4.9.09

Ugly Ducklings

I'm trying to remember a worse day to be a Duck fan.

It was nearly comical.

The Oregon Ducks-Boise State Broncos matchup to kick off the college football season ended up a disaster. From the opening kick-off, the aura played into Boise's hands: the plucky, all-American underdog facing its Nike-funded, evil-empire, neighboring state, BCS rival.

In last year's game, a Boise State defender delivered a vicious helmet-to-helmet cheap shot to Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli after his first pass attempt. It was the one moral ground a Ducks fan could stand on going in, and even then it was reluctant. Before the last two season, most Oregon fans loved Boise State. The Broncos aren't in the Pac-10, they've featured a slew of Oregon-grown talent (like Jared Zabransky and Legedu Naanee), and they pulled off one of the greatest games in college football history against a team Duck fans do hate. Even their head coach, Chris Peterson, is a favorite son in Eugene, serving as an assistant coach under Mike Bellotti for six years.

They were also ranked two slots higher in preseason rankings, making this game a lose-lose situation. Smaller conference teams aren't expected to beat teams like Oregon, even if they're consistent college football powerhouses. On paper, in Boise, the Ducks were the underdog, but most of the country doesn't know that. This game also marked the beginning of a new era under the Ducks' promising new coach, Chip Kelly, after the 14 year reign of Mike Bellotti.

What ensued was the most frustrating game imaginable. Despite their much-vaunted offense, which racked up an average of 54 points per game over the last three games last season, Oregon gained a total of 14 yards in the first half. They did not manage to convert a first down until the third quarter.

Despite the ineptitude, the Ducks kept getting breaks. They were only down 13 at the half due to Boise State's two missed field goals, and a series of fumbles and stops kept giving the ball back when it looked hopeless. After their first first down of the game, the Ducks suddenly started playing like they usually do, and rolled in for an easy touchdown. There was an entire quarter and a half to go, and the Ducks were only down 11 points.

It never panned out, and neither team scored again. It was sloppy and ugly on both sides, and I was almost relieved when the clock finally ticked out, but not before Oregon's hardest hitter, T.J. Ward, was injured badly, and not before they repeatedly the same teary-eyed Duck fan in the crowd, a man who looked to be in his 20s, sulking.

Then, things got really bad.



From ESPN's game report:
As the Broncos began celebrating on their famous blue turf, Hout yelled in Blount's face and tapped him on the shoulder pad. That drew an immediate scream from Boise State head coach Chris Petersen, but before Petersen could pull Hout away, Blount landed a right hand to the defensive end's jaw.
Then, Blount wouldn't leave quietly, fighting with the police escorts ushering him off the field, and making blind rushes at taunting fans over the exit tunnel.

I felt two primary emotions in quick succession.

1. A vague sense of justice. I like to pretend, despite my fanhood, I'm fairly objective. But that Boise State player sure came off an @$$hole. Who taunts an opposing team like that, especially after such a humiliating loss? Trash talk is part of the game, I know, but I've always felt sore winners are more obnoxious than sore losers. LaGarrette Blount entered this game one of the top NFL running back prospects in the nation. He finished with -5 yards on 8 carries. That's all the talk you need...rubbing it in during the post-game handshakes is classless.

So watching Hout get absolutely cold-cocked in response was vaguely satisfying. I'm ashamed I felt this way.

2. Anger. I was embarrassed to be somewhat pleased by the punch, and immediately swung the other way. My exact Facebook post was "LaGarrette Blount should be kicked off the Oregon Ducks." Blount's actions made Oregon look as evil as Bronco fans wanted them to be. It's bad enough being the powerhouse team humbled by their small conference neighbor. It's another to punch a guy in an epic display of bad sportsmanship, on national television, in the first game of the year. For many Ducks fans and players, it was shame heaped on a humiliating game.

The next morning, I don't feel the same. Blount should not be kicked off the team, though he should suffer a lengthy suspension. With one emotional reaction, Blount has done irreparable harm to his future. His actions could cost him a shot at the 1st round of the NFL draft (maybe more - with more emphasis on character in pro sports lately, he could drop considerably, costing him millions of dollars in bonuses).

I wasn't alone in my response. The cries were out all over Facebook ("Horrible, I say. Hope they boot him from that sorry excuse of a team..."), from the announcers ("unconscionable!" "reprehensible!"), and the always-indignant John Canzano.

