A collection of random memories found in and around my desk at the Oregonian as I prepare for my Aug. 28 departure. Today:
A VHS tape! From the Great Heisman Campaign of 2001.
If I had an outlet for the story, I’d march this thing to the door of that sleek new monument to ego in Eugene and see if anyone had a VCR that could play this relic. I sure don’t.
You wouldn’t think that building and this tape have much in common, but it was kind of like finding Patient Zero in a box under my desk. From a $250,000 ad campaign to hundreds of millions of dollars in facilities and flash, the goals are the same.
I think I was at a golf tournament when someone called to tell me Oregon planned to put a giant Joey Heisman in Midtown Manhattan* to promote him for the award.
I think I said, “Why?”
Last week, the Wall Street Journal did a story on the death of the Heisman campaign. Harrington’s quoted as saying he wouldn’t be worth the money now. He was in 2001.
He and Oregon State’s Ken Simonton ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. At the Oregonian, we ran huge preseason profiles of both, followed by weekly diaries from each player.
Harrington wrote long (and well) after the loss to Stanford, and then made a very good argument as to why he should get the space. If we wanted a diary, here was something heartfelt at a critical point in the season. This, he argued, was what we were looking for when we asked him to do the diaries. The counter-argument on our end was, “We’re trying to keep Oregon and Oregon State space equal so fans don’t bitch.”
It wasn’t a very good argument.
(Another week, Simonton, unhappy with how he was edited, filed a poem titled “Run Mr. Editor, Run,” which made me root for him forever.)
The Ducks lost only once, and Harrington earned a trip on the banquet circuit. First, Orlando and ESPN’s College Football Awards Show, where pro autograph hounds chased him and others around their hotel.
At Disney World, we watched the holiday parade, Donald Duck waving in the general direction of Harrington and sports information director Dave Williford.
Harrington flinched at a ghost in the Haunted Mansion and then asked me not to write about it. We three definitely rode Pirates of the Caribbean that day, too. Got to expense a Disney ticket. That was fun.
A day later, we were in Manhattan, home of the billboard, and standing with other Heisman finalists to be allowed onto the viewing platform at Ground Zero. The appearance was delayed while the first lady, Laura Bush, made a visit.
Shards of building remained standing, and the subway ride to the site slowed to a shaky crawl because of track damage.
You couldn’t have drawn up two more wildly different days associated with essentially similar events.
The Ducks went on to crush Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl, Harrington was drafted third-overall by the Lions, and Oregon learned that money spent right works — and hasn’t looked back.
If you wonder why Oregon spends the way Oregon spends on football, it’s because it works. It’s been working since 2001.
(*NOT IN TIMES SQUARE. IT WAS NOT IN TIMES SQUARE NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES PEOPLE WRITE IT WAS IN TIMES SQUARE. It was by Madison Square Garden.)