Modern Flattop" until he was usurped by Iman Shumpert.
- Does he have a defining play? Because the Pac-12 is a messed up sumbitch and has purged YouTube of much of the wealth of its Oregon highlights, it is tougher to find plays from the earlier years of the Internet age of sports. But fans remember the great moments, and the players that have them make the list.
- Intangibles count. Did the dude just LOOK scary as hell on the field? Did his name scream "I will mess you the hell up"? Because that stuff goes a long way.
- Do I still talk about them to my friends in hushed and revered tones years after they've graduated? The mythology factor can not be overstated.
Let's start with a gimme.
Haloti Ngata - It's really tough for a defensive tackle to build up enough steam to create a highlight play. Their impact is felt in other ways; have you ever watched a game where one team simply can not create anything in the inside run game, but you don't really know why? It's because the defensive tackles are winning. But how I will always remember Haloti Ngata is as a freshman in the Oregon Marching Band, and seeing Ngata walk past me in the east tunnel at Autzen. He's simply the biggest person I've ever seen. He gets bigger every time I think about it. At this point, I'd wager he's somewhere between the Incredible Hulk and the Iron Giant in terms of sheer mass.
These next two guys go hand in hand.
JD Nelson and TJ Ward - Both safeties, both using initialed monikers, and both tackled with such raw violence and power it almost made you cringe. Everyone remembers Ward's hit on Zac Robinson in the Holiday Bowl, but my favorite hit of his was the one he laid on Cal's Verran Tucker in 2008, one of two or three huge hits he had in that game. And Nelson has a number of signature hits of his own, including this one against Stanford in 2006. The hit I remember most was this one against Fresno State. He whacked a receiver so hard, dude didn't even know to fall over, and just stayed standing for a couple seconds before tipping.
The rest of the crew
AJ Tuitele - Tuitele makes this list for one reason. I made the mistake of yelling something at him before a game, and the look on his face when he turned to look at me will haunt my dreams for decades. I'm getting chills just thinking about it. In my mind Keyser Soze looks exactly like AJ Tuitele.
Blair Phillips - Would have made this list solely for his FG block against Oklahoma, but he solidifies his place with sheer physicality. I mean, look at the guy. Note for all football players: if you already have gigantic shoulders, be sure to accentuate them with one of those neck collar things. See also: Dewitt Stuckey.
John Boyett - Boyett lived on the edge as far as timing (and legality) of his hits, but when both were synced up, it was magic. A knock on him as a tackler was his habit of going low, leaving him open to be hurdled. But it also provided for many a "hit the guys legs in midair and flip him over" hit that just looks so damn pretty in slo-mo.
Casey Matthews - One of the smartest Ducks to roam the middle linebacker position, and incredibly heavy hitter, Matthews should be remembered for one of the greatest defensive plays in BCS championship game history. God damnit...
Who makes your list of terrifying Oregon defenders? Leave your picks in the comments!