Here's my problem, 10 hours later, with the outrage:

The Oregon and Boise State players had just finished 60 minutes of football. They are big and powerful men, running across the field and slamming into each other at full speed. These men are ridiculously strong. As Chuck Klosterman pointed out years ago in a brilliant essay for ESPN, NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman weighs more than the greatest offensive tackle of all-time (Anthony Munoz, who retired in 1993) and runs faster than the greatest receiver did during his draft combine (Jerry Rice, who retired in 2005). These men are destroying each other for our entertainment.

And yet, when that raw emotion and energy spills out for even a moment after the game, we gasp in self-righteousness. We recall our time on the field - in Little League, or out with friends - and pretend we understand what it's like. If we were tackled just once by a 200 pound man, we would file assault charges. LaGarrette Blount was pulled to the ground 8 times by groups of men even larger, while he was running full speed. We can't fathom, from our pure white towers of the finest carved ivory, how he could ever resort to flinging his fist into an opponent's smug grin?

Maybe I should start taking some notes from hockey: if I'm going to cheer on the barbarism and slow death of athletes, I may as well cheer when they fight, as well. Or at least not recoil in hypocritical horror like a pious windbag.

(UPDATE: Maybe I'm not such a homer after all...Deadspin's post on the incident has some similar themes.)

(FURTHER UPDATE: Blount has been suspended for the rest of the season.)

21 comments:

  1. Seriously?

    "LaGarrette Blount was pulled to the ground 8 times by groups of men even larger, while he was running full speed. We can't fathom, from our pure white towers of the finest carved ivory, how he could ever resort to flinging his fist into an opponent's smug grin?"

    You've got to be kidding. It happens to EVERY running back across the country EVERY week. None of them resort to flinging a fist. Delusional.

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  2. This guy was in the heat of battle with his adrenaline flowing a thousand miles an hour...this stuff happens, especially with competitors...will leave this up to the coaches.

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  3. ESPN made a copyright claim and the video was pulled from youtube. Any idea where else I can see it?

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  4. Certainly players get caught up in the heat of the moment (or the heat of the previous moment, in this case) and throw a punch. It's part of the game, much though we (correctly) try to prevent it. It's not acceptable, and it deserves a suspension of a game or two.

    After you've had that moment of crazy, you're supposed to think to yourself, "holy crap did I just do that!?". You are emphatically not supposed to dance away like a street boxer, then go after your own teammates, security, and the opposing fans in the ensuing minutes. That sort of behavior is inexcusable and anyone engaging in such has no business representing the University of Oregon (or any other) in any capacity.

    If he were a junior I might be willing to see him return next year. He's not, so it's kind of academic. I'll be disgusted if I ever see him suit up for the U of O again.

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  5. Bryan - look on the ESPN web site.

    I'm glad to know I wasn't the only person whose first reaction was sense of justice. Blunt's punch was a very bad decision, but should we be that surprised and judgmental about it? This is a game where young men are expected to trash talk and beat the tar out of each other for three and a half hours, while we as fans, get riled up and excited watching it. After the game though, we are surprised when players use physical force to resolve their disputes.

    Jordon, I think you post is probably more honest than any I have read on this issue so far. Good take, thanks

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  6. Great post! I had a distinct sense of satisfaction watching Blount level Hout. Hell, Hout was an idiot and deserved to be flattened. It was the mess that followed as Blount was leaving (escorted) from the stadium that bothered me.

    As for Ward's injury, that is truely unfortunate.

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  7. @anon:

    It never happens to you or me, or any of the announcers, or any of the other people. And I don't think it's true "none of them ever resort to flinging a fist". No RB has ever punched anyone?

    As for "delusional", that was just one aspect of the article.

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  8. There were 50 other players on that field who were dealing with the same comments from the Bronco players, none of which decided to sucker punch anyone. If Blount will do this on the field during a game on national TV imagine the poor guy in a bar in Eugene who happens to make a disparaging comment about the Ducks. Blounts career should be over.

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  9. Let me help you out, Jordan. Oregon football is like minor league hockey. In lieu of talent you need fist fights.

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  10. Absolutely classless.

    How can you make excuses for this guy? HUNDREDS of running backs deal with this without going into a RAGE against a jaw-jacking player, his own team, fans and resisting police as they drag him away like an insane person.

