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Oregon's $40,000 Billboard Hits Close to Home for USC

August 20, 2002|ROB FERNAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sight of three 40-foot Ducks in downtown Los Angeles has ruffled the feathers of some territorial Trojans.

In another sign that the power in Pacific 10 football now resides in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon has erected a billboard depicting Duck receivers Keenan Howry, Jason Willis and Samie Parker on the north side of the 12-story Hotel Figueroa, a short jog from USC.

The proximity of the 144-foot by 94-foot image to the campus of a conference rival doesn't sit well with current and former Trojans.

"I feel as if that's an insult," said senior receiver Kareem Kelly. "When I saw it, I was shocked."

Allan Graf, a guard on USC's 1972 national championship team, was among several former players at Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage who questioned Oregon's motives for putting up a billboard so close to USC. Last year, Duck running back Maurice Morris was depicted on a billboard adjacent to the 405 Freeway in Fox Hills.

"If they have to come down to L.A. and start doing things like that, I think it's pretty sad," said Graf, whose son Derek is a reserve center for the Trojans. "You don't see us putting billboards up in Eugene."

Former tailback Anthony Davis, a member of the 1972 and '74 national champions, suggested USC should take action.

"If our school lets them get away with it, I would question that," Davis said. "I saw the billboard on the 405 Freeway last year, but if this one's in the middle of town and specifically down near the campus, [Athletic Director] Mike Garrett and [USC] President Steven Sample should call up there and say, 'Look, you need to cease on this billboard in the middle of Trojantown.' "

Garrett indicated he has no plans of making such a call. "They can do anything they want," he said of Oregon. "It's a free world."

Greg Graziano, marketing director at Oregon, said the university spent $40,000 for the billboard, which is visible to the left while driving south through downtown on the 110 Freeway. He said it will stay up for three months.

It is part of an ambitious marketing campaign launched by Oregon in the last two years to increase the visibility of its football team. The school spent $250,000 last year for a billboard of quarterback Joey Harrington near Madison Square Garden in New York. Returning to the Big Apple, Oregon this year spent $250,000 for a billboard of Howry in Times Square and an additional $50,000 to have Duck games televised, delayed, on the Yankees Entertainment & Sports (YES) Network.

"If you're not located in a media center, you go to the center," an Oregon official told the New York Times.

And the Ducks aren't stopping there. A billboard of Oregon running back and Sacramento native Onterrio Smith is scheduled to go up this week on the Bay Bridge--in the recruiting backyard of Stanford and California--and Graziano said there are plans for a billboard depicting Duck basketball players Luke Ridenour and Luke Jackson in the Los Angeles area in the coming months.

Oregon's marketing foray into Southern California isn't surprising, considering that the Ducks depend heavily on recruits from the area. All three wide receivers depicted on the billboard hail from the Southland--Howry from Los Alamitos, Parker from Long Beach and Willis from L.A.

"Certainly it's about recruiting," Graziano said. "Whether we get kids from L.A., or from San Francisco, or from our own state, we put billboards where there are potential student-athletes."

Said Davis: "Basically what they're saying is, 'We'll do better for you than the University of Southern California.' I think that's hitting real low."

Pat Howell, a former All-American guard who played on USC's 1978 national championship team, said the downtown billboard should add to the intensity of the Trojans' Oct. 26 game at Oregon. USC hasn't beaten the Ducks since 1997.

"If I had to drive by that every day, I couldn't wait for the game to happen," Howell said. "They're encroaching on our territory.... If anything, it's an incentive to go up there and [beat them]."

Kelly, who ranks fifth on USC's all-time reception list, is looking forward to the Oregon game for personal reasons. He's eager to test his skills against Howry, a third-team All-American last season.

"When we play them, it's going to determine who's the best receiver in the Pac-10," said Kelly, who knows Howry and was a teammate of Parker's at Long Beach Poly High. "I can't wait to play them."

Marlin McKeever, a two-time All-American offensive end for USC in 1959-60, isn't worried about the Oregon billboard.

"It isn't going to hurt SC football, and it's going to cost them money, so it will give us more money to have for recruiting," McKeever said. "I'm not offended at all because they obviously respect what we have and where [Coach] Pete Carroll is going, or they wouldn't be doing it."

Graziano said Oregon spent about $435,000 for seven in-state billboards and the three in New York, L.A. and the Bay Area. He calls the campaign a success, despite criticism from some that Oregon is exploiting athletes to promote the school.

"We've certainly received a lot of attention for it," Graziano said. "That means it works."

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