I have grown up with the Oregon Ducks surrounding my family, though no members, until now, have been students there. My involvement starts with my older cousin, and his began with his father. I’ve heard many stories of my cousins childhood, going to games at Autzen throughout the ‘80’s when the stadium was near empty and the Ducks were irrelevant. He became a season ticket holder in the early ‘90’s as a young college man at Southern Oregon State, and has been since. He was there for the Toilet Bowl, The Pick, Akili Smith, Captain Comeback and our current lightening fast offense. These were his experiences and his memories. Mine were much different, much more distant. I was born in ’91 and grew up in southern California, far removed from the Ducks football team. Since my early childhood, Saturdays in the fall were always special, even in California. Its seven A.M. Saturday morning with a game at Autzen later in the afternoon. This always meant one thing; Bryan would call. Even for away games we would get a call from my cousin. Always a quick “Go Ducks!” before some football talk and speculation about the game. The calls weren’t long, but the excitement was unreal. I would sit and wonder what it must be like. He has always been an idol to me, and longed to be a part of the excitement, especially as I grew older and understood what tailgating meant.
My freshman year of high school I received the greatest surprise I could imagine (actually, make that the second greatest). It was December of 2005 and Bryan was coming to Southern California to take me to the Holiday Bowl against Oklahoma. We drove to San Diego the night before and enjoyed dinner at a local sports bar that apparently was the hangout for Michigan fans of the area. They, of course, had to voice their disappointment of their loss in Eugene two years earlier. Duck fans walked the streets and echoes of “Go Ducks” came from everywhere. Early the next morning we headed to Qualcomm Stadium to begin our day of tailgating. We had a BBQ and threw a football in the open parking lot, and the adults drank all day. It was an amazing experience and I instantly knew I would be a Duck one day.
The next season I began following the team more closely, starting with the thriller against Oklahoma, and the onside kick they still bitch about. I always looked forward to Bryan’s call on gameday and his latest tales of tailgating. As quickly as it started, the season was over and the Vegas Bowl against BYU was around the corner. My parents and I drove to Medford for the holidays to visit family, and watch the big game. Bryan knew we were coming so he made the three hour drive from Eugene to watch with us. He had a brand new Silverado equipped with an “official tailgate” bottle opening hitch cover I had bought him for Christmas. The Ducks put up a poor showing in Vegas, and I began waiting for the next season to kickoff.
Who could forget a year like 2007? In the second game of the year the Ducks played in Ann Arbor and embarrassed the Wolverines. I was at a wedding that day, and every chance I got I would turn a TV to ABC to check the score. I remember checking in at one point to watch Dennis Dixon fake the statue of liberty and walk into the endzone. It was a wonderful day. Then came California. I was at a friend’s house and everyone was skateboarding in the backyard. I however, was in their living room, frantic in my seat. I can still see Cameron Colvin stretched out, reaching to the endzone. I couldn’t believe the Ducks lost. I brushed it off as a fluke and knew they would win more. I knew Dixon would win the Heisman, until the Arizona game. I didn’t think it was real, or possible for that matter. I hated Arizona. I hated them for Clemens, and I hated them for Dixon. The season was in shambles and when the Sun Bowl came around, I didn’t know what to expect. Who honestly expected Roper to throw four TD passes? That win gave me confidence knowing that they could always bounce back.
2008 flew by for me. I was a senior, what can I say? I do remember the home opener against the Fuskies and how my cousin missed the game because he chose to go to a Dave Matthews Concert at the Gorge instead (It is a good concert, I went in ’09 and missed the New Mexico game this last year for the show. Still though, I wouldn’t have skipped a home opener against “them”. I don’t like to use their name; I start feeling as though I may catch rabies.). There was also the Boise St game. It was the first time I heard the name Darron Thomas. After watching him lead the Ducks to a near comeback, I knew he would do great things and that he belonged ahead of Masoli.
In the spring of ’09 I was graduating high school and my cousin drove down for the ceremony. During my last week of school we spent a lot of time together, and golfed a few different courses in the area. The night I graduated I got the greatest gift I could have imagined (for real this time, this was the big one). I opened a green envelope and saw a picture of Autzen stadium from a seat on the ten yard line on the south side. My parents and my cousin bought me my first set of season tickets. Purdue was the first game I had actually tailgated at Autzen. Though it wasn’t a spectacular showing for the Ducks offense, it was an indescribable day for me. Having my own ticket, walking up the north ramp, under the giant scoreboard and around to section 35. I walked through the tunnel and stopped at the end, marveling at this magnificent stadium and the huge crowd. I became more involved in every tailgate, setting up at seven AM every time. News stations would come into the Masonic parking lot to interview my cousin, as we were the only ones set up and partying so early. I was sunburnt after the Cal thumping, and got to walk on the field for the first time after ASU. Then there was the Civil War. I was on my feet throughout the game, yelling as loud as I could. When it was over my cousin had tears in his eyes and we hugged. Such a whirlwind of a season, and the Ducks were going to the Rose Bowl! The Rose Bowl! That place that those damned Trojans had hogged for so long. I have a picture of my cousin and me at our seats in Autzen when the game ended. Huge grins covering our faces and a sea of fans swarmed on the field. The blacklight after party was truly amazing. We went to the Rose Bowl, and visited my parents. I had gotten a ticket behind the Ducks end zone just a few rows above field level. I remember LaGarrett Blount landing on an Ohio State defender at the goal line, and reaching his arm straight toward me for the touchdown. I also remember his fumble through the endzone. It was a heart breaking game.
This past year I involved myself even more and when news crews came by, my cousin directed them to me for the interview. I was nervous, and distracted by how attractive these women always were. My best memory last year was the Stanford game. I got up Friday morning around six for my full day of classes at Linn-Benton Community College. When I got home I helped my cousin pack for the tailgater and around eight PM I left for my other cousin’s house in the west end of Eugene. I was taking her 13-year-old son, my second cousin I guess, to camp out at ESPN’s Gameday. We arrived at ten PM and had a very long night. The gates opened early at three AM and everyone flooded for the front row. It was unreal. Chest to back and shoulder to shoulder, it was packed with everyone shoving. As soon as the line opened to the pit area, people started falling and getting trampled. My second cousin went down and I grabbed his collar to drag him out of harm’s way just before the crowd management started pushing everyone back to help those who fell. I later heard that one girl had broken her leg in the stampede. Gameday finally aired and I found a nice spot on Chris Fowler’s shoulder. Once it was over, we went back to the tailgater to start another full day. I counted the wins grew antsy with every step closer to Glendale. As much as I wanted to go, I couldn’t afford a ticket for the big game. Instead I was home while my cousin went, and I wore my black Darron Thomas BCS jersey. I must have been standing two feet from the TV throughout the entire game. I jumped and yelled when Maehl caught the tying two-point conversion, and I sat in disbelief when Dyer didn’t go down. It was a magical season for the Ducks, and yet it wasn’t. Not because they didn’t win the Natty, but because there’s nothing magic about Chip Kelly, just genious.
So now here I am, about to begin my first term at the University of Oregon after transferring from LBCC. This University that has meant so much to me and my family. This University that has had a presence in my life for so long, and now, I can finally call myself a student. So this coming school year, you can bet that I will be in the student section at football games, and in the pit crew at basketball games, because this is what I have been waiting for. If there is one thing I am most proud of, it is to be a Duck.