Gentlemen, start your overreaction engines!
Oregon Ducks wide receiver Josh Huff raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he told reporters that he “[didn't] want to play in a Rose Bowl unless [it was] for a national championship” (ESPN).
I just wish we would have handled things differently when we played [Stanford]. … I don’t mind playing in the Rose Bowl, playing for the fans and my teammates. But deep down I don’t wanna be a prep game for the national championship game.
If we would have handled our business like we were supposed to, we wouldn’t have had to rely on USC to get back in the Pac-12 championship game. We wouldn’t have to be in the situation we are now.
Huff’s sentiments were echoed by De’Anthony Thomas, who called the possibility of playing in the Rose Bowl again “not a big deal at all.”
Alright longtime Oregon fans, let’s take a deep breath and remain calm.
Considering the Ducks have only won two Rose Bowls, Huff’s comments have sparked some grumblings about “ungrateful players” who lack “perspective.” It’s important to remember, though, the unique position Huff has been in at the University of Oregon. As a freshman in 2010, Huff played a major role on the team that lost by a mere three points to the Auburn Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game. While that game has been used by SEC fans as “proof” the Ducks can’t play “real football,” it was a close contest in which the final score was decided but only a couple key plays that went Auburn’s way. Huff was also a part of the 2011 team that was (admittedly) manhandled by LSU to start the season and then lost in heart-breaking fashion to the USC Trojans later in the year. (The Ducks would go on to beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl). A close loss against Stanford last year kept the Ducks out of the title game, and this year’s defeat at the hands of the Cardinal has once again dashed Oregon’s title hopes. When you consider how agonizingly close Huff and the Ducks have been to playing for/potentially winning multiple national titles, it’s understandable why a 2013 season that is likely* to end in a Rose Bowl berth could be seen as a disappointment for him on a personal level.
*(I say “likely” because the embarrassment of those “We Want ‘Bama” shirts still haunts me.)
While it’s easy to see why older Oregon fans may be a bit perturbed by the attitude displayed by Huff and Thomas, it’s important to try and see things from the perspective of the athletes. The current players on the Oregon Ducks don’t “owe” anything to the university beyond winning on the field, and they are not obligated to “respect” a lackluster history that they, as 20-year-olds, are too young to remember. Fans of the much-loathed bandwagon variety — and, trust me, young/entitled fans are a point of contention amongst the Duck faithful — can be held accountable with regards to keeping success in perspective because a fan’s allegiance to a program transcends four-year chunks of time, but it’s unfair to expect players to operate the same way.