Welcome, Duck fans and haters alike. It’s that time of year again—that sinking feeling of a title feeling slipping away is setting in already. Throughout my two decades on Earth, this fan base has been brought to the ultimate brink of success and dragged back through the mud. We have seen Heisman finalists, injuries, and championship appearances drift in and out, building one of the biggest national brands in collegiate sports along the way.
This list serves not as a tear-jerk, but as a badge of self-loathing. Relive the worst of the worst now before it happens again. It is a place to gather all your most hideous fears and release them. So have a stress ball, Kleenex, or whatever else you might need—just not YouTube. Don’t do it. And remember: no matter how sad you get, at least we’ve never gone 0-12.
Finally, before we begin, a clarification: I was born at the turn of the century. I grew up studying the 1994 and 2001 season highlight tapes religiously. This list will not cover those. Yes, the Stanford loss in 2001 was during my lifetime and kept us out of a natty, but I’m not gonna act like I remember it. This might as well be titled “Most Painful Losses Since 2005 or so.” Go figure. These are the games that make you want to dig a hole and hide in it; the ones that make you cringe when remembered; the ones that you thought you could bury forever. You know the feeling—you likely felt it last Saturday. So, without further ado…
Honorable Mentions: Stanford 2013, Rose Bowl 2009-10, UW 2016, Civil War 2016, Cal 2007
10. Arizona 2013: The Surprise Collapse
The 2013 Ducks were coming off a tough 26-20 Thursday night loss to Stanford on the Farm two weeks prior, and the 9-1 record meant we still had a shot to make the Rose Bowl, even if the National Championship was out of reach. A convincing win against Utah the week before made this shellacking in the desert even more of a shock—the Wildcats came storming out of the gate behind KaDeem Carey’s 206 yards and 4 TDs. The Ducks trailed 28-9 at half and mustered only a touchdown for the rest of the game. This loss was crushing, as it demoted us from #5 at the time to an Alamo Bowl appearance (following a classic Civil War battle, might I add). Silver lining: at least we actually won the Alamo Bowl that year.
9. Civil War 2007: The (Original) Missed Field Goal
Spoiler: this is the only Civil War on the list. The little brother in Corvallis rarely gives us much trouble these days, but the first decade of the 2000s was when the rivalry was at its best. The 7-4 Beavers and 8-3 Ducks took very different paths to get to the 2007 Civil War. Mike Riley‘s team started 2-3 before winning six of their last seven coming into Autzen. The 2007 Ducks, well… more on that later. With the score tied, Walter Thurmond III blocked a Beaver field goal with a minute to go, setting up what should have been a game-winning drive for… *checks notes* Justin Roper & Co. The Ducks missed a 53-yard FG with 26 seconds left, but a leaping call gave the Ducks another shot after the 15-yard penalty. Without spiking the ball, the field goal unit rushed on and Matt Evensen missed a 40-yarder as regulation expired. In double overtime, James Rodgers broke a tackle in the backfield and scored a fly sweep touchdown, while Jonathan Stewart was stopped short on 4th and nothing. The Ducks went onto crush a ranked South Florida in the Sun Bowl, but even Beaver fans will admit the Ducks blew the Civil War that year. Silver lining: we won two of the most important Civil Wars ever in the next two years, and have only lost to the Beavers once since this game.
8. Alamo Bowl 2015: The Bad Snaps
Oregon’s 2015 season was full of mistakes, mostly surrounding the quarterback situation with Vernon Adams in and out of good health. Despite close losses to Michigan State and Wazzu and a home blowout to Utah, Oregon ended the regular season with six straight wins and had a good chance to earn an eighth-straight 10-win season. A really, really good chance. The Ducks took a 31-0 lead into halftime of the Alamo Bowl, but they knew trouble was afoot as soon as Adams went down with a concussion in the second quarter, along with starting center Matt Hegarty. The Oregon offense scored zero points in the second half, and the backups could barely complete a snap. TCU clawed their way into overtime before stuffing the Ducks in 3OT, as I helplessly tried to explain how dismal American football was to my Costa Rican exchange student. Silver lining: the Timbers won MLS Cup a few weeks before and this was the beginning of the end for Helfrich.
7. Auburn 2019: The Bo Nix Game
Our most recent high-profile choke-job was in yet another national spotlight, with a chance to avenge the 2010-11 BCS National Championship Game loss in the only ranked matchup of Week 1. The rest of the season will determine the true significance of this game, but we will be haunted by a dropped touchdown, a missed chip shot, and conservative play calling, among many other things. In all, the Ducks made only three touchdowns out of five trips to the red zone, and were ultimately defeated by an imperfect throw from a true freshman quarterback. Silver lining: TBD
6. Stanford 2012: The Missed Block
The 2012 Ducks were special. Marcus Mariota’s freshman season started with a 10-0 record, demolishing every opponent along the way and averaging 55 points per game. The only thing that stood between the BCS #2 Ducks and a shot at Bama in the National Championship was, well, nothing. Mariota was streaking down the right hand side, with only empty turf in front of him, ready to seal the game with a flawless touchdown run. He even had De’Anthony Thomas as a blocker. But Thomas failed to see a Stanford DB come up from behind, shoving Mariota out of bounds and capping the run at 77 yards. Mistakes and missed field goals ensued, and the Cardinal kicked a very Stanford-like 37-yard field goal to win by three in overtime. This was the only game where I saw most people leaving the stadium in tears. Everyone except fate knew which team should have won the game. Said Chip Kelly: “You’d love to have some words that could kind of take the pain out of it. But there aren’t any.” Ditto. Silver lining: The Ducks went onto win the Fiesta Bowl in Chip’s last game at Oregon.
