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Remember When Life was More Colorful?

September 21st, 2022 by dk

Chris Hansen and Chris Pietsch dug through the R-G archives last week to remind us about Oregon’s last Autzen victory over Brigham Young University. Their time capsule took us back to 1990, long before Phil Knight decided to remake his alma mater into a football powerhouse. I was struck by a detail that was very different three decades ago.

Oregon’s Defensive Coordinator Denny Schuler was quoted about the pressure he felt trying to contain the BYU quarterback in the second half. Ty Detmer would go one to win the Heisman Trophy that year, but Schuler was thinking about his own recent past experience. 

The previous year, the Ducks led BYU at halftime but lost the game. BYU and Detmer scored 33 points in the second half. His job on the sidelines was to make sure that didn’t happen again. “I felt like the guy who goes in and defuses bombs,” Schuler told beat reporter John Conrad.

Football coaches nowadays seldom use similes and they almost never talk about their feelings. But this quote came from an era when reporters had full and constant access. Practices were not closed to the media, though there was a “gentleman’s agreement” not to divulge anything that might give opposing teams a strategic advantage.

To use a term we reserve mostly for war correspondents, reporters were “embedded” with the team they covered. Readers enjoyed more colorful quotes, but they also gained a deeper understanding about the situation. Chip Kelly is reliably colorful, but it’s all more scripted and performative than it was in 1990.

Colorful commentary is all around us, but that’s not the same as an unscripted comment from the person directing the actions being discussed. We hear more of “what I would have done” and less of “what I was feeling while I was doing it.” And it’s not limited to sports pages.

What if we’re all just less colorful in our everyday life? Or at least less original in our colorful comments. Talk radio and cable news give us a daily treasure trove of colorful comments that we can use as party patter. That doesn’t tell others anything about what it’s like to be inside our skin, the way Schuler spoke to Conrad.

We’ve become increasingly transactional, even with our friends and colleagues. This came to light for me when dealing with refugees from Afghanistan. Too often we assumed we had a language barrier, when it was much more of a cultural divide.

Spontaneous exchanges are more risky. We might reveal parts of ourselves that others didn’t know and they might not appreciate. Rejection or rebuke stings quite a bit less if you are only repeating what somebody else said. It doesn’t matter if you’re quoting Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity.

It’s safer to rely on memes and clever quotes, but it’s a whole lot less revelatory. If a defensive coordinator could talk honestly about how he feels, we should be able to follow suit. It’s harder today, but only because it’s less common. If we choose to stay safe, we’re making the world just a little bit less colorful.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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