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Ducks’ system of signs attracts attention

Oregon’s whimsical play-calling signs are efficient and popular with fans.  (Associated Press)
Oregon’s whimsical play-calling signs are efficient and popular with fans. (Associated Press)

EUGENE, Ore. – That poster on Oregon’s sideline emblazoned with the face of the Burger King is not some sort of advertising ploy. It’s a play.

Top-ranked Oregon, in an effort to speed up its lightning-fast offense, uses seemingly nonsensical placards hoisted on the sideline to convey plays to the Ducks on the field.

The signs are split into quadrants of pictures, and can include photos of sportscasters, graphic images and even words. One recently included ESPN’s Rece Davis, a map of New Hampshire, a battleship and the word “glycerine.”

There is nothing really new in flashing numbers or colors from the sideline, usually used alongside traditional hand signals and on-field audibles, to identify plays – especially for no-huddle teams such as Oregon.

But the Ducks are different because their signs are so amusing. As the No. 1 team in the country, undefeated Oregon is getting a lot of TV time.

Oklahoma State used similar signs against Oregon in the 2008 Holiday Bowl, but the Ducks borrowed ideas from several teams and devised their own system. Much like the team took the spread-option offense and made it their own.

“There’s a lot of different systems out there, and a lot of good ones,” Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “This one we just tried to meld with our guys.”

Oklahoma State’s signs in 2008 were divided into six sections with various letters, numbers, symbols and words. The reasoning, just like at Oregon, was to speed up play calling, said Gunter Brewer, the Cowboys’ co-offensive coordinator that season.

He believes Oklahoma State was the first to use poster-sized cards flashed from the sideline.

“We didn’t make the wheel. We just made it rounder,” Brewer said.

The Cowboys would create new signs for each game, keeping a step ahead of any opponents who wanted to try to decipher the codes. Brewer, now a receivers coach at Oklahoma State, says that to his knowledge nobody ever figured them out.

The Cowboys have since moved away from the system, but Brewer said he’s glad to see the Ducks having success using them.

“They are the fastest team in football right now, there’s no doubt about it,” Brewer said. “Everybody wants to emulate them.”

The signs are certainly all about speed.

“We tried to have one word to communicate 10 words, or one picture communicate 10 words, something that would give our guys an immediate association so they could get out there and play fast,” Helfrich said.

Duck fans have even made a game out of creating sideline signs. One that has made the rounds on the internet before this Saturday’s game against northwest rival Washington features a Husky puppy and a photo of a dumpster on fire.

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