It’s not uncommon to drive down Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Eugene and hear the Oregon Ducks fight song creeping through your car windows on a Saturday afternoon. If you were to travel that path over the past few days, though, you might have heard the Washington Huskies fight song, “Bow Down to Washington,” playing instead.
No, it’s not your mind playing tricks on you. Instead, it’s Oregon’s first-year head coach Dan Lanning taking a new approach to the rivalry week.
Previous coaches have waved off Washington meaning anything more than every other game on the schedule. Chip Kelly famously retorted that every game was like the Super Bowl to the Ducks. Mario Cristobal was always buttoned up with the media, saying nothing provocative in front of the camera, but his actions behind locker room walls told you how he really felt about the team up north.
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Lanning is taking a different approach to the big game. He hasn’t shied away from acknowledging this matchup between two rivals means more than your average Pac-12 contest. He’s admitted as much in interviews this week, but actions speak louder than words, and Lanning’s actions this week have been loud.
During the early periods of Duck practices since Monday, Oregon’s 36-year-old head coach took over the AUX cord, pumping in the Huskies’ fight song as players stretched and warmed up. On multiple occasions, players begged him to turn it off or change the song.
Lanning just turned it up louder.
“I’ve heard way too much of it, all practice,” safety Bennett Williams said on Wednesday, shaking his head with a smile. “Despite many efforts to try and get him to turn it off, he’s just turned it up louder. I’m done hearing that, and hopefully, we don’t hear it at all on Saturday.”
Williams isn’t the only player to be irked by the constant droning of the bombastic tune.
“I’m tired of it,” cornerback Trikweze Bridges said. “I’m tired. I don’t plan on hearing it none in Autzen, so it’s just annoying to hear it in practice.”
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“I’ve been trying to tell him to change the song and everything,” Keyon Ware-Hudson told me. “But we do what the headman says.”
The headman himself is getting tired of it as well, he admitted, but there seems to be a method to his madness. On Wednesday afternoon, I asked Lanning what he felt the impact of that little jingle was on his team, and if his plan was working.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure,” he said.
He paused. The words didn’t tell much, but the sly smile on his face offered me everything I needed to know.
“I just want it to be on the forefront of our guys’ minds.”
The unconventional tactic may ruffle some feathers in Eugene. There are several schools of thought when it comes to rivalries, and I’m sure more than a couple of fans will be worried that the Ducks are getting too caught up in the hatred of this meeting. In the end, a football game is a football game, and what Oregon has been doing so far this year has been working. Why change things up now because the opponent wears a shade of purple that boils the blood?
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That’s a reasonable argument to make. It’s also more than fair to think that Lanning knows what he’s doing in this situation.
“It for sure lights the fire,” Ware-Hudson said of the coaching tactics. “I feel like everyone feels the same way. We try to play this game a little different… we’ve got hate toward each other and everything.”
Earlier this week when talking to the head coach about the rivalry, he didn’t shy away from the fact that it’s a big deal. They know that beating Washington carries more weight than beating California or Washington State.
“This game means a lot to us,” Lanning said on Monday. “This is a game we want to win and I know how important it is to all Duck fans.”
Some people will love the tactics; some may be concerned with the energy spent on emotion rather than game planning. In the end, Lanning has gotten the Ducks this far, so why stop following him now?
“I trust in coach Lanning and the things that he has planned,” Bridges said. “Let’s be mad now, with the sounds and all the stuff like that, so we won’t have to worry about it come game time.”