The Mount Rushmore debate knows no limits. Fans of all sports engage in it at some point, and when looking at a program like Oregon Ducks football, it’s downright unfair to think about how many names (er, faces) get left off.
We’re taking the first step here at Oregon Sports News to narrow things down just a tad. We’ll start by limiting ourselves to the modern era of college football—an era we’re declaring post-1980.
THE Honorable Mention
Regardless of era, there is one honorable mention you can’t simply look past. Phil Knight is the true First Face of any Oregon Ducks Mount Rushmore, whether it’s carved into the side of Spencer Butte or anywhere else. He attended the university as a student athlete well before the ‘80s, but no individual has had a more profound impact on future generations of athletes on campus and around the globe.
The four faces to make up our Mount Rushmore will be limited to just players, so here’s where we’ll take a moment to recognize all coaches who would otherwise be considered. Thank you for your service. You will have your day in our spotlight. (Stay tuned!)
Marcus Mariota couldn’t capture a national championship trophy, but his Heisman remains one of Oregon’s proudest moments in its history. Mariota led his team to a berth in the first-ever College Football Playoffs, he thoroughly embarrassed Jameis Winston in the Rose Bowl and, despite not winning, he got Oregon to just its second national title game of all time. Watching Martiota was special—the way he could slip away from a blitz, throw on the run and manage a game all while remaining a big-play threat. Listening to Mariota speak was even more impressive, the way he presented himself and spoke of pride for his game and his family. Mariota, in many ways, has changed the discussion around Ducks GOATs. But regardless of where you stand in that debate, naming him one of the modern-day Mount Rushmore figures should be an agreeable stance.
It’s tempting to put Bill Musgrave’s name here. It’s tempting to put a number of legends, really, but Musgrave owned 13 records by the time he left the program in 1990, two of which (total offense and total passing yards) were in place until Marcus Mariota’s final season 24 years later. But amid the temptation comes clarity when thinking about Joey. Joey Heisman didn’t officially take home college football’s most prestigious individual award, but he was the main reason Oregon was nationally relevant off the playing field during his era—an era that put a jolt back in the program.
Another name worth mentioning not on this list is LaMichael James. He really led the charge and was the true face of the Ducks’ “Runningback U” moment in time. But Haloti Ngata also carries the title of “face of the era” on the other side of the ball. Simply put: Few have ever—or likely will ever—come through Eugene like Ngata. His legend only grows stronger when you remember he initially tore his ACL on punt coverage before coming back for multiple seasons and becoming one of the best players in all of collegiate football. After his junior year when he was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American, he opted to go pro, landing with the Baltimore Ravens at No. 12 pick. The dude also blocked seven kicks in three years, and he still owns the team’s second-highest bench press at an unreal 495 pounds. Legend.
With apologies to those who came before him—and there are some greats—Kenny Wheaton might be the actual founding father of Oregon football fandom, at least the way we know it today. Whose highlight do you wait to see on the jumbotron at Autzen? Whose radio highlight can you still hear to this day? Who got the Ducks into the Rose Bowl while stomping on the hearts of the team’s most heated rivalry. You know the name. And you know he’s gonna score.