The Locker Room of the Future is designed as much to wow those prospective players as to coddle the current ones. It has a squint-no-more lighting system, calibrated to match conditions outdoors; a space-age sliding door that whooshes open and shut vertically; and a security system that reads players' thumbprints. The desire to cater to the tastes of teenagers also made Oregon eager to embrace the jaundice-yellow Nike jerseys the Ducks broke out this season. "I showed the new uniforms to my wife," says Moos, "and she said, 'Oh, these are terrible. You've got to be kidding!' Then I showed 'em to Samie Parker"—the team's star wideout—"and he said, 'I love these!' I guess you know who won that one." As long as players, and potential players, are nuts for those unis, in other words, Oregon doesn't care what anyone else thinks.
If the jerseys, buildings and billboards are the sizzle, Bellotti, 52, is the steak. "I would rather sell the product on the field," he says. "I want to be known for the kids and the teams and the wins." In 1995 Bellotti succeeded Rich Brooks, who moved on to the NFL after having taken the team to its first Rose Bowl in nearly four decades. Since then the Ducks have won more games (71) than any other Pac-10 school, and Bellotti has been wooed in recent years by Notre Dame, USC and Ohio State. One of the reasons he stayed is that his job in Eugene isn't complete. After finishing the 2001 season ranked second in the country, the Ducks backslid last year, dropping six of their last seven games to finish 7-6. Maybe building a dominant football program on the banks of the Willamette was simply too tall an order.
Maybe, on the other hand, Oregon simply needed better play from its quarterbacks and secondary. Before the season, senior Jason Fife (the onetime heir to Joey Harrington) yielded his starter's job to Clemens. But Bellotti has been using Fife as a spark plug. In each of the three games going into the Michigan contest, Fife had led the team to a touchdown on his first series. He did it again last week, coming in with the Ducks up 7-6 in the second quarter and engineering a three-play, 49-yard touchdown drive. "At first it was really tough," says Fife, "since I was the starter last year. But I know Kellen's a great quarterback. We both are. There were never any hard feelings."
There were plenty of hard feelings in Duck Nation last season toward a group of defensive backs that allowed 291.2 yards passing per game. Oregon's secondary was inexperienced, predictable and short. Although three of last year's four starters are back this season, they look like a different crew. They've responded well to the intensity of new secondary coach John Neal and to the more exotic schemes introduced by defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who was dispatched by Bellotti to coaching clinics at TCU and Texas to bone up on zone blitzes. "We're playing with more urgency, more edge," says cornerback Steven Moore. "It's fun to play with the quarterback's mind, show him different looks, make him think." The Ducks held Navarre to 87 passing yards through three quarters on Saturday, and though Navarre found his rhythm in the fourth quarter, "by then," said free safety Keith Lewis, "it was too late."
Whether Saturday's win was the most significant in the history of the program, as some Ducks fans—including Moos—were proclaiming it, remains to be seen. What seems more certain is that last season, not 2001, was the aberration. As it pushed the Wolverines all over the field, Oregon was the team with the look of a perennial power. A win at Autzen this Saturday, against Washington State, and the 10th-ranked Ducks (who don't face USC this season) will be a bona fide national-title contender.
One of the last Oregon players off the field after the Michigan game was Weaver, the Xbox-playing center. Now, euphoric and exhausted, he stood in the tunnel and said, "Well, what do you think? Has our locker room made us soft?"
Better ask Michigan.