SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Excited after arriving in the desert for the BCS national championship, Oregon's players filed off the team plane carrying backpacks and shoulder bags, some of them shooting video of the waiting throng down below.
Defensive tackle Brandon Bair? He was holding his daughter in one arm, fumbling with a car seat with the other and trying to make sure his wife had everything.
"All the other guys were walking behind us and coach (Jerry) Azzinaro was yelling at one of them, 'help him out a little, take the car seat,'" Bair said. "That's just a part of being a parent."
Parenthood isn't the only thing that separates Bair from his teammates — or just about any player in the country.
At 26, he's eight years older than some of the freshmen on Oregon's roster, at least two more than just about everybody else.
Bair is married, has been for nearly three years to Jordan, the relative of a family friend. He writes poetry and cooks — Dutch oven potatoes are a specialty — serves as a Sunday school teacher and volunteers with a Boy Scout troop.
Bair owns a used car business, High Point Auto, and is licensed, bonded and insured. He already has a degree in counseling and educational psychology and worked a sales and marketing internship with an auto auction during the fall semester.
Bair also put off college football for two years so he could serve a two-year Mormon mission with Spanish-speaking farm workers in Florida, and is an unendingly positive force who's energized just by living life.
"Obviously, he's a father so he knows how to carry himself," Oregon senior linebacker Casey Matthews said. "The thing about him that's different than most people is I don't think he ever gets tired. He's got a motor. He's always excited. He'll always have a smile on his face no matter what goes on."
After starring at South Fremont High School in St. Anthony, Idaho, Bair worked hard at staying in shape while on his mission and arrived at Eugene as a defensive end, figuring he'd be nothing more than a backup with the ends the Ducks already had on the roster.
A series of injuries in 2008 forced Bair inside and when Azzinaro arrived the next season, he saw an opportunity to use the rangy lineman as sort of a hybrid who could play up and down the line.
It worked out pretty well.
Relatively lanky at 6-foot-7, 272 pounds, Bair can, at times, look like a toothpick trying to maneuver between rolling boulders. He makes up for it with speed, agility, can't-tell-by-looking-at-him power and an exceptionally analytical football mind.
Bair also plays with a relentlessness fueled by that eternally positive approach, going hard on every single play, no matter what happened on the one before.
As a junior, Bair led Oregon's defensive linemen with 45 tackles, including 8.5 for losses, and he was one of the best in the nation at tackling for losses this season, notching 15.5. A tight end in high school, he also caught a 2-point conversion against Southern Cal for the first points of his college career and has helped the second-ranked Ducks get to the cusp of their first national championship.
"He's a good player," Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. "He's a big, rangy guy and he can run, so that's what stands out to me."
Bair's character is what gets attention around Eugene.
Though teammates often rib Bair about his age, they admire his dedication, in life and on the field, and the positive spin he puts on everything. If someone needs an example of how to do something, they turn to Bair. If someone needs advice on how to handle a situation, even head coach Chip Kelly, Bair is the first stop.
He is, and not just because of his age, like a respected uncle at Oregon.
"We look up to him," Matthews said.
Bair has a bright future, whether it's in the NFL, the car dealership or whatever he decides to do.
No matter where life leads him, though, Jordan and little Brooklyn — she's almost 1½ — will always come first. That was evident when the Bairs considered leaving their daughter with a family member for the title game, then thought better of it and brought her along for the plane ride with the team.
"I want to be able to be there and take pictures with them afterward," he said. "I love them to death and anybody who knows me or has read about me understands that is my life, and it's definitely a neat thing to have them around."
Even if it is a little hectic getting off planes.
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