Loss to WSU was a temporary setback.
On the afternoon of Oct. 8, 1994, in Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash., Oregon's Rose Bowl season came to a classic crossroads.
The Ducks, who had upset Southern California in the Coliseum the previous weekend, lost to No. 22 Washington State, 21-7, before a Dad's Weekend crowd of 37,600.
They were 3-3 overall, 1-1 in the Pac-10 Conference. Ahead were four straight home games - against California, Washington, Arizona and Arizona State.
The Ducks were on nobody's list of title contenders, except their own.
"The No. 1 thing was the belief we had in each other, from the start of the year," recalled Alex Molden, a junior that season, and starting cornerback. "Even though we dropped two in a row to teams we should have beat, we never doubted each other, and we knew we were on to something big.
"With that senior class of Herman O'Berry, Chad Cota and Danny O'Neil, and our class, we knew we were on to something special. We didn't have any true superstars; we did it together as a team.
"Coming home, we knew we had a four-game homestand. It was against quality opponents, but we had something behind us with the fans, and we were, `OK, we have to take advantage of this.' '
A veteran of eight NFL seasons, primarily with the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers, Molden lives in San Diego, where he has a business venture - SportsWorx.com, which helps high school athletes find scholarships - and is staying in shape in case an NFL team needs help.
"It's been tough," he said of his first season out of football, "but that's the nature of the beast." He had two surgeries, knee and ankle, in 2001. "I've been very fortunate, being in the league for eight years," he said.
Molden and his wife, Christin, met as students at Oregon. On crutches after reconstructive knee surgery following the 1992 Independence Bowl, Molden arrived late for class one day and took the seat next to her.
"I played the pity card well," he said. They have four children: Isaiah, 8; Elijah, 5; Micah, 2, and Alana, 6 months.
Though the 1994 Oregon team would become known for its "Gang Green" defense, Washington State's defense had the big reputation going into the game. The Cougars led the nation in scoring defense, allowing 5.5 points per game.
With quarterback Danny O'Neil still recovering from a staph-strep infection on his right ring finger - it had required minor surgery, and seven stitches to close the incision - the Ducks started sophomore Tony Graziani, who had led the victory over USC.
But on Oregon's first possession, Graziani was sacked - there were 10 on the day by the Cougars - and fumbled, and linebacker Ron Childs ran 26 yards for a touchdown. Later in the first half, the Ducks penetrated the WSU 40, but wideout Cristin McLemore and Graziani suffered ankle injuries on that series, Graziani's coming on the play before he was intercepted in the end zone.
In came O'Neil, who'd taken one snap in practice since the Iowa game two weeks earlier. He knotted the score at 7 with a 42-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Wilcox, but spent most of the day being harassed by the WSU defense.
The Cougars took the lead in the third quarter, then iced the game with a 92-yard drive early in the fourth quarter. The Oregon injury list was long, led by McLemore and Graziani, whose severe ankle injury quieted any possible quarterback controversy.
Who could have predicted then that the Ducks would run the table, six straight Pac-10 wins, or that "Gang Green," the nickname given the defense by coordinator Nick Aliotti, would become a catchphrase?
"That started in the beginning of training camp," Molden said. "Aliotti brought that to us and said, `What do you guys think?' and we were, `Well, OK, whatever.' But once we started to play as a unit, we really started to be proud of that."
From 3-3 and 1-1, Oregon would would finish the season in the Rose Bowl.
"I'm very proud of my ring," Molden said. "I show my kids the Rose Bowl ring, and the one I'm proudest of is the Pac-10 championship ring. I say `One day you guys can get one of these playing football.' They get really excited about that."
Each Saturday during the 2004 football season, The Register-Guard will revisit games, plays and players from Oregon's 1994 Rose Bowl season.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Oct 9, 2004|
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