Joey Harrington: The 2002 Fiesta Bowl was a launching pad for Oregon Football

Dylan Mickanen
·3 min read

Joey Harrington: The 2002 Fiesta Bowl was a launching pad for Oregon Football originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest

Oregon football has had many iconic moments throughout the years: The Pick, Howry to Harrington, 12-0, and many more. 

But, the 2002 Fiesta Bowl may be underrated in how important it was in launching Oregon into a higher echelon of college football. 

"We've talked a lot about the incremental steps that the Oregon football program has taken and you can go from Bill Musgrave to the Independence Bowl, to Kenny Wheaton, to the Rose Bowl," explained Joey Harrington on Talkin' Ducks

"I think that Fiesta Bowl is that next big step. The one that truly launched us off into the uniforms, and the Chip Kelly and now what everybody knows about Oregon football.

[Listen to Sports Uncovered: The uniform craze that revolutionized college football!]

"It was the culmination of five years of work that our class had put in," said Harrington. "When we came in... we won seven games our freshman year and we all sat down and said 'We're going to win a National Championship' by the time we left."

The 2001 Oregon Ducks nearly had a chance to win the program's first National Championship with a No. 2 ranking nationally in the AP Poll and Coaches Poll heading into Bowl Season. But the BCS saw it differently, ranking Oregon fourth. 

Therefore it was No. 3 Colorado and No. 4 Oregon, the two best teams in college football not playing in the BCS National Championship but instead the Fiesta Bowl.

Oregon dominated the game on both sides of the football. Whether it was quarterback Joey Harrington throwing for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns or cornerback Steve Smith intercepting a Fiesta Bowl record 3 passes. 

It was all-Oregon, all game. 

"Granted, we didn't get [the National Championship] but we were knocking on the door with that Fiesta Bowl," continued Harrington.

"I mean frankly, it was about as perfect ending as we could have written in terms of everybody getting involved in terms of Justin Peelle, Maurice Morris, Rashad Bauman, I think Steve Smith was the Defensive MVP. I mean truly everybody was involved and we put on a show." 

Peelle had five receptions for 66 yards including a 4-yard touchdown catch and Morris had 11 rushes for 89 yards including a 49-yard touchdown run. 

The 38-16 result shocked the country who expected Colorado, then a year-in, year-out college football juggernaut, to blow out the jumpstart Oregon team. 

"That was the moment that we took a step forward in terms of what the country saw from Oregon's football program," recognizes Harrington. "We put on a show against a team that everybody in the country thought simply was going to run right through us. And they didn't.

"That kind of set the tone for how people viewed Oregon's football program but it also put something in the minds of a lot of high school kids across the country that said 'You know what, this would be a pretty good place to be.'"

Even in the moment, Harrington knew the 2002 Fiesta Bowl would be an event larger than just one win. 

"Honestly, at the moment, we knew something big was happening but looking back it truly was a foundational moment for the program going forward and I don't think you could have written a better script."