Wise Quacks: Ducks defend decade of dominance
Joey Harrington got a lot of attention the other night on "Talkin' Ducks" when he pronounced current Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota the best quarterback ever to wear a Duck uniform.
First, a few disclaimers on this. No. 1, it was very gracious of Harrington to say that because in the minds of a lot of people, he holds that lofty perch. But I would guess Harrington, whom I respect a ton, said that because he was going to follow up with some objective thoughts about Mariota never really having to face fourth-quarter pressure at Oregon, like so many of the quarterbacks before him. He was trying to make sure people understood how much respect he has for the kid.
I also would like to say that it could prove at some point that Mariota IS the best Duck quarterback ever. But after just a season and a half at the position and knowing what we know about the incredible system at Oregon right now, I'm not ready to make that proclamation quite yet. And there are many reasons why:
- First off, it's pretty obvious this Oregon system makes a quarterback look very good. You simply can't deny it. When you look back, first Dennis Dixon, then Jeremiah Masoli looked outstanding as the Oregon QB. But history has shown Masoli was not all that talented and we'll never know about Dixon, because of injuries. And Darron Thomas, whom just two years ago people were actually telling me was an all-time great, compiled a terrific won-lost record at UO but can't even get much of a tryout with an NFL team.
- Part of the reason, in fact, people make a big case for Thomas and Mariota is their terrific records at the controls of the team. Oregon has had unprecedented success in the last few years and the quarterbacks -- as always -- get so much credit for it. And that's not quite right. I can remember when John Elway was toiling away at Denver for years without winning a Super Bowl and people demeaned him constantly. "Not elite. Couldn't even get his team to a bowl game in college. Can't win the big one." Yeah, I remember all that. But then a quality coach and running game appeared in Denver and Elway went out with back-to-back championships. Folks, he didn't instantly become great late in his career. It's about the talent around you and your system. And at Oregon right now, the Ducks are going to amass enormous offensive statistics, on the ground and in the air. And win a lot of games. Partly, yes, because of the quarterback. But the system has a whole lot to do with it, too. Right now, Oregon's system is unique and something nobody has quite caught up to yet in college football.
- There's a whole other side to this argument and that has to do with a solid history of outstanding quarterbacks at Oregon, even in the seasons when the team wasn't a bowl contender. Can I just throw out a few names?
- Dan Fouts. He's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Oh, you can tell me that's no measure of how good he was in college but I'll tell you that actually, it is a pretty good way of finding out how good he was in college. Fouts played on Oregon teams that featured four or five very good NFL players-to-be. But, particularly his senior season, they were not talented at other spots and very poorly coached. I would love to drop Mariota down in the middle of that mess and see how he'd do. Even in the pros, Fouts was never blessed with Super Bowl talent on his San Diego teams -- but he was an all-pro and league MVP just the same. An incredible quarterback.
- Norm Van Brocklin. Again, Pro Football Hall of Fame. I never saw him play except for a few games on television late in his pro career. But that doesn't mean I can't respect a man who was a legend at Oregon, who led a team to an NFL title and who became a long-time head coach in the league. People said he was one of the toughest individuals they ever knew.
- George Shaw. Another guy I never saw play but he was an All-American at Oregon in baseball and football and the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts. But then he became football's version of Wally Pipp, suffering a leg injury that allowed Johnny Unitas to move into the starting lineup.
- Chris Miller. Another extremely talented quarterback who wasn't blessed with the talented teammates or juggernaut system in place at Oregon right now. Injuries brought his promising pro career to an end but make no mistake, he was outstanding.
- Bob Berry. Yeah, most of you have never heard of him but he was the quarterback on the Mel Renfro-Dave Wilcox Oregon teams and was an All-America selection. Later made it to a Pro Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons. The man was a big talent.
- You want a quarterback for one truly outstanding season? Akili Smith could be that guy. He washed out in the pros but was a terrific enough college quarterback to go No. 3 in the NFL Draft.
- Joey Harrington. Yes, last but not least. I don't need to tell you how important he was to the turnaround of Oregon football or how many big games and big plays he made for the Ducks. He's right up there on any list.
Hope I haven't worn you out with all the old-timer stuff. It's not really my style to talk about the good old days, mainly because I understand how much better athletes in all sports are these days compared to previous times. But fair is fair -- when you talk about greatest of all time, you can't forget the "all time" part of it.