We remember the end; the maligned decision to enter the NFL Draft, and the subsequent search for life after college football eventually leading him to the Arena Football League. All the wonder we may have had about Darron Thomas' senior season vanished once Marcus Mariota went 11-12 in his first quarter of play against Arkansas State. We saw the future, and seemed to forget the past almost instantly. When it came time for the ATQ readers to choose their top 20 of the last 20 years, they conjured names like Dixon, Harrington, Mariota, and Akili. Darron Thomas was not among them. Those Oregon quarterbacks I just mentioned are worthy of remembrance, that it for sure. But none of those passers have the credentials that Darron Thomas has. Consider this:
- Darron Thomas' career record as an Oregon starter is 23-3; only Harrington (25-3) and Mariota (also 23-3) can match him in terms of both volume and winning percentage.
- Thomas is the only quarterback in Oregon history to lead his team to an undefeated, untied regular season.
- Thomas is also the only modern-era Oregon QB with a Rose Bowl championship on his resume. And you can define the "modern era" as "since women got the right to vote" if you want to. It's still true.
- Thomas threw for 66 touchdown passes against 17 interceptions; only Mariota (63/10) has a better ratio with that volume of scoring.
- Darron Thomas lost a grand total of one conference game in his career. One.
Those stats, plus others, make Thomas easily one of the Top 3 Oregon signal-callers of all time. But what made him special was his fearlessness. If Marcus Mariota is tactical and effortless like Floyd Mayweather, and Joey Harrington is bold and legendary like Ali, then Darron Thomas is Rocky Balboa; the puncher that wouldn't give up, and couldn't be counted out. He could handle that extra split-second in the pocket, knowing he was going to take a hit, but knowing his receiver needed that time to get open. He didn't shy away from contact despite his gangly frame. And he was a QB who could rise to the challenge.
Thomas played six college games against opposing quarterbacks that are now starting in the NFL, all of whom have taken their teams to the playoffs. He went 5-1 in those games. Andrew Luck never beat Darron Thomas. Neither did Russell Wilson, nor Nick Foles. The only NFL starting QB to best Darron Thomas was Cam Newton, and Thomas stood toe-to-toe with the Heisman winner and battled him to a near-draw. Thomas actually threw more accurately and for more yards than Newton in that game, and ended up with a higher QBR, for what that's worth. If Thomas had gotten a rematch like Rocky did, he might have won it.
The disappointment that came from Darron Thomas' early departure to the pros was from a perspective of history. A third year as Oregon's starter would have cemented his legacy as the most prolific quarterback in Oregon history. If he had stayed, and put up 2012 stats anywhere in the ballpark of his current career average, it would have left him with this career line:
8700 yards passing, 61% completion percentage, 98 touchdowns, 25 interceptions, with another 1100 or so yards rushing.
Thomas' leaving deprived us of that. However, his departure to make way for the Mariota era means that our last memory of Darron Thomas, Oregon Duck quarterback, is of him hoisting the Rose Bowl trophy under a glorious Pasadena night sky. And that's not a bad way to be remembered forever.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Kenny Wheaton's cutback into history and the 1994 Rose Bowl team, Addicted to Quack is counting down the top 20 football Ducks of the last 20 years. Our list so far...