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November 14, 2008

Boo birds not welcome at Autzen

Last Saturday's victory over Stanford was great for the Oregon football team. It improved to 7-3 on the year and 5-2 in the Pac-10. Before the season started, most fans would have been comforted by those numbers.

That was back when everybody thought Nate Costa was the heir-apparent to NFL-bound Dennis Dixon. Such is not Oregon's luck at that position lately, and Costa never even made it out of fall camp before he suffered a non-contact knee injury which ended his season. Next up was Justin Roper, who survived almost a full game until getting knocked out in the second half against Purdue. That left Chip Kelly and the offensive coaches scrambling. Two true freshmen and a first-year sophomore were all that was left.

Good players those latter three. In a year or two, any one of them would have had enough time in the spread offense to be very effective in all phases. True freshmen Darron Thomas and Chris Harper both got their shots in desperation, and both showed flashes of great potential. Neither is ready to quarterback a BCS football team.

The same could have been said for JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli. Masoli had some college game experience, more than anybody else left standing and even led a national champion since high school. The difference last year for Masoli was the linemen were four inches shorter and he was the fastest guy on the field. Nonetheless, thrust into the starting role for Oregon, Jeremiah Masoli has performed admirably.

For some Duck fans, the 20-year old is not good enough every play and they certainly let him hear it against Stanford. Knowing how hard Jeremiah has been working in the five months he's been in Eugene, it was difficult to sit in the press box at Autzen and stomach the crescendo of boos emanating from below. Such ugliness directed at a young man or group of young men should have the fans sitting around the belligerents taking action. Boos are fine and dandy for million dollar athletes if you want. Teenagers and twenty-somethings playing for a scholarship are off limits to those with even a modicum of class.

Subsequent excuses of 'well I was booing the coaches' or other nonsense aren't worth the breath it takes to utter them. The coaches don't hear it, the kids do. And from a football sense, the boos last Saturday didn't come after what fans thought were bad calls, they came after the ball slipped out of Masoli's hand when he tried to pass it. Damn that Chip Kelly and his weather, boo!

Actually subsequent excuses weren't necessary because everybody denied it. Nobody booed, we just all heard it. That's why Ernie Kent went out of his way to mention how much the booing hurts young people when he spoke at the Duck luncheon on Monday. The context was that there were football, basketball and track recruits at Saturday's football game, and they saw a side of Autzen behavior that requires the teenagers to be more adult than the fans they ignore.

The booing is not a new thing at Autzen but it was at its worst against the Cardinal. Saturday, it was clearly directed at an athlete while a national audience of recruits sat observing. It only increased as the game progressed. Following the game it was noted by players, coaches, local and national media.

This plea is not directed necessarily at those who booed an individual athlete on Saturday. Pleasing though it might be to affect change at the source, it is far too unlikely heavy readers initiated the problem. What needs to happen is self-policing, fans that show leadership in their sections. Not confrontation, leadership. Set the example for your sections by giving Jaison Williams a standing ovation. He's helped the Ducks win a lot of games during his career. Cheer Jeremiah Masoli all game long, even when he's not perfect. Let Nick Reed, Cole Linehan and Sonny Harris know how much you've appreciated their stellar senior-season play. Thank Patrick Chung for staying for his last year to help the team instead of himself. But most of all, make it the fun experience college football is supposed to be.


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