    As long as he wears an Oregon jersey I'll be ashamed to be a duck fan.

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  11. @Larry: I won't take that sort of mockery from a Big 10 fan. I just won't.

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  12. @anonymous: I don't feel like I'm making excuses for Blount...I'm criticizing the hypocrisy of our self-righteous anger at him for acting violent after we'd just cheered on an even higher level of violence for the last three hours.

    Fights like this happen more often than we might think (Miami/FIU, anyone?). As much as I hate the Ducks being associated with something like this, that doesn't justify destroying Blount's career to save our pride. If Ron Artest and Kermit Washington's careers survived far worse offenses, why does LaGarrette Blount deserve any worse?

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  13. It's funny that when playing football you psych yourself up by creating this sense of hate towards the other team. For the duration of the game they are your enemies. If somebody is covering you, outrun his slow butt. If somebody is blocking you, run that weak punk over. And if you see that quarterback unprotected you destroy that sonabamich! All of a sudden when the game is over, you're supposed to shake this persons hand and smile at him? All this while the adrenaline is still pumping, your blood is still boiling, The opposing teams fans are jeering, and the other team is talking trash? If you've never been there, you wouldn't understand it. It takes every ounce of strength you have not to continue loathing your opponent and to realize that this is only a game. Should blount have been able to control himself better? yes. Was it a bad decision? Yes, but lets not get up on our high horses and act like we know exactly what he was feeling. If he is at all a rational person, I'm sure he realizes by now that he messed up. suspension: yes. Kick off of team: no.

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  14. These things happen all the time in sports, and we act like we have never seen it before....come on. Was is right? NO, was it provoked, sure it was....But we need to have self control. Everyone deserves a second chance. If you watch the video, the head coach is already pulling Hout away when he got nailed. He knew that something bad was about to happen. Blount was just walking by when Hout said something to him. I agree with the earlier post....winners also need to use self control.

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  15. Three thoughts:

    1) As a boxing fan, I have to admire the force and placement of that punch. Right on the jaw (which, apparently, is made of glass).

    2) As a football fan, I admit this is ugly. And I think Blount deserves a suspension. (But I also think the Boise State player deserves a lesser suspension, because he clearly instigated things).

    3) I had seen that punch on ESPN, but when watching the embedded video, that was the first time I saw that Blount also hit his own teammate. (Yeah, he had a helmet on, but still.) And trying to go after the fans? I don't care what they were yelling, I think that was the stupidest thing he did. He's lucky he was restrained. Heck, if he'd gotten into it with the fans, he might be sitting in a jail cell right now.

    Clearly he lost control. He's mostly to blame. If I were a Ducks fan, Jordan, I'd probably feel some shame...but since I'm not, even though I know it was wrong, I mostly feel like the Boise State player got what he deserved.

    If Blount had stopped there (instead of fighting teammates and going after fans), I don't think this would have been AS big of a deal.

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  16. I think the fact that this is his second suspension matters.

    When you consider what that 5 seconds of stupidity did to his draft-ability in the NFL and the loss of earning power that will affect him for the rest of his life, it makes you pause, doesn't it?

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  17. I was at the game and while I think Hout should be suspended for a game or two, and Blount should be suspended for 3 or 4 for the punch, Blount should be kicked from the College, arrested and charged with assault for the after the punch antics that this so-called athlete in sued. Trying to punch a police officer, resisting police officers, attempted assault on fans... I feel for the Ducks and hope they can renew their year. But when you go on SI and tell them that your opponent deserves an A** whipping, don't be surprised when you get some words back when you lose.

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  18. Blount has been a problem and everybody has been willing to ignore it due to his talent. The first punch was forgivable. But to hit you teammate, then go after fans, and police, has no excuse.

    He is paying for it in a huge way, lost a year of eligibility, lost millions in NFL, maybe lost a pro career completely. I don't care about either of the teams. And I have played football and I know fights happen. But when the police have you. You have to have the sense to stop.

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  19. I totally agree with your last few paragraphs. I'm surprised those kinds of punches don't happen more often. I actually feel really sorry for Blount, who ruined his life in those few minutes.

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  20. I don't think he ruined his life in a "few moments." He was suspended in the Spring and I believe there was a disciplinary issue in HS. Those few moments were the straw that broke the camel's back.

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