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Home Sweet Home: a look back at Autzen’s history

The now famous home of the Ducks is unique in many ways

Oregon Spring Football Game Photo by Ali Gradischer/Getty Images

There’s nothing like approaching Autzen Stadium on gameday and seeing the giant O there to greet you, whether you’re using the North or South entrances. The atmosphere is electric, and the stadium boasts one of the best seating layouts in the country, with no obscured views and no true “nosebleed” sections.

With the weather changing so drastically during autumns in Oregon, you could end up seeing a game in blisteringly hot conditions or bundled up against freezing rain…and everything in between.

It is just about everything you’d want from a college football stadium considering the size of the school.

But it’s been through a lot to become what it is today. The Ducks used to actually play football at Hayward Field, which was always a wonderful place for track, but not so much for football. The seating capacity was a mere 9,000 (about the same as McArthur Court for basketball), and the field was usually in very rough condition, without proper drainage set up for the PNW weather. More popular rivalry games were often played up in Portland to accommodate the larger crowds.

So in 1967, a new stadium was constructed that would better suit the men in pads. The stadium cost only 2.7 million dollars to build, and was spearheaded by the Autzen Foundation. Thomas J. Autzen was an alumnus of Oregon State interestingly enough, and his son Thomas E. was an alumnus of Oregon, class of 1943.

Instead of building upward like most traditional stadiums, Autzen was constructed in a man-made landfill to eliminate the need for multilevel ramps. As a result, it took only nine months to complete.

The campus of Oregon wasn’t big enough to accommodate a football stadium or the crowds that went with it, so Autzen was constructed just across the Willamette River. The walk from campus “over the river and through the woods” (actually not kidding) is a picturesque one.

In 1982, the stadium club was opened above the East end zone, and during the 80s there was a strong push to enclose the stadium in a dome, which was a popular trend at the time for colder, wetter locations. New tax laws, however, hindered this proposal, and instead new press boxes were added to the South stands, leading the Original press boxes on the North stands to be converted into additional club seating.

Although it originally had a grass surface, Autzen received an Astroturf field two years after its opening. Omniturf was then put down in 1984 and ran all the way through the 90s.

Due to the unique pit design of the stadium and the overhang to protect the press box from rain, Autzen was discovered to be a very loud stadium when filled with fans as it helped trap noise.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Oregon Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The field was named after head coach Rich Brooks in 1995, just after he finished a 17-year tenure at Oregon. The Ducks began to become a much more successful program in the mid 90s, and by the turn of the millennium it was becoming obvious Autzen needed a facelift, as it was a rather out-of-date looking place by the start of the 2000s.

In 2002, it got what it needed, with a complete renovation of the South stands that added a brand new overhang with more modern and luxurious press boxes and suites. The field was updated with FieldTurf, the brims of the stadium replaced with new coverings, and capacity increased from 41,698 to 54,000 (60,000 with standing room).

The stadium retained its loudness as well, coming to a peak in 2007 when in a 24-17 victory over USC, the crowd noise was measured at 127.2 decibels, louder than a jet airplane taking off from 100 feet away. A similarly loud 31-27 upset of Michigan in 2003 led Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr to proclaim that Autzen was the loudest stadium he’d ever been in, and Lee Corso of ESPNs College Gameday claimed that per person, it was the loudest stadium he’d been in as well.

In 2008, the jumbotron in the West end zone was expanded, making it the largest in the conference. In 2010, the FieldTurf was replaced and flattened, and in 2011, a couple additional towers had to be temporarily placed along the North stands to accommodate the overflowing crowds Autzen was drawing due to the success of the football team. That same year, Autzen hosted the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game, in which Oregon defeated UCLA.

In the early 2010’s the outside of the North stands was reconfigured to include additional walkways, new murals and landscaping, and the addition of two artificial waterfalls.

A jumbotron was added to the East end zone in 2014 and then replaced in 2020 with an absolutely massive one that covered the area over the original stadium club seating and was one of the largest in the nation.

Track & Field: World Athletics Championships Oregon 22-Women’s Marathon Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Today Autzen is a very eye-pleasing and modern looking stadium that still retains a piece of its old self in the unaltered North stands and is well known at this point as one of the toughest places in the nation to play, despite its much smaller size compared to others on the list.

With the pandemic ending and the team once again competing for a spot in the playoff in 2023, Autzen began to sound like its old self again as well.

In the modern era, Oregon has boasted three multiple-year winning streaks at Autzen, the first from 1997-2001, the second from 2008-2011, and the third from 2018-2023.

With USC making perhaps its final appearance this November and Oklahoma State, Michigan State, and Ohio State all slated to pay visits in the next decade, Autzen should remain one of the most raucous and popular venues in the country.