Oregon's top 10 players of the 2000s: #1 - Joey Harrington

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By Brian Elder KVAL Sports

"Captain Comeback" went 25-3 as a starter and led Oregon to its greatest season ever.

Few players have captured the hearts of Duck fans the way Joey Harrington did. Chants of "Joey, Joey!" still ring out any time Duck fans catch a glimpse of him.

The Portland native was born to be a Duck. His father, John, played quarterback for legendary Oregon head coach Len Casanova, and upon hearing the news of Joey's birth, Casanova jokingly sent a scholarship offer for Joey.

Little did Casanova know how good of a talent scout he really was. Harrington did end up signing with the Ducks, where he became arguably the biggest star in school history.

Joey started building his legend in 1999. He began the season as a backup to A.J. Feeley, but an elbow injury that limited the effectiveness of Feeley opened the door for Harrington to grab the starting spot. And he never let go.

His first start came against Arizona State, and his talent for leading his team to comeback victories also appeared that night at Autzen Stadium. Trailing 17-13 with just 49 seconds left in the game and sitting 79 yards from the endzone, Harrington engineered a thrilling drive, capped off by the game-winning 29-yard touchdown strike to Marshaun Tucker with nine seconds left in the game.

Oregon to win it's final three games of the season, including a 25-14 victory in Harrington's first Civil War game under center.

Joey's second dramatic comeback came in the '99 Sun Bowl. The Ducks trailed Minnesota 20-17 in the fourth quarter, when Harrington found Keenan Howry for a spectacular sliding catch in the endzone, that put Oregon ahead for good, 24-20.

In 2000, Harrington and the Ducks put together what was at the time the greatest season in school history. One of the biggest moments that year came in just four games in against UCLA. ESPN's College Gameday crew made its first trip to Eugene, and the Ducks and the Autzen crowd didn't disappoint. Oregon defeated the sixth ranked Bruins 29-10.

As big as the UCLA win was, the next week's triumph was even bigger. With the Washington Huskies and Rick Neuheisel in town, Harrington led Oregon to a convincing 23-16 victory - the only loss of the year for UW -  in a game that wasn't even that close.

The Ducks led the entire way in each of those victories, but Captain Comeback would be called upon a few weeks later when Oregon visited Arizona State in Tempe. In a game that the Ducks seemed destined to lose, Harrington willed his team to a heart-stopping comeback. His17-yard touchdown pass to Justin Peelle sent the game to overtime, and after an Oregon score, ASU ran a fake on the extra point, but the pass from Jeff Krohn sailed over the arms of Todd Heap, allowing the Ducks to escape with a 56-55 double-overtime victory. Harrington finished the day with a career high 434 yards and 6 touchdown passes.

Harrington led Oregon to two more fourth-quarter comebacks in the next two games against Washington State and Cal, but the Ducks fell just short of the Rose Bowl when they were beaten by Oregon State 23-13, a rare down game for Harrington as he threw five interceptions.

He bounced back nicely in the Holiday Bowl against Texas. Harrington became just the third player in the history of the bowl game to run, throw and catch a touchdown. He also led Oregon to another fourth-quarter comeback, as the Ducks outlasted Texas 35-30. It was Oregon's 10th victory as part of a 10-2 season - the first time UO ever broke the 10-win barrier.

The Ducks were picked to win the Pac-10 in the preseason poll for the first time ever heading into Harrington's senior season in 2001. Oregon also launched an elaborate Heisman campaign for Harrington, which included the infamous "Joey Heisman" billboard in New York City.

In the opening game of the season, he showed that the Heisman hype was legitimate, as he plunged in for a 2-yard sneak for the winning score in a 31-28 comeback win over Wisconsin.

Two weeks later against USC, he led the Ducks on a 61-yard drive in the final minute to allow Jared Siegel to kick the game-winning 32-yard field goal for a 24-22 victory. His other comeback came against the other LA school, when he found Josh Line for a 1-yard touchdown pass to beat UCLA 21-20.

But Harrington saved his best day as a Duck for last. After being shutout of the national championship game, despite being ranked number two in the country, Oregon delivered a spectacular ending to a magical season. Harrington threw for 350 yards - including a 79-yard strike to Sammie Parker to put the Ducks ahead for good - and four touchdowns. Oregon hammered third-ranked Colorado 38-16 to complete an 11-1 season. The Ducks finished second in the final polls behind Miami.

Harrington also enjoyed several post season honors. His Heisman campaign didn't net him the Trophy, but he did become Oregon's first finalist for the award (he finished 4th in the voting). He was also named a second-team All-American, in addition to being the Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Year. Joey was also the first quarterback in Pac-10 history to lead his team to three bowl victories.

Harrington was drafted in the first round - 3rd overall - by the Detroit Lions in the 2002 NFL Draft.

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