Originally written on Oregon Sports News  |  Last updated 11/15/14
During the past four years, the Oregon Ducks have taught the Northwest how to win football games. In a strictly elective class for the rest of the nation, but not in Oregon, Professor Chip Kelly moved the Ducks from the under-graduate ranks to graduate school. He's produced teams that started Cum Laude, moved up to Magna Cum Laude, and reached for Summa Cum Laude. On Saturday, he taught loyal fans how to lose. In the past, the Ducks came up short against the powerhouses. The Ohio State Buckeyes took a Rose Bowl title from them. The Auburn Tigers went home with the natty instead of the Ducks. The LSU Tigers walked out of Texas with a win in the Cowboy Classic. Those were great teams from major conferences playing the Ducks. For fans the age of Baby Boomers, just being in the conversation with top teams is surreal. But even long term, football fans in the Northwest are jaded by now. Everyone expects a place in the finals. On Saturday, the Ducks didn't lose to a #1 team from the might Southeastern Conference for a few reasons. Most importantly, the top team was Kansas State. Their fans had to be shocked to find themselves saying "We're Number One." That shock went away after the Baylor juggernaut, without last year's Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, doubled them up 52-24. They couldn't lose to Alabama because the Crimson Tide followed their squeaker against LSU with a loss to Texas A&M and Johnny Football. They followed that loss with a game against Western Carolina and a 49-0 whitewash. LSU had a win over Ole Miss, 41-35, so they weren't available. Instead, Oregon lost to Stanford, one of the GPA schools in the Pac-12. For all of the academic rigors needed to even get into Stanford, you'd think they're smart enough to play soft football and protect their heads. At least Cal/Berkeley understands the safety issues. Their play against Oregon State is proof enough. But Stanford? They took a page from Ohio State before the tats and free cars, from Penn State before the fall, and fielded what experts call the best front seven in the nation. If Stanford is not the next Linebacker U, they took a step in that direction by beating the Ducks Saturday. What does Oregon do with their first loss of the season? Do they fold their tent and quit like USC? In short, no. Duck fans have acquired a taste for the big time. It's BCS or Bust on the modern Oregon Trail and one loss doesn't end their quest. The original Oregon Trail had plenty of challenges from river crossings, to snakes, to river crossings with snakes in the water. The Ducks are every bit the pioneers full of Manifest Destiny as the early wagon trains. Their path leads to Oregon State next, and that's all that matters. The promised land is still over the horizon. How will they get there, now that everyone knows the secret to defeating the pace of the 'hurry-up' offense? Taken to an extreme example, think of games at the end of the season as knife fights. Every team on the fields next weekend needs to win. They're either playing for a berth in a conference championship game, or to prove to their recruits and fan bases that next year promises a better record. Either way, someone will be hurt. Experienced knife fighters might say both participants will be hurt, but one worse than the other. The goal is the same, just win. The question is the same, too. How? Why not ask ehow.com? "The United States military trains soldiers to utilize knives in six angles of combat. The six angles are vertical down, forward diagonal, reverse diagonal, forward horizontal, reverse horizontal and forward thrust." One man understands the stakes better than anyone. Colonel Rex Applegate was known as the 'father of American knife fighting.' He was also an Oregon Duck, class of 1940, and a descendant of the Applegates from the Oregon Trail and Applegate Trail. If Coach Kelly needs an inspirational character to step out of the past for the Civil War, the ghost of Colonel Applegate stands ready.
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