Let me preface this post by saying I know in advance that it's going to annoy a certain portion of the U of O fan base. I admit that up front. I also freely admit that I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to Duck football. I am a very casual fan and it is from that vantage point that I write this. I understand that it's completely overgeneralized from a serious football/Duck point of view. I'm not saying this is gospel. I'm just using my personal observations to make a point about the Blazers that I think is relevant.
I like the Ducks. But living out of the area for the last dozen years I haven't had the energy or ability to see many Duck football games. My experience with them is limited to watching the one or two games a year that really make a difference...the games that are usually nationally televised...the ones where you say, "If they win this they can really be considered legit." With only occasional exceptions (Who can forget whuppin' Colorado and finishing #2 in the nation?) this means that I have only seen the Ducks lose. They don't play that poorly, mind you. You see exactly why they were threatening to be great. But just as we saw Saturday there always seems to be one too many interceptions, a heart-wrenching fumble right at the goal line, or something that just rises up and keeps them from going over the top. It's tantalizing, maddening, frustrating sometimes...it's just...Oregon.
It's the privilege of every sports fan to say, "Why does this always happen to me?" every time the team you're rooting for loses. I'm sure even New England Patriot fans have said it a couple times now and again, let alone the rest of us. But I do believe that for some teams or organizations getting very close but not quite making it becomes a pattern. I don't know what causes it exactly. Maybe it's being a little short in practice. Maybe it's playing over your heads until you meet someone who is too good to overcome. Maybe it's just a cruel, nonsensical twist of fate. But it happens.
Before we entered the decade of decline this was pretty much the rap on the Blazers: good team, often great talent, never quite makes it over the top. Realistically that is a part of our culture and history as much as anything.
That's what gets me a little excited about this new group of Blazers, this fresh start. This is a real chance to shed the ghosts of the past...not just the ghosts of the 20-win seasons, but the ghosts of the 50-win seasons that ended in heartache because a ball went off somebody's fingers and out of bounds. Two thoughts come to mind:
- I think that we have at least three guys who could turn into legitimate, top-notch talent. Not guys who have some skills or guys who could be good in a blue-collar kind of way. Not guys who are loveable, sentimental favorites. Real, honest-to-goodness, "these guys have it ALL" players...the kind that not only put you over the top, but define what "the top" is.
- That being said, I think there's a lot more to it than that if you really want to be great. I don't know if anything could have changed Oregon's fate in all of these games because I don't know enough about the process to dissect it. I only see the end results. I do suspect there might have been some things in the "so close" Trailblazer losses of yore that could have been changed. I don't know if they would have affected the outcome, but I do know this: if and when that crushing moment comes, you want to know that you did EVERYTHING you could to overcome. That means you didn't leave the weight room with one more rep left on the bar. That means you didn't dog it in even one drill in practice. That means you worked day after day on making your passes properly, on moving your feet properly, on your free throw line routine, on your shooting form, on everything that could make the slightest difference. You worked on these things until they became second nature to you and you never catch yourself doing it differently. It also means your mind wasn't wandering when coach was diagramming the plays and that you didn't opt out of them back in the first quarter to take a stupid shot in a possession that didn't seem like it mattered. If you really want to win big this kind of thing isn't just a habit, it's your religion.
I believe the Blazer culture--not just the character culture, but the top-notch WINNING culture--has a real chance to change because of point #1 above. I hope all the young guys understand and throw their hearts into point #2 also. In the end that could make the difference--maybe in a fraction of a second sometime in 2013--between making your goal and just barely falling short.
P.S. This is another example of why I say this season matters even if we don't win a ton more games than we did last year. If you really want to be the best it has to start now, today, even if there are 400+ games yet to go before you even get a chance to play in the Finals. This is when you start preparing for that critical moment that makes the difference so that when it comes it doesn't catch you off guard, but instead becomes one in a string of innumerable, routine moments in which you did things the way you were supposed to in order to win.