Significant Event: Sept 15 — A federal judge rules in favor of a lawsuit brought by the universities of Georgia and Oklahoma, effectively nullifying the NCAA’s stranglehold on college football television rights. The decision allows schools to make their own television deals. The NCAA appeals, saying the decision would lead to disastrous results, such as viewers actually having a choice of games to watch. The case goes to the Supreme Court. The NCAA loses. Reports of televised-football-induced psychosis in the aftermath of this decision are not widespread.
1982, a year that began with a mixture of resignation and trepidation, was literally overlooked by the first expansion at Autzen — the new Stadium Club, perched atop the east rim. The Ducks were on probation — again — for the late-70s grade scandals; there would be no TV or bowl games in 1982, not that either would have been proffered. Highly touted RB Kevin Willhite, possibly Oregon’s highest-rated recruit ever at the time, tore his hamstring while being overworked by his high school track coach at a meet in Sacramento, and unexpectedly redshirted. Dwight Robertson, he of the troubled past, had taken a late redshirt in what should have been his senior season in 1981, and was expected to carry the load at tailback.
Coming into town this week was a team that had opened the debacle that was the 1981 season for the Ducks. A team that wouldn’t be intimidated in a Pac-10 opponent’s house, led by a quarterback who went on to earn honorary mention All-America status, set school records for passing and offense, play six years in the CFL, developed a reputation as a guru of young gunslingers, spent five years as one of Mike Bellotti’s offensive coordinators, and then was named head coach at Cal.
Yes, that Jeff Tedford. In 1982, Tedford was a first-year starter for Fresno State as a senior; he was a backup in the FSU win the previous year and didn’t see action then, but took over the starting job in mid-season and never gave it up. His favorite target, WR Henry Ellard, went on to enjoy a 15-year NFL career, including eleven seasons with the Rams and three Pro Bowl selections. Ellard set the NCAA season record for receiving yards in 1982 (1510).
Points were hard to come by for Oregon in 1982. Across the river from the Hult Center, the Ducks were smarting after an 18-13 loss to San Jose State. Rich Brooks was playing musical quarterbacks — after starting the season with veteran Kevin Lusk, against SJS he plays freshman Dana Hill for half the game, then announced on Monday he’d be starting Hill against Fresno.
Brooks couldn’t be blamed for mixing things up. In a rare bit of scheduling, his team had opened 1982 with three home games, and through the first two, his offense hadn’t scored a touchdown. Coming off a 2-9 season, the Ducks had barely drawn 23,000 on Labor Day weekend for the home opener, a 34-3 drubbing by Arizona State in which Brooks played three QBs — Lusk, Hill and Mike Jorgenson — and injured two of them. Lusk started, was replaced by the freshman Hill to no good effect; when Lusk reentered the game, the home fans booed; thus did the fans hail the second coming of Norv Turner. Afterwards, Brooks said “Kevin Lusk is still our quarterback. Obviously, the fans don’t agree with that…”
The next week, the turnstiles allegedly rolled up 17,639 for San Jose St, and Oregon’s option attack rolled up 174 yards of offense, along with three fumbles, two interceptions and no points; the 13 points were scored on special teams, with Dan Duffy recovering Mike Walter’s blocked punt in the end zone, and pre-season Playboy All-American Steve Brown returning another punt 53 yards. The stands were quiet enough that one SJS play, a run that looked to be a touchdown, was blown dead because someone in the sparsely populated Autzen Stadium stands had blown a whistle, stopping the Duck players dead in their tracks.
Oregon had been decimated by injuries after just two games. The wishbone/veer offense had a tendency to chew up players, and by game 3, seven players who started the ASU game on offense were on the shelf.
Brooks spread the blame around.
“The blocking by our backs was atrocious [against SJSU] …We had people who missed practice because of injuries and so forth, but there’s no excuse for blocking like that. We also continued to drop passes.. We’ve just got to do a better job in all areas of our offense. No area is untouchable as far as criticism goes.”
All somewhat obvious observations — an offense that’s only scored 3 points in 2 games is probably open to criticism on most levels — but it seemed, at least, that after being humiliated at Fresno in the 1981 opener, there was little chance Oregon would take Fresno State lightly.
Anyway, the Ducks were banged up, but fortunately were relatively healthy on defense. They figured they’d be able to slow down the Fresno air attack. But could they score enough points to win?
Well, no. They slowed down Tedford and Ellard, but couldn’t score a point, at least on offense.
Tedford finished the game 22-46-2 for 251 yards, outgaining the Ducks by himself. Remarkably, 221 of those yards were in the 2nd quarter alone, when he went 15 for 24, against an Oregon secondary that was not without talent.
Still, Oregon had its chance. Trailing 10-2 with two minutes left, they had a first down on the FSU 10. The ensuing plays were a microcosm of the season:
1 - Lusk runs for five yards on the option. 2nd and goal at the 3.
2 - Lusk throws to FB Terrance Jones in the flat, but short-arms it.
3 - It looks like WR Osborn Thomas is open, but Lusk throws over his head.
4 - This time WR Greg Moser is open. Lusk throws it over *his* head.
Asked why he’d eschewed running the ball, Brooks told reporters he’d been thinking ahead, to getting the ball back and scoring again for the win. Even if the Ducks had converted for two, he wouldn’t have settled for a tie.
Oregon’s points came via the defense, with Tedford called for intentional grounding in the end zone, and FSU’s punter stepping out of the end zone at the end of the game.
This game demonstrated the most basic lesson in all of sports, one that transcends cliche. To win the game, you must score more points than the other team. And through three games, Oregon still hadn’t found the end zone on offense.
It wouldn’t get any easier the rest of the season. The next game was against #1 Washington. In Seattle. True to form, Brooks changed QBs again, with soph Mike Jorgensen getting the nod this week.
Surprising the small part of the world that was actually paying attention to them, the massive underdog Ducks actually scored not one, not two, but three TDs. More remarkably, it was Kevin Lusk who did the damage. Oregon even led the Huskies in the fourth period, but gagged on its own success, with three late turnovers giving UW the wedge it needed; the Ducks lost 37-21. But at least they’d gotten off the schneid.
Overall, 1982 was a unique mix of pain and suffering, a 2-8-1 season leavened with some bizarre highlights.
There was Gerry Faust, settling for a field goal with 11 seconds remaining, giving 6-1 Notre Dame a 13-13 tie, at Autzen.
Or how about the first win in two seasons over a decent team, 13-7 over Arizona at home in late November before an alleged crowd of 16,480? For the first time in 10 years, Oregon, OSU and Wazzu all won a football game on the same day.
And then, the ritual beatdown of the Beavers, this time in Corvallis; it seemed fitting that the Ducks would only score one touchdown in Civil War 1982, with just 2:32 left in the game, and that was all they needed to win their eighth straight rivalry game.
Trivia: Oregon scored 103 points in 1982, the lowest point total of any 11-game season in team history. To put this into almost absurd perspective, the 2010 Ducks scored their 103rd point early in the 4th quarter of the season’s 2nd game.