Coming off the 2002 Fiesta Bowl and a consensus No. 2 ranking in the nation, Oregon appeared to be on top of the (college football) world.
Then it all nearly came crashing down.
The Ducks followed up arguably the best season in program history with some mediocre seasons going 7-6 in 2002, 8-5 in 2003, and 5-6 in 2004.
While the Ducks rebrand as detailed in The Uniform Craze That Revolutionized College Football, an NBC Sports NW podumentary on the Sports Uncovered podcast feed did bring the Ducks football program to new heights, had it gone too far?
Were the Joey Harrington years a fluke that happened to coincide with the rebrand? Were the Ducks trying too hard to be cool?
During the down years, Nike kept trying to innovate to capture the attention of the youth and in turn the nation.
"We kept trying to like, add more and more reasons why, even if we had a little bit of a down year, there's still something cool about it," iconic Nike designer Tinker Hatfield told NBC Sports NW.
While the 2001 team definitely captured the attention of potential recruits, resulting in three five-star commitments that next recruiting class, the staff needed to figure out who actually may want to attend Oregon or who just wants a free tour.
"We had to sort of figure out who truly was interested in Oregon or who just was wanting to come see the uniforms and the facilities and maybe wanted to wear the uniform but wasn't really, at the end of the line, going to commit to being at Oregon for three to four years and playing for this team," recalled longtime head coach Mike Belloti. "That became a different problem for us that we had in recruiting."
No branding gimmick is more infamous than Roboduck, however.
At halftime against USC in 2002, one of the worst mascots of all time was born, or should I say hatched.
"So, this duck and I'm using air quotes right now bursts out of this egg and it's doing all these acrobatic moves like flips and twists and plays and everyone's like, ooh and ah, this is kind of cool," said Jordan Kent.
"They come up with the term Roboduck and Roboduck was now going to share the field with the duck mascot and those two could not look any different. Roboduck looks like your divorced uncle that is now hitting the gym all the time, and still trying to find dates that are 30 years younger than him, whereas the duck is like, your old lovable grandpappy. You just want to like, sit in his lap and snuggle up with his feathers."
Roboduck was not only a hard sell, he was an impossible sell. Puddles is one of America's most liked mascots and Rododuck was terrifying.
The new mascot signaled to some that perhaps Oregon was trying too hard to get rid of their tradition.
"So now you're trying to sell Roboduck as well as these highlighter uniforms and then all of a sudden Oregon football, I think for the first time too, started to not live up to lofty expectations they had now established for themselves," recalls Jordan Kent.
"I think that's the ultimate fear, right? Is that you draw all this attention to yourself and then once you have the eyeballs, what do you do?" responded Joey Harrington remembering the era of Oregon football shortly after he left for the NFL.
"It either becomes an incredible moment or a colossal fail and that's the tough part, is you can do all of the prep work, all the uniform branding, all of the construction, all of the facilities upgrade. You can do all of that lipstick, but if your product, if what you're putting on the field isn't successful, it doesn't matter what it looks like. People aren't going to pay attention. So yeah, that was another big transitional moment for this program because they were in danger of becoming irrelevant again."
Thankfully for Oregon, the program was able to bounce back with a 10-2 campaign in 2005 before being a healthy Dennis Dixon ACL away from winning a National Championship in 2007. Then, when Chip Kelly took over the program in 2009 he led Oregon to four consecutive BCS Bowls including an appearance in the BCS National Championship.
Those 2002-2004 years weren't all failures for Oregon though. Some creative ideas still live today helping sell the Oregon program.
"One of the things that popped up for me was doing the limited edition Jordan basketball shoes which is still a really coveted part of the recruiting process because no other school gets that," said Hatfield.
Now you can catch Mario Cristobal showing off the custom Air Jordans at the Marcus Mariota Performance Center to five-star and four-star recruits, all thanks to a vision of becoming cool but respecting tradition from Nike.