5. USC 2011: The Incomplete Comeback
After a Week 1 loss to LSU, Chip Kelly’s Ducks rattled off nine straight wins and beat Andrew Luck and #3 Stanford on the Farm. Only a bowl-banned USC, Civil War, and Pac-12 Championship Game were blocking another run at the title. The Ducks were #4, boasting 21 straight home wins and 19 straight conference wins. Moreover, an upset loss for #3 Oklahoma State during the week meant the BCS door was wide open for Oregon. Those dreams seemed quickly crushed against USC. The Trojans held a 38-10 lead with 3:28 left on the clock in the 3rd quarter, but the Ducks responded instantly. Freshman DAT took a kickoff return to the house on a fake reverse, and by the middle of the fourth quarter the Ducks had pulled within three. They stayed within three, drove down the field, and set up for a game-tying field goal from Alejandro Maldonado. They were still within three when the field goal sailed wide left. Also, LeBron was there. Silver lining: A Rose Bowl win later sealed a successful season, but we are left knowing it could have been so much more.
4. Arizona 2007: The Downfall of Dennis
First-grade Me fully understood the implications of this game. On that fateful November Thursday, I had reminded all my friends at school that the Ducks had just beaten two top-10 teams, that Dennis Dixon was one of the best players in the country, and that the Ducks were 8-1 with a #2 ranking. Dixon had been injured the week before against ASU, but he sprinted for a 39-yard touchdown to open the game against Arizona. Later in the quarter, though, Dixon tore his ACL. The Ducks stayed in the game despite a pick six, punt return, and wacky fake-punt-pseudo-fumble not going their way, and cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter. But it wasn’t enough, and things only got worse until the Sun Bowl. 2007 remains a mysterious season; the hypotheticals of an uninjured Dixon haunt Duck fans, and Oregon was pushed to the national wayside before they could complete a full week at #2. Silver lining: Oregon captured revenge in the desert two years later by beating Arizona in a game that would have sent them to the Rose Bowl. They have still never been.
3. Stanford 2018: The GameDay Meltdown
Visualize your textbook opening to your first weekend of college. You get to the dorms, become instant friends with your roommates, and gear up for the big game. What’s more, your school’s football team has a special quarterback, vastly improved defense, and a top-10 division rival is coming to town. By the way, ESPN’s College GameDay is on campus and your sign gets on TV. By the way, the scoreboard reads 30-7 with your team leading late in the third quarter. What could go wrong, you ask? Everything. Everything went wrong. A touchdown run that hit the inside of the pylon was overturned, and the stalled drive resulted in six points the other way. From there, the Ducks gave up pass after pass to Standord’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and the lead kept snipping down. Still, the Ducks controlled the ball and the game with less than a minute to go in the fourth, and kneeling the ball would have likely put the game away. Instead, Oregon pushed for a first down, and a fumble set up Stanford’s game-tying field goal. The Cardinal stuck to their guns in overtime, and I was left questioning my own sanity. Silver lining: rushing the field a few weeks later after beating the Huskies.
2. Natty 2014-15: The Zeke Game
This was the year. This was the year to win the National Title. This was the year of the Heisman quarterback, the signature non-conference win, and the second chance. It was the year of the first College Football Playoff win—ever. It was the year that we dethroned Jameis and the Seminoles. But no. Ezekiel Elliott‘s four touchdowns buried Oregon’s hopes in the fourth quarter after cutting the lead to one in the third. Despite the final score, the Ducks definitely had chances to win this game: dropped passes, a Buckeye goal line stand, and the failure to capitalize on four Ohio State turnovers marked the end of a 13-win season for the Ducks, the most in school history. While it definitely wasn’t as close as the final game on this list, it was a blown opportunity at the highest level. Two seasons later, Mark Helfrich was fired and the Ducks were out of bowl contention. Silver lining: at least we don’t live in Ohio.
1. Natty 2010-11: Dyer was Down
That’s all I really have to say. Both teams made heaps of mistakes, and the Ducks did everything they could to tie the game down the stretch. The miraculous was within reach, as long as our defense made one last stop. On a routine tackle, Michael Dyer slipped away from Eddie Pleasant and set up the game-winning field goal. Many people claim to have an enlightened view when discussing this play, but the bottom line is that it was simply unlucky. Pleasant, Dyer, and almost everyone else thought Dyer was down. I will not be pulling out the rulebook here, but I encourage you to do your own research on this one. In the end, a storybook ending to a perfect season popped up, paused, and sprinted down the sideline, an inch from becoming reality. Some day it may be. But for now, we persevere, and keep marching onto the next play, next game, next season.
Such is the life of an Oregon Ducks football fan.