November 25, 2008
There are two ways to take Jacquizz Rodgers' probable absence from the lineup Saturday, when Oregon State tries to lock up its first Rose Bowl berth in 43 years against Oregon. If you're one of those "conventional thinkers," this probably sounds like bad news: Quizz is the Beavers' MVP, a slashing, Mike Hart-esque workhorse who, despite his size, logged at least 20 carries in nine straight games before leaving OSU's win over Arizona in the first half last week. He averaged 118 yards in those games and put himself and his team on the national map by slaying USC for 186 in September. He might be the one player in the Pac-10 his team can least afford to lose, and Saturday would be the worst possible time to find out.
On the other hand, if you're from the school of Major League, The Bad News Bears, The Waterboy, Hoosiers, The Mighty Ducks, A League of Their Own, Little Giants, the 1973 New York Knicks or pretty much any other underdog sports movie ever made, you've seen this too many times to be worried. The Beavers' season is already a contrived screenplay, complete with a rock bottom performance that validated all the skeptics, followed by an obscure hero emerging from the most unlikely place to spark a storybook run that's put the team within reach of its greatest dream, and the chance to avenge its greatest humiliation -- and all that's standing in the way is its Most. Hated. Rival.
This foolishness has been written a thousand times, and it ends one of two ways: Either OSU has to go that last mile without its star, as a team, dammit, or not at all, or Quizz walks into a dejected locker room at halftime of the Civil War, straps on the pads against the doctors' orders, leads the greatest comeback in school history and Oregon State punches its ticket to Pasadena while Phil Knight mugs angrily and is then led away by police for some reason. But the story never ends with the Beavers packing for the Sun Bowl. This isn't some mind-bending Charlie Kaufman downer; it just doesn't work that way. Quizz Rodgers is a likable protagonist, and Oregon State has to pull this out at the last minute. Decades of foolproof narrative convention demand it.