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Sooner debate breeds need to validate win.

Byline: Ron Bellamy The Register-Guard

For Mike Bellotti, the letters and e-mails keep coming. Some question his character. Some offer more printable suggestions for the Oregon football coach, such as a rematch of Oregon and Oklahoma after the regular season, with $1 million on the table, winner take all.

There was even the letter addressed to "Coach Bowerman," and Bellotti figures that Bill Bowerman, the late Oregon track and field coach, would have had an answer, blunt and to the point.

Since the win over Oklahoma was Oregon's last game, followed by the bye weekend, the Ducks are still dealing with questions about it before their next game, Saturday afternoon at Arizona State.

Leave it to a football coach to find a motivational speech somewhere in there, and Bellotti has.

Given the controversy, Bellotti told his team, the Ducks will have to "validate" their win over OU.

And the way to do that is to "go out and win the next game."

Of course, whatever the outcome against the Sooners, Bellotti was going to have to put it in perspective for his team by this week.

It was, after all, just the third game of the season. A loss wouldn't have meant that Oregon couldn't still contend for the Pac-10 title and a berth in the Rose Bowl.

A simple victory - and Oregon's turned out to be anything but that, during or afterward - would still have had Bellotti reminding the Ducks that after Oregon's last major nonconference win, over Michigan in 2003, the Ducks lost three straight and four of five.

The Michigan win got the Ducks national attention, on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The Oklahoma win got the Ducks national attention, though not so much for the Ducks, but for the Pac-10 officials who worked the game and for an instant-replay system in which, Bellotti said, "there are still some bugs to be worked out."

Bellotti has recognized, as did the Pac-10, that the officiating errors surrounding Oregon's recovery of an onside kick "obviously affected the outcome of the game," won by Oregon, 34-33.

For the Ducks, on the field and in the locker room, those errors weren't evident in the immediate aftermath of the game.

"At the time, we thought the officials were right, and that the replay backed it up, and that we played and did some things that were truly amazing, a feel-good kind of story," Bellotti said Tuesday, during his weekly news conference.

Then came the firestorm.

"After the fact, it's difficult, because there are acknowledged errors that were made," Bellotti said. "Now, I've played in games over the years that I've coached where acknowledged errors were not publicly talked about, and they affected games, and we lost games because of it, with official errors.

"In this game, the Oklahoma president called for the game to be abolished, stricken from the records; their conference commissioner said, `No, that's not the way it's done,' but I'm still getting a lot of calls, a lot of e-mails, a lot of suggestions about replay the game, forfeit the game.

"Obviously it's difficult, because I don't want to take away from what our players accomplished, and yet you recognize errors were made."

Lost in the headlines, Bellotti indicated, is all that Oregon did do: The Ducks scored two late touchdowns and then blocked an OU field goal in the final seconds.

"In all of that controversy, it has not been publicized as much what this team did, what the Ducks did," he said. "I've been pretty quiet, because it's just a difficult position to be in. Are we proud of what we accomplished? Yes. Should that be acknowledged? Absolutely."

That the controversy has "taken away a lot of the luster of this victory from the players" has been turned, by Bellotti, into a point of emphasis for the Arizona State game.

"It's given me cause to tell our kids that we need to validate that victory, and the best way to do that is win the next game," he said.

Do that, and the Ducks would be 4-0, and you'd have to say that, yeah, they'd been lucky, but you'd also have to say they'd been pretty good.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 27, 2006
Words:700
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