'Game Day' takes it to the next level

When the University of Oregon was beaten by Colorado in the 1996 Cotton Bowl, Nike billionaire and UO alumnus Phil Knight approached Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and asked what it would take to get the football program to the next level.

Bellotti started off his wish list with an indoor practice facility, and by the following autumn the plans — along with a Knight donation estimated at $8 million — were in hand.

As outlined in "Game Day: Oregon Football," (Triumph Books, cloth, 148 pages, $24.95) Oregon football has been in its ascendancy during the Bellotti era, which began in 1995. There have been many on-the-field signature moments during the era: "the Pick" by Kenny Wheaton to seal the 1994 win against Washington, the Joey Harrington-led demolition of Colorado in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl, the national title/Heisman runs of 2007 led by Dennis Dixon until his season-ending injury.

The Knight donation is the kind of off-the-field stuff you don't think about, yet which has tremendous significance for a program that lacks the historic glitz of a USC, a Notre Dame, a Michigan. "Game Day" makes no pretense of being objective sports journalism. It's strictly for fans. And yet it's full of nuggets like the Knight gift.

Take the Duck. The existence of the Ducks' Donald-like mascot stems from a 1947 agreement between then-UO athletic director Leo Harris and Walt Disney. The deal was based on a handshake alone until a 1973 contract formalized it. Or take the expansion of Autzen Stadium a few years back; Knight is said to have put up $40 million toward that.

Or the uniforms. What's up with those Duck unies? The Ducks first scrapped traditional, drab college football uniforms and went for a New Wave look in 1999 with metallic green headgear and that "O" logo. Their 2003-all-yellow look got them called "walking highlighters." And 2006 saw the debut of the diamond-plating on the shoulder pads. Turns out there was a decision to push the envelope. Hey, it works.

Other PR milestones of recent years are here, too, including the giant Joey Harrington billboard in New York City, those Los Angeles billboards that riled up USC, that metallic green hummer and those commissioned comic books featuring Duck recruits as superheroes.

Oh, there's also football stuff here. A century's worth of top players and games, coaches and rivalries, facts and records. Even a nice introduction by UO great Dan Fouts. If you've lived in the state a while and care at all about college football, something here will probably tickle your memory.

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