Oregon Ducks will play for more than national title; they will play for Devon … – OregonLive.com
LOS ANGELES – The party had started, black Rose Bowl champion hats dealt like casino cards on the Oregon Ducks’ sideline, and players unsure whether to hug or dance, so usually they did both.
One Duck, however didn’t dance. And he didn’t hug.
Devon Allen shivered. Shivered so hard his bottom lip moved.
The Ducks recorded perhaps their greatest win in program history, ending Florida State’s 29-game winning streak with a 59-20 win, but in the process they suffered yet another loss.
Allen, the gifted freshman receiver and return man, injured his right knee returning to the opening kickoff. The fastest man on the field – he’s the NCAA and USATF Outdoor 110-meter hurdle champion – never returned, reduced to street clothes by halftime.
As the Oregon players danced, and patted each other, some of them caught sight of Allen. Each time, their smile disappeared. Some just looked away, hoping to find another celebrating teammate.
Some, like Ayele Forde and Keanon Lowe, paused their celebration and patted him on the back, or tussled his hair.
“Sometimes,” Allen said, jaw clenched because of the frigid Los Angeles night, “injuries happen in football.”
They just really happen to the Ducks.
That’s why I wished some of those Ducks didn’t feel so bad when they locked eyes on Allen after the game. And it’s why I hope the fans take the time to remember that opening kickoff to the game.
That play, and this gifted athlete in Allen, is just as emblematic of the Ducks’ season as that gaudy 59 points hung on the previously undefeated and defending champion Seminoles.
Like no other team I’ve seen before, these Ducks keep taking a licking, but keep on ticking.
The most amazing thing about this team is not that it’s headed to the Jan. 12 National Championship Game, it’s that it’s doing it with an all-star cast of players injured and unable to play.
All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. All-American lineman Tyler Johnstone. All-conference tight end Pharaoh Brown. Bralon Addison, the team’s best receiver … all with major, season-ending injuries.
Meanwhile, All-American center Hroniss Grasu missed three games. Five-star running back Thomas Tyner missed three games. Arik Armstead missed two games. Keanon Lowe missed two games. And practically every offensive lineman has missed games because of injuries.
And yet, the Ducks went on to win their last nine games by an average score of 51-21.
So what’s the secret? Is it really former coach Chip Kelly’s “Next Man Up” mantra?
But I like to think it’s this: When I approached Allen as the celebration started on the Oregon sideline, and asked him about his injury, his answer had nothing to do with him.
“I’m just glad we won,” Allen said. “We are Rose Bowl Champions. That’s a huge deal.”
That’s a pretty selfless approach to a personally devastating circumstance. Faced with jubilant teammates and falling confetti and a scene he probably dreamed about, Allen was handcuffed by his crutches.
But he didn’t pout. He didn’t hobble away to wallow in his pain and misery: He asked teammate Taylor Allie if he could get him one of the t-shirts.
“It’s a tough situation when one of us go down, and we’ve been hit with crazy injuries this year,” Lowe said. “But those guys who have gotten hurt, they are all team guys. None of them have sulked.”
After the game, injured stars Addison and Brown sat together, surveying the party atmosphere over their Chick-Fil-A meal box. When Allen’s injury was brought up, they shook their heads, knowing all too well the struggles now in front of Allen.
“It’s hard. Almost bittersweet,” Addison said. “But, it’s like we didn’t even miss a beat. That’s how deep our team is.”
Brown, who blew his knee out Nov. 8 at Utah, said the team will help Allen get through this trauma.
“Devon is a strong, strong young man, and I think he will be fine because he is surrounded by a great team,” Brown said. “Us going to the national championship, he knows he is a big part of that. So because of our environment, he will be fine.”
A subplot to Allen’s injury is what it means for his accomplished track career. He won the NCAA 110 hurdles title in a meet record 13.16 seconds. It is the second fastest collegiate time ever.
It’s difficult to determine the extent of Allen’s injury, but there had to be more than one heartbeat skipped by the folks over at Hayward Field. On his way out of the Rose Bowl, Vin Lananna – the face of Oregon Track & Field – said he would let “the football people” talk about the injury.
“But as a person who cares about the kid, my heart goes out to him,” Lananna said. “Devon is a tough kid. He’ll be back.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will be for the National Championship in Dallas. Of course, that doesn’t mean Allen is any less a part of this historical season.
Remember his spinning, then sprinting, 70-yard touchdown catch that broke open the Michigan State game? And his two touchdown catches at Washington State? And his team-leading seventh touchdown catch in the Pac-12 title game?
His teammates did.
That’s why after he hobbled off the field, and sat on the trainer’s table with a large ice bag on his knee, Lowe paid him a visit.
“I just wanted to show him some love,” Lowe said.
Then, one by one, the players trickled over. Not every player, but all the receivers, and a handful of teammates.
“We all told him we would be playing for him,” Lowe said.
Come Jan. 12, when the Ducks play in the National Championship, they will be playing for more than a trophy.
They will be playing for their fallen brothers.
“We have found you can do some special things when you have a group of guys who truly care about each other, truly play for each other and believe in each other,” Lowe said. “Regardless of who it is, we are all brothers, and ready to go for them.”
–Jason Quick | @jwquick