Phil Knight seemed to be in a much better mood as this game wound down to a close.
Just a week after he watched his Oregon Ducks lose in frustrating fashion from the visiting sideline of Husky Stadium as a light drizzle started to come down, the Nike Co-Founder was in a lighter mood as he enjoyed the winning side once again.
I shared an elevator with Oregon’s biggest donor on Saturday afternoon as he traveled from his suite inside Autzen Stadium down to the field in the fourth quarter of the Ducks game against the Washington State Cougars. He smiled and joked with the several members of his entourage, and struck up a short conversation with the elevator clerk as we descended to the concourse.
After exchanging a few words, Knight stood quietly, patiently waiting for the doors to open.
I can’t help but look back on that incredibly brief, largely uneventful moment and think that Knight’s demeanor should be reflective of what Oregon’s fan base strives for at large this week. Coming off of a brutal loss to the Washington Huskies — their second in as many years — it had been a tough week to weather the storm. Dan Lanning felt it as he answered endless questions and criticisms about his aggressive fourth-down decision-making in the loss. I’m sure Knight felt it as well, watching the aftermath as the football program that he has invested billions of dollars into over the years once again fell short in a big moment.
When the pressure is on, though, as it currently is for the Ducks, there is no room for rash thinking. Instead, it’s patience that needs to be present. I’m sure that’s a lesson that Knight has learned time and again in his career, and it’s something that Lanning and the Ducks displayed on Saturday afternoon.
Oregon entered this game against Washington State with no more room for error. Despite suffering their first loss of the season, the Ducks still had every preseason goal out in front of them, but another loss could tank their chances of making it to the Pac-12 Championship Game, and ultimately a spot in the College Football Playoff. They can still do both of those things but need to win every remaining game on their schedule.
You can’t do that in a single day.
Even Oregon’s 38-24 win over the Cougars required some level-headedness from Duck fans who watched. Lanning’s offense got off to a slow start, scoring only 3 points in the first three drives despite putting up over 130 yards of offense during that time. Ultimately, though, they ground down a less-talented Washington State team with their punishing rushing attack, and pulled away in the third quarter. Oregon won the game without any semblance of stress in the end.
“I don’t think our guys ever got rattled,” Lanning said after the game. “They stayed focused in the moment and that’s really what playing great football is about; being one-play focus.”
Going forward, it’s going to be that one-play focus that has the ability to carry the 8th-ranked Ducks forward to their ultimate destination. They’ll need that focus this week traveling to Salt Lake City, where the hype is already growing around their showdown with the No. 13 Utah Utes. ESPN’s College GameDay will be in town once again, and the eyes of the world will be watching to see what the Ducks can do.
With a win, they have the opportunity to position themselves nicely in the race for a spot in the Pac-12 title game, and further their status as a CFP contender.
Both of those things are goals that the Ducks have had all season long, but neither will be fully accomplished with a single win. That was true last week, this week, and will continue to be true going forward as we march on through November.
Patience will be key.
I have a feeling that Phil Knight understands the patience that I’m talking about. He’s more invested in the success of the Ducks than any man in America. He’s seen the many highs over the past couple of decades, and he’s had a front-row seat to the handful of low moments as well.
Knight doesn’t pop champagne with each victory, and he doesn’t pull the plug with each defeat. He weathers the storm, knowing that with the right pieces in place, and the correct amount of time, the end-of-season goals can be accomplished.
The Ducks appear to be in a position to achieve those goals. They’ve got the coach, they’ve got the players, and the road map is clear. It’s not going to be an easy journey, and there will certainly be some bumps along the way.
Patience is going to be key.