It’s a point of personal pride that, after five years of living in Eugene, I don’t own a single piece of Oregon apparel.
Nothing against the Duck Store, but it’s not a place I typically shop. Wearing school gear is frowned upon when you cover the team, and besides, green has never been a flattering color for me.
But on Friday, I was sifting through a rack of T-shirts at the local Goodwill store, looking for something green in a size medium. If you’re going to do something, why not go all the way?
I’ve spent a lot of Saturdays at Autzen Stadium, but in a way it felt like I’d never been to a game there. I’d never stood in line for the bathroom at halftime or ordered a hot dog from the concession stand. I’d never taken my kids and climbed the bleachers. I’d never seen firsthand what Oregon is trying to sell when it sends out season ticket renewals.
Saturday seemed like a good time to fix that. Partly because the Ducks were playing Portland State, and the tickets were dirt cheap. I went to Stubhub a few hours before the game and bought three for $6 each: Section 25, Row 73. Then I packed up the family, put on my thrift-store T-shirt and embarked for an afternoon of Autzen Undercover.
I have to say, it was a whole different perspective on Duck football. I came away slightly sunburned, stuffed with kettle corn, a little sleepy and curious about one thing in particular.
How do you guys do this every week?
I guess I know the answer to that. People go for the pageantry and the ritual and the love of the game. Even though I spend most Saturdays in a press box, I’m not so detached from the fan experience that I’ve forgotten the thrill of being in the stands.
Some of my best childhood memories involve sitting in the stands for college football games. It wasn’t something my family could afford to do very often, so it always felt like a special occasion when we did it.
In a way, it’s cool that Oregon’s cushy nonconference schedule has made it easier for some fans to get in the door. For those who can’t afford a $100 ticket to watch the Ducks against Washington or UCLA, Saturday was a chance to get a seat at Autzen for the same price you’d pay to attend a Sheldon High football game.
But still, there’s some commitment required. Getting two small children situated in the 73rd row was no small endeavor, and those cheap tickets get expensive pretty fast after a few trips to the concession stand. In my book, anyone who stayed through all four quarters of a 62-14 blowout deserves some sort of special commendation.
The atmosphere was subdued, as one might expect for an 11 a.m. kickoff against an FCS opponent. The woman running the elevator had been there since 3:30 a.m., which was when the catering arrived. Most fans didn’t have to wake up that early, but you could tell everyone was a bit groggy.
There were moments of excitement, like Justin Herbert dropping back and hitting Jaylon Redd with a perfect touchdown pass. Other moments seemed to last forever, like when the officials stopped the game for five minutes to review an obvious catch.
I think my fan muscles have atrophied, because by the second quarter I was longing for my laptop and a cup of coffee from the press box. I considered trying one of those new beer stands — you know, for research purposes — but figured that would only intensify the need for a nap. So I joined a few hundred of my fellow spectators and made the slow walk down from the bleachers at halftime.
Saturday’s announced attendance was 47,201. Some longtime observers said it was the most empty seats they’d seen in years. Where I was sitting, it was quiet enough that you could almost hear a Herbert pass whistling through the air. So quiet, in fact, that my 9-month-old daughter slept peacefully through the entire second quarter.
It was clear that Autzen Stadium could use a little juice. It won’t happen next week, not with San Jose State coming to town.
The view from the cheap seats confirmed what I already knew: It’s good that the Ducks won’t play a schedule like this any time soon. It’s not entirely their fault, but opening the season with three cupcakes has put a lot of the enthusiasm on hold.
I’ll gladly return to my customary seat in the press box next week and leave the bleachers to the real fans. I don’t think I’m cut out for doing this every week, but for those who are, here’s what I’ll say.
God bless you, and does anyone need a T-shirt?