Publsished on oregonsportsnews.com
WHEN IT’S NOT ABOUT SPORTS, IT’S STILL ABOUT SPORTS
A sports fan’s journey to the top of the college football world is the best part of the trip. While a national championship answers all questions with one word, scoreboard, ignoring other teams along the way leaves out more than you imagine.
When the Beavers checked out at #4 in the nation during the Dennis Erickson era, they raised the bar higher than any point in Oregon State football.
They missed the Big Time where they would have rolled over Oklahoma and one of the Stoops brothers in the Orange Bowl.
A great year?
On the field, yes, but also a season so flawed that BCS rules changed to allow teams as deserving as the Beavers into the last game.
Oregon got the same treatment when they took down Colorado in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl instead of making it to the BCS Championship Game with The U. The Ducks earned their shot at the Big Time as much as the Beavers, but it didn’t work out that way.
From the way things looked after the 2000 and 2001 seasons, you’d think both Oregon schools made the jump into Oklahoma-Texas-Ohio State- LSU territory with regular trips to the last game.
The twin reality of a football season and post-season administration shows how hard it is to climb the ladder year after year. There is no such thing as a soft schedule once you set a team goal for the top spot.
Sure, you say, look at LSU and their championships in 2003 and 2007, both played in the Louisiana Super Dome in New Orleans.
The Bayou Bengals, aka Tigers, took the hard road through the SEC then drove an hour and a half down Highway 10 to New Orleans where they closed the deal both times.
The Ducks and Beavers will never find a BCS game that close to home. The Big Time isn’t geographically friendly to the Northwest, but that doesn’t mean it’s not here.
What does big time mean to a five year old jumping up and down in front of games on television; or a middle school player so fired up during football season that he can’t think of anything else; or a high school player showing the skills, if not the size, for major college football?
Where is their Big Time?
On any given Saturday local sports complexes host rec-league soccer. Watch the smallest players; look for break-away plays.
They drive the ball, zigging and zagging past daydreamers, and shoot it into a top corner of the net. They get it; they want to score while other players on the youngest teams watch birds during the games. They pick flowers in the field instead of picking opponents to guard.
Now ask which player is destined for greatness, if not in soccer, then another sport? Will it be the tunnel vision driver who scores five times in a half, or the skipper who seems to care less about scoring or stopping scores?
Early rec-league stars get enough attention that their parents start dreaming the Big Time dream and enroll them in Classic League travel team soccer. They fall under the spell of coaches with English accents who tell them one sport is a year-round season.
Skipper, on the other hand, moves from soccer to basketball to baseball, running around and having fun in the name of sports.
Which kid will get closest to the Big Time?
More important, which one will burn out on the expectations of friends and family and a coach who goes beyond “Dribble the soccer ball down the sideline and cross it in front of their net for a shooter. If you get trapped on the side, drop pass it to the teammate behind you and look for a return while you cut up field.”
Will Classic League Soccer player stay in the game longer because their dad has a flaming soccer ball tattooed on his ankle and memorized the rule book?
Or will it be the day dreamer who understands body position and leverage whether he’s got the ball, or not. All he wants to do is cut off his opponents’ direction of travel and pick up a juice box and snacks after the game. His game is internal and has nothing to do with the score.
One player wants to make his parents happy, and they are happy when he gets playing time and scores the winning “Goooooaaaaallllll.”
When that doesn’t happen during a game, the player sees his parents less than enthusiastic and blames himself.
The other player embraces the parts of the game that fit him, the athletic parts, and takes them from one season to the next. Without knowing, he builds skills that transfer from sport to sport, the speed, quickness, and strength that increases with his attention span and focus. His parents roll with his approach to the game.
Which kid makes it to the Big Time?
Like the #4 Beavers in 2000, and the #2 Ducks in 2001, the Big Time is right where they are. Eventually the pride of accomplishment overrides the final standings, both in rec-league soccer and NCAA Division 1-A football.
Players might forget names and scores, but they never forget how they felt during the season.
Neither do sports fans.