The Way We Were (A Duck Fan's History of Suffering) - Part 2: The Paycheck Games

Ed. Note: If you haven't read it already, make sure to check out Part 1.

Paycheck games. Non-conference matchups at the home field of the top tier of college football, wherein a Team That Needs The Money is offered as a sacrifice to The Team That Is Willing To Pay for a Guaranteed Win. TTNTM comes to town, gets its collective ass kicked by TTTIWTP4AGW, gets paid and leaves; there's never a return trip next season, or ever.  

Paycheck games have been around a long time. The most famous paycheck game was probably Georgia Tech vs. Cumberland, back in 1916. Tech won 222-0. And Cumberland earned the right to not pay Tech three grand. (The twist here was that Cumberland had actually dropped football in 1915, but Tech had a contract for a game. Cumberland would have owed Tech $3000 if they forfeited -- a lot of cabbage in 1916 -- so they cobbled together a team and showed up in Atlanta, with historic results.There will never be another game so lopsided.

In the current FCS football environment, paycheck games are typically scheduled with bottom-tier teams in non-BCS conferences, along with the occasional FBS team (although Michigan discovered in 2007 that you can't pick just any subdivision team and they did learn their lesson, eventually).

But, before things like scholarship limits and TV revenue began to level the playing field a bit, it wasn't unusual for a major conference university with a weak team to pimp itself out to football's powerhouses. And Oregon was, for years, unashamed to play Football Prostitute. Over 17 seasons from 1971 to 1987, the Ducks played, or at least showed up, for 13 paycheck games. Nebraska three times. Oklahoma twice. Ohio State twice. Georgia and LSU, in the same season.

The average score?  Home 46, Oregon 8

The Ducks began their venture into gridiron whoredom in '71, with one-way road trip losses to eventual national champion Nebraska  and previous national champion Texas. With Fouts and Moore, the talent was there to at least give a reasonable effort.. but when the talent went away, and the budget didn't keep up with reality, the paycheck games became simultaneously more frequent and brutal.

The Paycheck Games

1971 @ Nebraska (7-34)  (National Champions)
    @ Texas  (7-35)  (ended season #12)
1972 @ Oklahoma (3-68)  (ended season #2; RB Greg Pruitt won Heisman)
1973 @ Michigan (0-24)  (ended season #6)
1974 @ Nebraska (7-61)   (ended season #7)
1975 @ Oklahoma (7-62)  (National Champions)
1976 @ Notre Dame (0-41) (ended season #12)
1977 @ Georgia  (16-27)   (RIch Brooks' first game as HC; Georgia ended season 5-6)
@ LSU (17-56)  (ended season #15)
1983 @ Ohio State (6-31)  (ended season #15)
1985 @ Nebraska (0-63)  (ended season #4)
1986 @ Nebraska (14-48)  (ended season #10)
1987 @ Ohio State (14-24)  (Believed to be last unreturned road game; OSU was ranked #7 at game time)

Rich Brooks slowed down the whoring, or at least tried to, until the post-probation pratfall depleted the college coffers, and forced a round of sloppy seconds at Columbus and Lincoln; the administration thought the paycheck compensated for the team's humiliation.  Football schedules being what they were back then, it took 10 years to bring the practice to a halt. 

Duck fans have former AD Bill Byrne to thank for finally ending the paycheck games. During his second year as athletic director at Oregon, in 1985, Byrne watched the Ducks assume the position in Lincoln.

"Our team had no chance to win," said Byrne, reflecting on the situation in 1992, when he left Oregon to take the AD job at -- Nebraska. "We lost 63-0. I decided right there as athletic director I had to schedule games we had a chance to win."  

Byrne also set up the tradition of home-and-home games against Big 10 schools, a series that began in 1993 (Illinois) and ended in 2009 (Purdue).

By insisting on home-and-home games against major conference opponents, he laid the groundwork for expectations of better results. That would, with time, turn Oregon into a team that hosts the paycheck games.

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