Friday, April 7, 2017

Webfoot Wonders

A longtime follower of University of Oregon athletics, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of Duck basketball. So when evaluating this past season for the UO men’s and women’s teams, it’s clear that 2016-17 ranks as the best ever, with the men reaching the Final Four and the women attaining the Elite Eight of March Madness.

Having tracked the “Webfoots” since my youth (both parents attended the UO), I didn’t experience my first actual Duck basketball game until that serendipitous day -- February 14, 1974 -- when the Kamikaze Kids, led by former Penn State coach Dick Harter, shocked top-ranked UCLA, 56-51, at MacArthur Court in Eugene.

The only reason I witnessed this epic event? An ex-girlfriend offered me her ticket because she went home to Portland for the weekend. In those days, Duck basketball was a tough ticket. Students literally camped out the night before a game to watch Ronnie Lee and the Kamikaze Kids take on Bill Walton and the Mighty Bruins.

UCLA, coming off seven consecutive NCAA championships and two consecutive 30-0 seasons, was formidable. The Ducks, however, were a tenacious lot coached by Harter, an ex-Marine who vowed to “introduce defense to the Pac-8 and beat UCLA.” Under his direction, the Ducks would come to lead the league in floor burns.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, they had to play in a building packed with rabid fans who embraced the tenacious, gutsy play of the Ducks, which stoked the Mac Court faithful to greater, more intense levels of noise and taunting of opposing teams. One UCLA coach would dub the Pit Crew and other denizens of Mac Court as “deranged idiots.”

For me, that first game was an awakening; I became a true believer. Having since attended hundreds of games over the years, I've seen the men's and women's programs experience highs and lows, but both squads now appear to be on the verge of even more success on the national stage. Looks like the "quack attack" is back.