This is the fourth of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
As our EA Sports week rolls on, it's time to talk about our favorite Ducks. What I like about this topic is that, unlike the favorite team discussion, this leads to a large variety, including some players that we may have forgotten long ago. Below you'll find our favorite Ducks, and make sure to tell us your favorites in the comments.
I can't say definitively that Keenan Howry was my favorite Duck of all-time (I'd have to get into some serious soul-searching to answer that question for sure), but he is without a doubt my favorite Oregon wide receiver. He's the second-leading receiver in Oregon history (getting surpassed by Sammie Parker in Parker's final game), and tied for the most touchdown catches in school history with Cristin McLemore. He could catch almost anything, and had a particular knack for those over the shoulder catches. On top of that, he was a ridiculous returner and is still the school leader in punt return yardage, while he averaged 11.7 ypr over his career. He took it to the house 5 times during his career, which helped him became score the 4th most touchdowns in school history, quite a feat for a receiver.
But through all his accolades, what made Howry special was his smoothness. He just made everything look so easy. He was a joy to watch on a weekly basis, and you could spend a lot of time watching beautiful plays he made. And, who can forget: "Here comes Howry! He's gone! Told you he's dynamite! Touchdown!"
On the other side of the ball, I'm picking one of Howry's teamates, Matt Smith. While Oregon's current linebacking corp is pushing to be the best in school history, they don't have a player like Smith, who had a knack for knowing where the play was going. He was the leader of the 2000 defense that was (at least in terms of scoring average) the 2nd best of the Bellotti era, giving up 20.8 ppg, while holding opposing offenses to a mere 43.6% completion rate.
Smith came to Oregon after being a first round draft choice for the MLB and proceeded to make his mark at Oregon by making big play after big play. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns during his career, both when the team needed a boost, and made countless other plays as well. Against Washington in 2000, he intercepted a pass, and also sealed the game by knocking down Marcus Tuiasosopo's pass. When you needed the defense to step up, chances are Smith was making the play.
Dave (Addicted To Quack):
Jared Siegel first entered my stream of consciousness my first weekend as a freshman on campus. Unable to get tickets for my first game as a UO student, I watched from my new dorm room as he nailed a game winning field goal as time expired to beat USC. He was by far the smallest guy on the team (not unusual for the kicker), but he had a big, big leg. And I remember all the long field goals he kicked. He had four field goals of over 50 yards, including a whopping 59 yarder to end the half against UCLA his sophomore year. One of my favorite things to do at Autzen during this time was watch Siegel warm up. 50 yards out, nailed it. From the O, nailed it. It was amazing. I also remember being crushed when we tried to get him a touchdown vs. Michigan on a trick play that ultimately failed. His accuracy numbers seemed to dip as he got older, partially because Bellotti was unafraid to try long field goals with him, and partially, I think, because his working on all those long ones hurt his approach on the shorter tried. But I have never, before or since, gotten that kind of sheer pleasure out of watching someone kick.
Jonathan Stewart was one of the most physically dominant running backs in Oregon history. Jeremiah Johnson may be one of the most effective. After rushing for 644 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore, JJ suffered a season-ending knee injury against Washington State in 2007. Snoop left for the NFL Draft, and the backfield was JJ's. And while people may remember LeGarrette Blount rushing for a school record 17 touchdowns, I'll always remember JJ rushing for 1201 yards while averaging over 7 yards per carry. While Blount had the highlight plays, we don't have a successful 2008 season without JJ as the every-down back. And...what's this? Apparently Jeremiah Johnson just scored another touchdown against Oregon State, bringing the score to Ducks 348, Beavers 38. And the stiff arm! Oh, the stiff arm! Not even the Hammer of Thor had that much power. Watching him break those two mega-runs at the end of the 2008 season were a joy to watch. Jeremiah Johnson is my favorite Oregon running back, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
My infatuation with punters is well known around these parts. And no punter holds more of a place in my heart than Josh Syria. His 2007 campaign was an outstanding situational season, putting 26 of his 71 punts inside the opponent's 20 yard line. His 2008 season was just as stellar, with 17 of 53 punts downed inside the 20. He finished his Pac-10 career with a bang, hitting all three punts in the 2008 Civil War over 50 yards. But the thing that made Josh Syria special is the feeling he gave me inside. When he jogged out to punt, I knew that we were going to be okay; we didn't have to worry about a shank, and we were going to win the field position game. That piece of mind only added to the feeling those 2007 and 2008 teams gave me. Thank you Josh Syria, for giving me a sense of calm in the Autzen Zoo.
It may not be the most original, but my all-time favorite Oregon athlete is Joey Harrington. Joey's sparkling 25-3 record as a starter is enough to place him on anyone's all-time Duck list, but there is so much more to why he is my favorite Oregon athlete. First, there was his penchant for leading the Ducks to come-from-behind victories. The most notable in my mind was the 2000 double OT game at Arizona State that ended with ASU losing by one after they went for two (and the win) but TE Todd Heap couldn't come up with the reception in the end zone. In the magical season of 2001, Joey was a legitimate Heisman candidate and his play (as well as a the Joey Heisman billboard in Times Square) brought a lot of national attention to Oregon. More than his play, Joey was the ultimate face of Oregon athletics -- he was a well-spoken local kid who never got in to trouble off the field and who seemed to thoroughly enjoy his time as an Oregon student as he was a fixture in the Pit Crew at basketball games. Finally, Joey's run as starting QB for the Ducks coincided with my final three years as an undergraduate at Oregon (a fact that cannot be overstated) -- meaning that I got to see all of his heroics at Autzen stadium while standing/jumping/drinking/
It would be nearly impossible for me to narrow my list of favorite Ducks to just one. I was raised on Oregon football and have been a Duck fan for as long as I can remember. But after attending U of O from 2001 to 2005, I learned to love all things University of Oregon, not just Oregon athletics, which ultimately means I'm choosing from an ever-increasing list of favorites to choose from. And because of this fact, I refuse to pick just one. So, instead, I give you a categorized list:
Favorite Signal-Caller Duck: Joey Harrington
Favorite Big Man Duck: Michael Dunigan
Favorite Dribblin' Duck: Luke Ridnour
Favorite Dunkin' Duck: Freddy Jones
Favorite Female Duck: Amanda Pflugrad
Favorite Running Duck: Reuben Droughns
Favorite Long-Distance Running Duck: Steve Prefontaine
Favorite Deceased Duck: Ken Kesey
Favorite Donatin' Duck: Uncle Phil (Knight)
Favorite Insane Duck: Chuck Palahniuk
Favorite Golfer Duck: Peter Jacobsen
Favorite SportsCenter Duck: Neil Everett
Favorite Broadcaster Duck: Dan Fouts
(You'll find a pared down and more specific list on my SB Nation profile.)
Although we dedicate almost all of our time talking about Duck athletics at ATQ, it's important to remember there's much more to the University of Oregon than just Duck football. I should probably get a job with the University's recruiting department, eh?
So, what about you? Got any Ducks you'd like to add to the list? Tell us your favorite Ducks (and why) in the comments.