PASADENA, Calif. – It's what's in a player's head, not what's on it, that matters most. And not even those futuristic chrome domes worn by the Oregon Ducks during the Rose Bowl could obscure everything going on underneath: crackling synapses processing plays more rapidly than any other college team in the country.
It's the frenetic, feverish way they roll, as coach Chip Kelly joyfully shouted to his players amid locker-room bedlam moments after multiple scoring records were set in Monday's 45-38 victory over Wisconsin. More points were scored than in any of the previous 97 Rose Bowls. Same for the first quarter. And the first half. Oh, and it marked Oregon's first Rose Bowl win since 1917.
All of which culminated in a team-only moment, and Kelly wouldn't begin until the players shelved their shiny helmets and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who has coached on and off at Oregon since 1980, made his way into the locker room. The doors closed behind him.
Aliotti's voice was hoarse from exhorting his defense to contain Badgers running back Montee Ball and quarterback Russell Wilson, and all he could muster was to croak out four words: "Fast! Fearless! Resilient! Faith!"
The team cheered. Kelly hugged him and addressed the players next, repeating the words that are the touchstones of his program: "We talked about being fast, fearless and resilient, and having faith. You understand the importance of this moment. It's been 95 years since Oregon won a Rose Bowl game. Feel how special this moment is."
The Ducks defeated Penn 14-0 in the 1917 Rose Bowl, a day only a real-life Granddaddy of Them All might remember. Oregon lost in its next four Rose Bowl appearances, including two years ago to Ohio State in Kelly's first bowl as coach. They lost the BCS title game last season to Auburn. They are a program that does certain things – rolling up yards and racking up points – as well as anybody, yet still look like a work in progress.
[Recap: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38]
They needed a watershed moment, a win that provided a double-step forward, something as definitive as one of their flash-flood drives down the field. Wisconsin, not incidentally, was at precisely the same point in the evolution from top-tier team to serious and perpetual BCS title contender. The game pitted two programs banging hard at the BCS ceiling, yet playing in a game that meant little besides euphoria or dejection for a day, and for an offseason.
Wisconsin's offense was balanced and potent. Ball, a junior likely to bolt to the NFL, rushed for 164 yards and tied Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season record with his 39th touchdown. Wilson, a senior transfer from North Carolina State, passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns.
Wilson threw a touchdown pass and also scored on a 4-yard run in the first quarter, which ended 14-14. The halftime score was 28-28. Field goals were for wimps. The temperature at kickoff was 82 degrees and the offenses were sizzling.
Oregon took its first lead less than a minute into the third quarter on a 64-yard scoring run by De'Anthony Thomas, a freshman from nearby Crenshaw High. Sure, LaMichael James was Oregon's answer to Ball, and he rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. He's almost certain to make himself available for the NFL draft. But the handoff to the next big-time Ducks runner appears promising.
A glimpse at the future: Thomas rushed for 155 yards on two carries. He dashed 91 yards directly up the middle for a touchdown late in the first quarter on his only other carry. He had 314 all-purpose yards, returning kicks for 125 and adding 34 on four receptions.
"He's learning every day, and with that learning he brings unreal ability," said Oregon's other Thomas, quarterback Darron, who gave the Ducks the lead for good on an 11-yard pass to Lavasier Tuinei on the first play of the fourth quarter. "De'Anthony does special things with the football in his hands."
Kenjon Barner is another talented back who will return, and Oregon's offensive line is expected to be as good or better despite having to replace two starters. But the dual Thomases really ought to shine.
[Slideshow: Oregon outlasts Wisconsin to win Rose Bowl]
Whether that will be for their play or also will include more games underneath those chrome helmets remains to be seen. The science works like this: A thin film of a rubbery polymer called polyvinyl acetate is placed in a vat of 110-degree water. A helmet is dipped onto the floating sheet, which adheres to it. It goes by the name LiquidMetal.
By contrast, Wisconsin's plain white headgear looked a lot like what players wore long ago. The Badgers' helmets fit their style: solid, consistent, conservative. It might have cost them on the game's last play, when Wilson spiked the ball rather than running a play with two seconds remaining and Wisconsin 25 yards from the end zone. The officials ruled time had expired and Oregon's sideline erupted in joy.
Better on this day to be fast, fearless and resilient.
"And have that faith," Oregon middle linebacker Dewitt Stuckey said. "It all worked together for us.
"This year, we go out winners."
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