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Day Seven: What opposing player can you not help but love?

Because sometimes even the enemies have some okay qualities.

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Oregon State v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

We’re getting to the point in The Countdown™ where most of us at UWDP are too excited about how close foobaw season is to actually come up with any topics that are even remotely analytical. Or at least, that’s where I am, so....

But that doesn’t mean we can’t contemplate some other important questions, like “What’s the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?” or “Are those Cheez-It crumbs in my couch?*”

In that vein, I’m bringing you today a little thought exercise: Which player — who you have no reason to like, given that they’re on an opposing team — can you not help but just... not not like?

Without further ado, your contestants:

*Answers: “42” and “Yes.”

Manny Wilkins — QB, Arizona State

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you don’t love Manny Wilkins, you’re a garbage person.”

Now I’m not saying that anybody who dislikes Manny should be subject to solitary confinement wherein the children’s song “Baby Shark” is played at full blast for three days, but I’m not not saying it.

For those who still haven’t heard his story, Wilkins’ dad died when he was a kid, he grew up between different schools in Texas and Northern California and then some, played his initial season as a starter with approximately five billion injuries, and, to thank him for that sacrifice, ASU brought in former Alabama quarterback and five star recruit, Blake Barnett last summer — who, many assumed, would be given the reigns to the Sun Devil offense. Then Wilkins gave that whole plan the proverbial middle finger, beat out Barnett even though that so clearly wasn’t the plan, and continued on as ASU’s starter. He’s had four offensive coordinators in his Tempe career and, despite that, has noticeably improved each year, last year throwing 20 touchdowns and rushing for seven more. Furthermore, he’s currently in law school and donates plenty of time and energy to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence. Given that football locker rooms and the mega macho crap that historically goes along with them haven’t traditionally been known for things like “treating women like human beings” or “having basic decency,” it’s nice seeing a dude with the awareness to actively change that.

Between what he’s overcome, what he supports, and having made significant progress in each year on the field, it’s kind of hard not to root for him.

Justin Herbert — QB, Oregon

Yes I know, I’m sorry!

The thing with Justin Herbert is that, on principle, I want to hate him so bad. So so so bad — it’s Oregon, for Christ’s sake.

But. It’s. Impossible. To. Hate. Justin. Herbert.

It just is. I’m sorry.

And to tell the truth, while Oregon is the most hate-able machine since, well, forever (the NY Yankees and Portland Timbers notwithstanding), they haven’t had a hate-able quarterback since at least before Marcus Mariota who, if you hate, you’re pretty much Al Qaeda. Same with Vernon Adams, whose Husky-killer tendencies caused thinning hairlines throughout the PNW but who, otherwise, was impossible to hate. And so it continues with Herbert. I resent that.

Besides Taylor Alie — not exactly a star for the Ducks — I couldn’t tell you the last Oregon player to actually come from Eugene until Herby, from nearby Sheldon High School, came around. Any time there’s a prospect who goes relatively under-the-radar (his only FBS offer was Oregon) and then proves everybody wrong, it’s kind of hard to not be on their side even when it’s for The Enemy.

Especially with Oregon’s reputation as “UC Eugene,” it’s easy to begrudgingly love someone who bucks that reputation with their presence as a former low-profile hometown guy who grew up a fan of the school he now plays for, even if he was objectively wrong to root for that gross team in the first place.

Plus he looks like a little kid who just happens to be 6’6,” and I, for one, find it incredibly difficult to root against a player if they look innocent enough — unless it’s Jake Bentley, because that dude is a dweeb.

Okay, that’s enough Oregon stuff. I’m sorry you had to sit through that.

Porter Gustin — LB, Southern California

This dude drinks chicken, rice, and spinach smoothies. It’s disgusting. Seriously, so gross. Even grosser than Oregon.

I love it. The end.

Patrick Laird — RB, Cal

Pretty much a standard walk-on to big deal story. Still, there’s something about these sagas, whether it’s Luke Falk, Jack Cichy, or whoever — no matter how often we hear about these sorts of players, it never gets totally old.

As it stands, Laird’s incredibly fun to watch and has a good walk-on story, plus helped out in the community with his Summer Reading Challenge.

In other words, if this were a movie script, people would criticize it for something like “That main character just is too easy to root for. Give it more grey areas and then the Oscars will come calling.”

Adding onto this, he plays for Cal. I don’t think any of us ever truly hate Cal (unless it’s in rowing or rugby against UBC, in which case f&%^ Cal so much). Ergo, we all kinda like Pat Laird.

JJ Molson — K, UCLA

His family runs Canada. Or, at least, they run Canadian beer so... Same thing?


Who can you not help but love, despite being on some dumb team not called Washington?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Manny Wilkins
    (167 votes)
  • 12%
    Justin Herbert (sorry)
    (41 votes)
  • 6%
    Porter Gustin
    (22 votes)
  • 14%
    Patrick Laird
    (48 votes)
  • 16%
    JJ Molson
    (56 votes)
334 votes total Vote Now

The Verdict

The real answer: Manny Wilkins. Any dude who overcomes what he overcame and puts as much effort into positive change and progress on the field is awesome, even if Arizona State is evil and gives us all flashbacks.

But also: JJ Molson has beer. People forget that.

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.