The most popular Oregon bird among football fans? The University of Oregon Ducks football team, of course! Though hardly a perpetual powerhouse on the order of an Alabama or a Notre Dame, the history of Oregon football is dominated by the Ducks.
The university first fielded a football team, then called the Webfoots, in 1894, winning its inaugural game 44-3 against Albany college. With the introduction of the Rose Bowl and other bowls, the Webfoots soon came to national prominence, appearing in the Rose Bowl in 1917 and ’20.
The Oregon Ducks consistently finished in the top 20 of the college polls from the late 1940s to the mid-60s, and beginning in the 1990s became none for the high-flying aerial offense they’re still known for. In the modern era, the Ducks have twice played in the national championship game, losing in 2011 and ’15.
However, right around the time the Ducks were appearing in the 1963 Sun Bowl, America’s football fans had, in general, turned their affections to the pro game. Oregon, like virtually every other college football team, became known for the payers they’d gotten into the NFL – and the Webfoots/Ducks have done decently in this respect, getting some 227 Oregon players into the pro ranks since 1920.
In that spirit, Oregon Birds presents our all-time NFL team of Oregon Ducks alums. The NFL Ducks are short a couple of positions, namely at placekicker and Free safety, but this isn’t a half-bad bunch.
QB Dan Fouts, backup Norm Van Brocklin. Fouts and his 15 seasons’ worth of gaudy stats on the famed “Air Coryell” San Diego Chargers beat out one of the 1950s’ great quarterbacks for the GOAT Ducks – but let’s hope both stay healthy or they may have to bring in Marcus Mariota or A.J. Feely...
RBs Jonathan Stewart, LeGarrette Blount. In his days with the Carolina Panthers, Stewart was a fantasy football darling and he likely will be on the GOAT Ducks as well: His career AV is higher than “skill player” in this offense. And Blount brings a winner’s mentality as one of the few players in the 21st century to have both win with and against the New England Patriots in a Super Bowl.
WRs Ahmad Rashad, Bob Newland. For as great as the Oregon Ducks passing game typically is, very few receivers have translated that success into the NFL. Rashad is an easy pick, but for Fouts’s no. 2 option, we’re going with Newland, a 7th-round pick who managed to stick with the New Orleans Saints for four seasons in the 1970s.
TE Russ Francis. Francis was Rob Gronkowski before Gronkowski existed. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but in the pre-Belichick era, Russ was the greatest Patriots tight end ever.
C Fred Quillan or Max Unger. Quillan was a two-time All Pro who was the snapped for the Walsh and Montana 49ers of the 1980s; Unger was a three-time All Pro who was Russell Wilson’s first center. Either would be a great pick for the GOAT Ducks.
OTs Gary Zimmerman, Kyle Long. Long is still active in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, but even if he can get back to playing a full season (he hasn’t done so since 2015), he’ll likely never match Zimmerman’s 12-year, 197-game career which ended with his Denver Broncos defeating the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.
OGs Richie Incognito, Pat Matson. Would you believe Incognito is still in the NFL? Since getting with the St. Louis Rams in 2006, the wickedest Duck was charged with bullying a teammate after an NFL investigation, has made racist remarks, has lied about signing with the Minnesota Vikings, has been involved in physical altercations at a fitness club and a funeral home(!) and has missed two full seasons. But he's still there, reportedly ready to play for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020...
DL Haloti Ngata, Matt Brock, Ron Snidow, George Martin, DeForest Buckner. We’ve got an extra man here, as Brock, Buckner and Snidlow spent/have spent time in various positions on the DL. But there’s no disputing Ngata’s inclusion; along with Fouts and Zimmerman, Ngata is one of the GOAT Ducks’ bona fide mega superduperstars.
LBs Dave Wilcox, Bryan Hinkle, Mike Walter. Guess the GOAT Ducks will be playing a 4-3 base defense, but at least the starting three is pretty solid. Wilcox played 11 seasons for the 49ers in the 1960s and 70s and missed just one game; Hnkle was OLB on both sides for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1980s and 90s; and Walter’s best years were as Quillan’s teammate in San Francisco.
CBs Dave Grayson, Anthony Newman, Mario Clark, Jairus Byrd. Unfortunately, the dire situation at safety for the GOAT Ducks may mean some creativity from the secondary is required. The leader here is Dave Grayson, bagger of some 48 interceptions in 10 seasons with the AFL’s Houston Texans/Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders.
SS Eddie Pleasant. Pleasant is essentially the only Oregon Ducks safety – FS or SS – to last more than one season in the NFL. Pleasant played for six season with the Texans in the 2010s before getting into a handful of games for the Packers and Cardinals in 2018.
P Tommy Thompson. Likewise, only one Oregon Ducks punter has made any impact in the NFL. Thompson played with the 49ers for three seasons in the 1990s.
Finally, we’re carving out a special spot on the roster for CB/RB Mel Renfro. Renfro’s career AV rating is fourth-highest on the team, behind only Fouts, Ngata and Zimmerman – and he did so while playing both sides of the ball for the 1970s Steelers, still widely regarded as some of the best NFL teams ever. On the GOAT Ducks, perhaps we’ll be using the flexible Mr. Renfro in the free safety spot…
–written by Chester Evans
Oregon Field Ornithologists. P.O. Box 10373, Eugene, OR 97440