Ducks vs. Bucks vs. Mouse at Disneyland
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Chip Kelly walked to the podium in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle and cast a doleful look at the well-dressed mouse standing to his left.
"I'm a Duck fan. Sorry, Mickey," the Oregon head coach said. "If you could get your boy Donald up here ..."
A few minutes later, in a moment that even Disneyland probably couldn't engineer, two actual ducks flew in tandem over Saturday's ceremony to kick off the week's festivities for the 96th Rose Bowl, matching Kelly's bigger Ducks against Ohio State.
Both teams already had hit the practice field and the weight room in the 24 hours before their trip to Disneyland, the traditional post-Christmas stop for the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions. Even if it's daunting to squeeze their ample frames into teacups or Matterhorn bobsleds, the eighth-ranked Buckeyes (10-2) particularly seemed eager for a week in sunny southern California before their school's first Rose Bowl since 1997.
"We've heard so much about it, but the Rose Bowl really is awesome," Buckeyes linebacker Austin Spitler said, moments after a spray of red-and-white-and-green-and-yellow confetti ended the ceremony. "We're looking forward to everything we're doing this week, top to bottom."
The trip is more of a homecoming for the large flock of Ducks who largely hail from both ends of California. No. 7 Oregon (10-2) is in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1995, yet many players expect Pasadena to resemble Autzen Stadium back in Eugene.
"I've been to Disneyland maybe three or four times, but I'm bigger now," said Oregon cornerback Walter Thurmond III, a West Covina native whose senior season ended with a right knee injury in late September. "We'll see if I can fit on the rides. ... We're definitely treating this like a home game. It's important to hold it down for the West Coast."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel had four fewer players on the Buckeyes' Christmas night flight than he hoped after the suspensions of kick returner and receiver Ray Small, defensive lineman Rob Rose, receiver Duron Carter and running back Bo DeLande, apparently for violating team rules.
The biggest loss likely is Small, the top backup behind starting receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, the top two candidates to assume Small's punt return duties as well.
"I'm most disappointed obviously for the two older kids," Tressel said of seniors Rose and Small. "This could have been a great end of a career, but life goes on."
Ohio State's greatest challenge is slowing down athletic Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the San Francisco native who led the Ducks to their first Pac-10 title since 2001, ending USC's seven-year reign. Masoli's speed and arm strength are tough to duplicate in practice — but Ohio State faces a reasonably similar star in practice every day.
"Having Terrelle (Pryor) is a pretty good guy to practice against," Buckeyes defensive lineman Doug Worthington said. "(Masoli's) burst is ridiculous. You miss one tackle, and he's gone. He's a very talented guy."
The Disneyland jaunt kicked off a week that includes the bountiful meal known as the Beef Bowl, a 54-year-old tradition at a landmark Beverly Hills restaurant where the teams consume several hundred pounds of prime rib. The players also will get free time in Los Angeles between practices leading up to Friday's game.
"It's L.A.," Masoli said with a grin, just as the sun emerged from behind a cloud. "The whole atmosphere is different. This L.A., Hollywood, Disneyland atmosphere is great. We don't get that all the time, especially where we live in Oregon."