Joey Harrington should be bitter. He should be angry. He should be the loudest ghost of Oregon football past this week, railing in the lead-up to the national title game about injustice, karma and the overdue death of the BCS.

But instead, he wants you to know he’s cool with it all.

Had the United States Justice Department intervened at the end of the 2001 college football season and rectified the American atrocity that was the BCS system, Oregon might have already have won a national championship.

I covered the Jan. 2002 Rose Bowl for another newspaper. Everyone knew the Huskers were in over their heads and didn’t belong. Which is only to say that Harrington and his teammates end up among those most victimized by the BCS system.

Maybe THE most persecuted.

Harrington’s Ducks should have at least had their shot against Miami in the title game, but the computers instead spit out Nebraska, the No. 4-ranked in the human polls over consensus No. 2 Oregon.

No matter that Colorado whipped Nebraska 62-36 in the Big 12 title game a week earlier, the Ducks were assigned to the Fiesta Bowl against Colorado. Oregon won that game 38-16. Nebraska got pasted in the title game.

“I think (the snub) actually contributed to where Oregon is right now,” Harrington said.

The former Oregon quarterback spoke freely this week, as if he were setting down a bag of concrete he’s been carrying all these years. He said he doesn’t think the Ducks were better than the 2001 Hurricanes, which had 17 players on the bowl game roster become eventual first-round NFL Draft picks.

“If we played them 10 times, taking all emotion out of this, I think we beat them two out of 10,” he said.

Harrington believes that the good momentum born of destroying Colorado and having the country unsatisfied with the lack of closure from the season and tuned into Eugene was more valuable to Oregon than being in the title game and losing.

“The entire country wanted to see Oregon against Miami but they don’t get to see it,” he said. “All they remember is that we got screwed out of the BCS championship game, we got screwed out of our shot.

“So people talk about it, and people start to pay attention to Oregon football. That’s all Oregon ever wanted was for people to pay attention. That’s why the (Times Square) billboard went up. That’s why the uniforms went out, so that people would pay attention to Oregon and say, ‘Maybe they got something going on there.'”

Would Harrington have loved to play Miami in the Rose Bowl?

“Of course, but if I’m playing the odds, I’m not so sure Oregon is in this title game against Ohio State if we do.”

Things have happened too fast for Oregon, right? The Ducks are the Beverly Hillbillies. They’re Powerball winners. They’ve climbed so far, so fast they’re a case study in avoiding altitude sickness that comes from a rapid ascension of the college football mountain, right?

Except, then you bump into Harrington in the parking lot at the 2015 Rose Bowl hours before the Oregon-Florida State semifinal and he reels off the accolades of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes team, because you know he’s thought so often about what might have been. And he talks about the near-miss Oregon had against Auburn in the national title game in 2010, because he wishes that had been different too.

Days later you ask Harrington to point at the moment in Oregon football history that catapulted the Ducks to Monday’s playoff title game against Ohio State. While you expect he’ll say the re-involvement of booster Phil Knight or the hiring of Chip Kelly or even point to the UO’s $68 million football operations center or the 2010 national title loss, he instead reaches more than 25 years back and says, “Bill Musgrave came in and lit Eugene on fire in a way nobody had in 30 years.”

Then, he gives you a run-on sentence that every young Ducks fan should have to memorize before kickoff.

Said Harrington: “Oregon makes an Independence Bowl, which leads to a Freedom Bowl, which led to a few more recruits, which led to the 1994 Rose Bowl, which led to Moshofsky Center, the indoor facility, which led to more recruits, which led to those back-to-back Pac-10 Conference titles in 2000 and 2001, which led to the billboard, which led to people paying attention, which led to uniforms, which led to Kellen Clemens, which led to Dennis Dixon, which led to Chip Kelly, which led to 2010, which led to now.”

Get all that?

“Bill Musgrave always gets overlooked in this conversation,” Harrington said.

It’s true what Harrington said. All Oregon ever wanted was for America to notice it. The uniforms, marketing and innovation scream it. The complex that developed among fans and adminstrators in the last decade was born from it. The Ducks — revenue $115 million — are being roundly criticized in the run-up to the date with Ohio State — $139 million in revenue — as if they’ve bought their way to the title game.

Nevermind all the sweat and ghosts in their wake.


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