Friday, September 13, 2013
Saturday tailgate: Oregon Ducks
By Ted Miller
Autzen Stadium is home to one of the most exciting teams -- and loudest crowds -- in college football.
The Northwest is known for rain, particularly in the late fall and winter. But Oregon Ducks fans will tell you that "It never rains in Autzen Stadium." At least that's what PA announcer Don Essig bellows before every Ducks game, whether it's raining at the moment or not.
What's special about the gameday experience at Autzen? Well, start with the team that plays inside. It has been college football's ninth-winningest program over the past decade, ahead of such traditional powers as Georgia, Alabama and Nebraska.
The run of success truly began in 1994, when Kenny Wheaton's 97-yard interception return -- "The pick" -- keyed a critical win over Washington and a Rose Bowl berth. Since then, the program has climbed gradually. And then suddenly.
Moreover, the Ducks have style, and not just sartorially so, though one needs a calculator to compute the number of their myriad potential uniform combinations. Once they don their, er, often unusual duds, they then run the nation's most feared offense, an up-tempo spread-option that kills with its pace, speed and creativity.
Don't forget the Ducks underrated defense. It has become one of the nation's best units under coordinator Nick Allotti, and it gets a big assist from one of the nation's loudest fan bases. Is Autzen Stadium the nation's loudest sports venue? You could reasonably make that argument. When the Duck mascot jumps onto his motorcycle to lead the team onto the field, the place booms with anticipation. It then gets even louder when an opposing offense faces a big third-down play.
Forget about talking to your neighbor, no matter what foe is on hand. The Ducks have sold out every home game since 1999, that 83-game run being the fourth-best in the country.
If you look closely, you might get to see the Ducks first fan, Nike founder Phil Knight. His donations have made Oregon a national leader when it comes to football facilities, his most recent contribution funding the construction of the palatial 145,000 square-foot football building, perhaps the most luxurious and high tech facility of its kind in the country.
Walking around Autzen Stadium before the game, enjoying the spirited tailgate and the woodsy surroundings of the town of Eugene, then taking in the extravagant facilities that house and nurture the program, it all combines to produce a great game day experience. And a lot of victories.