I'll never forget that moment when I received the email from the Oregon Athletic Department one fateful December day. It was a cold, blustery Sunday and I was fresh off giving the Beaver fans at work a good ribbing about another victory against the orange and black. My good friends at work, sullen, downtrodden and the only time of the year where I felt compelled to smile at their misery and suffering. The notification had arrived, the decisions made, travel plans arranged. All I needed was final confirmation on what was to cap off a tremendous year in my life.
The Subject Line: Important Rose Bowl Information
Yes! Yes! All I wanted was the Red Ryder BB Gun Rose Bowl edition for Christmas! The 2010 Rose Bowl. Everything was planned. I tore open the email without delay and to my horror, a horror that would set off a chain reaction so destructive to my 2010 that I couldn't fathom the depths of agony I would soon endure, a simple message appeared...
Thank you for your Rose Bowl ticket request. Unfortunately....
I stopped reading. The message was clear. I couldn't go to the Rose Bowl because I'd shoot my eye out. I would eventually figure out a way to make it down to Pasadena but I had failed to see the omen that had been laid before me.
7am and my alarm is going off. I'm in a hotel in Pasadena staring into a dark room. The sounds of grumbling coming from the sheets next to me. I sit up, swinging my feet out of bed to discover a rolled up sleeping bag, some used clothes from the day before, and an especially hard backpack that hopefully didn't have a freshly dented laptop. The mission for the day was clear. Check in with nephew who had been convinced by his mother to "see the world" and spend his time in Southern California by setting up shop at a youth hostel. A youth hostel in Los Angeles... let's just say that there was a reason I brought sleeping bags to a hotel.
My nephew and I agreed to have breakfast at the hotel I was staying at. We went to the attached Denny's to witness the parade of stumbling green and yellow zombies seeking to sit at the cup of awakening minds, steaming with hopes for a new day. For breakfast? Ice Cream and waffles. I'm an adult and I'm on vacation, don't judge. I ate it everyday while in Pasadena because 1) I've already stated that it was ice cream and 2) my dad would have been proud because it was the cheapest item on the menu.
My nephew proceeded to tell me the wildest story of his hostel experience, complete with swat teams investigating a nearby murder, sleeping quarters designed to be hosed off once the mass of bodies departed and the central drain was unblocked, to patrons screaming in the middle of the night due to what could be described as "extreme confusion about one's self and surroundings", and a night sleeping in the car at the beach. My nephew had discovered a very important life lesson... sometimes it's ok to pay for a hotel room.
The rest of the trip was fairly typical. I screamed on a ride at Universal Studios because I thought there were spiders being blasted on my legs during a roller coaster, we met a man named Bean who was very depressed and wanted a friend to talk to at 10:30pm in the middle of a busy street, and we took in Santa Monica at a time when the weather looked more like Oregon than Oregon normally does. By the time of the Ducks Pep Rally at the Santa Monica pier, I should have known something was going to be different about 2010 as I waited for my heroes to arrive in a rain that can only be described as "just outside of Autzen Stadium during the winter". The video monitor used to display Duck Highlights made a loud pop, smoke billowed out, the screen went dark and Don Essig said the only thing he could in such a situation
"...and the Ducks went on to win the Rose Bowl!"
The crowd didn't buy it and for the first time, I was forced to wonder about my fortunes turning.
After the loss, we couldn't get out of the stadium fast enough. Unfortunately for us, exit routes were few and far between as the bus lines had 2 hour waits just to board. We decided to walk the few miles to the tram where we could move on to China Town, hop in the car and head to BevMo to drown our sorrows in the adult beverages of our choice. As we were walking, a group of protesters had positioned themselves directly along the route, informing the passerby's that Jesus did NOT approve of football contests and that repenting was the only way to find happiness in our hearts. My nephew was not taking the loss well but his friend was really taking the loss hard. He was absolutely sure that Oregon was going to hang 50 on Ohio State, that we would be Rose Bowl champions, that my Ohio State co-worker would ride back with us in shame and that we were the team of destiny.
His fury grew. Through the megaphone, the protesters preached about the virtues of their philosophies. Anti-football, pro-Jesus rhetoric grew and the fire inside my nephew's friend was rapidly gaining momentum. His Jewish blood began to boil when suddenly, buried within the large crowd of Ohio State and Oregon fans, the most amazing thing happened.
"DO YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS?!" the megaphone bellowed.
"I DID AND THEN WE LOST!" came the voice of a thousand frustrations.
In unison, two fan-bases that had been rivals on the field not an hour before, had become one. A tremendous swell of laughter. The megaphone's voice was silent. The crowd cheered.
The drive back to the comforts of Oregon seemed like an eternity and a sad, reflective state came over me during those long hours behind the wheel. How could we lose, what went wrong, all questions flooding to my mind at once. It was a nice trip but what a horrible way to end it. The feelings gradually subsided and I turned to other business of the day, figuring out what side of the world Agate Street is on and how on earth someone could run with a projector screen.
As I prepare to fly out to Glendale for the National Championship Game, I find myself thinking back to last year and how different life was. It wasn't long after that Rose Bowl trip that I found out that my father was sick, very sick. Even though he grew up a Notre Dame fan, Oregon became his team because, as he would put it, "they already got a ton of my money, I might as well care about their team". I was crying on the phone when my Dad told me what was going on and he said "Come on now, I'm not in the grave yet". My dad alluded to something I had thought about and latched onto but it was more a catchphrase rather than anything else.
My dad was going to "win the day".
This trip will be special to me, not only because my team is playing for a crystal football, but also because of the experiences I will have along the way to the game's outcome. I'm blessed to be in these moments, to live in this time, and to have a father that was willing to sacrifice for and take pride in the experiences that I would come to have throughout my life. My father may be gone but I'll have a picture of him with me wherever I go and no matter happens in the game, whether we get destroyed or we take home a crystal football, I'm going to win the day... not because it's a simple catch phrase or a mantra, but because that's how my father lived his life and he wanted me to live mine.
For my father, I'm going to Glendale, Arizona... not just to experience my team in the BCS National Championship Game but to experience life in a way that would make him proud. It sure is nice to get the Red Ryder BB Gun, and you may even shoot your eye out, but winning the day may just happen to be eating Chinese Food on Christmas Day. For my father, I'm going to win the day, whatever that day may bring.