Dancing through stereotypes on shiny green shoes, plowing through perceptions with boxy yellow numbers, a funky West Coast football team has stuck a fist in the Southern jowls of the college football elite.
Those daffy Ducks from Oregon are racing into the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship game with pieces of good ol' Southern pigskin splattered across their soles. On a chilly Thursday afternoon filled with shadows and streaks, the defending champs from Florida State were stunned silly in a Rose Bowl that roared with Oregon fans, blazed with Oregon speed, shook with Oregon toughness, and rocked even after Oregon had completed a 59-20 whipping in the national semifinals.
Appropriately hurrying into their postgame celebration, the laughing and hooting Ducks players rushed a makeshift stage under a shower of confetti while the mass of green-clad faithful — they filled two-thirds of the stadium — hugged and screamed and chanted "Let's Go Ducks!" while their giant webbed mascot danced for joy.
In the middle of it all, standing wide-eyed and dirt-stained, Oregon safety Erick Dargan was shouting about how this game was about a very different kind of animal. He proclaimed this was about respect, the sort not given to West Coast teams in the 10 years since USC last won a national title, the type that seeps into every corner of the regionalized world of college football, from the size of television contracts to placements in the playoff poll.
The Ducks, like others in the Pac-12, have just never been considered tough enough. But after 639 total yards, five collected turnovers and a complete beat-down of former Heisman winning quarterback Jameis Winston, they are now.
"The last time I checked, we were soft and slow, but now I look at the scoreboard and I can't tell, man!" Dargan shouted. "We showed we ain't slow or soft."
Some of his celebrating teammates pulled on T-shirts that read, "Won, Not Done." Others mocked Winston, who had been the target of a rape allegation, by using the Florida State tomahawk chop gesture while chanting, "No means no."
In the end, those soft and slow Ducks were vengeful and vitriolic, finally puffing up their neon chests at those who thought there was nothing underneath.
"Watch the film tonight, it will change that reputation right away," said center Hroniss Grasu. "People want to label us as soft, keep doing it, because this is going to keep happening."
Whatever happens in the Jan. 12 national title game in Dallas, it's hard to imagine it happening again for the Ducks quite like this. Before the 101st Rose Bowl began, even though they were favorites, they were still viewed by many as little more than Phil Knight's personal circus. By early in the fourth quarter, after capitalizing on Seminoles turnovers with four consecutive touchdowns, they were legitimate giant killers.
Gone was Florida State's 29-game winning streak stretching over three years. Gone was Winston's career unbeaten streak stretching over two seasons. Gone early were many of the fans from the relatively small Florida State section. The only trace of Florida State that didn't completely disappear, from start to finish, was Winston's hubris.
During Winston's pregame walk into the Rose Bowl, he appeared to mimic the puffing of a marijuana cigarette before passing it to fans. Then, after he and his team had been thoroughly smoked, he stunned listeners in his postgame news conference by diminishing Oregon's dominance.
"If everybody in this room just want to be real with themselves, this game could have went either way," he told the media. "... We beat ourself. Just be real with yourself right now. We beat ourself."
Well, Winston certainly beat himself with the game's signature play, a spectacular backward, falling, flinging fumble late in the third quarter that was returned 58 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Tony Washington.
But, as for the rest of the game, being real is admitting the Ducks really, really beat up the Seminoles really bad.
"We know what the perception is, but we also know what it's really about,'' said Oregon running back Royce Freeman, and his team showed exactly that.
The Ducks scored on touchdown drives that involved various plays during which Florida State defenders were juked out of their socks, flattened on the giant midfield rose, or carried for 10 yards on green backs. The Seminoles defense was confused, then exhausted, then angry. The Ducks scored one touchdown while the Seminoles were still substituting players, a one-yard run by Thomas Tyner. They scored another touchdown, a 23-yard run by quarterback Marcus Mariota, when the Seminoles just seemingly put their hands on their hips.
"We had a couple of series where we were just flying, man, play after play after play," said receiver Darren Carrington, who scored on consecutive touchdown passes of 56 and 30 yards from lived-up-to-the-Heisman-hype Mariota. "I don't blame them for being tired … we caught them a couple of times not lined up ... then they were palms up.... They were like, 'It's your fault, no, it's your fault.' "
Meanwhile, the Ducks defense, despite allowing 528 total yards, set the tone by keeping Florida State out of the end zone on five consecutive plays from the seven-yard line or closer at the end of first quarter and start of the second quarter.
"We didn't like people calling us slow or soft, those are two of the furthest things from our team, we took that to heart," said receiver Keanon Lowe.
And so they showed their heart, until the flowery end, when Mariota took the stage and began quickly throwing roses to his teammates. Who nabbed every one. Thorns and all. Quick and tough.