Put Down Your Pitchfork: Oregon Born, Duck Raised, Husky Alumnus?
Put down your pitchfork. I’m not your enemy. I’m a Duck fan just like you. I was born in Roseburg, raised in Eugene, and have always been a Duck fan.
I understand that the term “Husky alumni” is anathema to you, that you may not even like Huskies as a breed of dog, that the color combination of purple and gold makes you taste bile in the back of your throat. I get it, really I do, but I’m still here, writing on this website as a Duck fan and Husky alumnus.
Let me tell you my story. Let me describe my “arc of fandom” as I call it, and perhaps along the way, you’ll discover yours.
I was born in Roseburg, Oregon, in 1976 and loved football from an early age. One of my earliest memories is playing football in the street during halftime of a Super Bowl.
It’s a vivid memory because I dove for and caught a pass — on the street. I made the catch and came up with knees and elbows bloodied, then went inside and watched the second half of the Super Bowl.
In 1983, at the age of seven, my family moved to Eugene, and if you know your Ducks’ history, this was like the Dark Ages of Duck football — the year Oregon lost to Pacific and San Jose State, and tied the Beavs, 0-0, in the Civil War – now and forever referred to as the “Toilet Bowl.”
Nothing good is associated with toilets, my friends.
Some people might even wonder why the football program wasn’t cancelled, given the 22-40-4 record since the conference went to 10 teams in 1978.
Nevertheless, I was a football fan; the Ducks, the local team, were there. And there was no NFL team in the state.
But let’s be honest, there wasn’t much to root for. Not a lot to get excited about, to pay attention to.
The 1989 and ’90 seasons were bright spots — both 8-4 campaigns with bowl games at the end (a win in the Independence and a loss in the Freedom).
But these were sandwiched between seemingly never-ending Groundhog Days of mediocrity.
Then in 1990, my family moved to Bellevue, Washington, far away from Eugene for a 13-year old. When I started at Sammamish High School, I distinctly remember a girl, also a freshman, asking me where I was from.
The conversation went something like this:
Girl: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Eugene, Oregon.”
Girl: Blank stare.
Girl: “EUGENE?! The Ducks? The Ducks suck! Your mascot is a Duck!” (Laughter)
You have to realize that in the fall of 1990, the Huskies were near the top of college football, and definitely at the top of the PAC-10. They won that year, along with beating Iowa in the Rose Bowl.
This was leading up toward their 1991 half-national championship, and the Ducks were just some roadkill along the way (we lost 38-17 in Seattle in 1990, and we lost the next three years, as well).
This exchange — seemingly innocuous at the time — solidified my fandom.
At that moment, when I was ridiculed for being from Eugene because Eugene was associated with the Oregon Ducks – that was the turning point. It didn’t matter what happened after that day. I was from Eugene, and I was a Duck fan.
I began following the Ducks more closely during high school, making sure to point out whatever meager success they were having to those around me as Rich Brooks struggled to find the success of the 1989-90 seasons.
Oregon went 3-8, 6-6, and 5-6 in 1991, 1992, and 1993.
Finally, in 1994 (age 18), it all came together. I still have a copy of the Seattle Times from the day after The Pick.
I’ve kept it all these years, carried it with me through more than 10 moves, including across the country.
But every once in a while I pull it out and look at it and remember how I felt that day. A sense of vindication that I can remember so clearly.
I found that girl who had mocked me my freshman year. She turned red when she saw me the day after The Pick. She knew.
It was her turn to be ridiculed, her turn to suffer ignominy, her turn to admit that the Oregon Ducks were on top. That the team with a Duck for a mascot had beaten the once-proud and once-mighty Huskies.
I wasn’t a Husky on purpose. I tried to become a Duck.
My father still lived outside Eugene, but no matter what I tried I couldn’t get in-state tuition. And paying my own way through college made a huge difference.
So to UW I went for my education – but as a Duck fan, and a loyal one.
I didn’t attend a single Husky game while I was there. I bought Oregon gear on University Ave and wore it proudly. I was unabashedly a Duck fan.
Can you understand it, Oregon fans?
I liked the University of Washington — it’s a great school, lots of nice buildings, surrounded by water, views of Mt. Rainier — I enjoyed my time there with my professors and the education I received.
But when it came to sports, I wasn’t a Husky – I was never a Husky. I started as a Duck, and I stayed a Duck, and I’m still a Duck.
After college I moved to southern California (to get married to someone who actually attended the U of O) and regularly enjoyed watching the Ducks beat UCLA and USC, and regularly traveling to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl.
This was during a 12-year span when I became the most dedicated, watching nearly every game, traveling to live games nearby and living the highs and lows of the 2000’s.
In 2011, work took my family and me to Washington, D.C.
The first neighbors I met were Oregon alumni, husband and wife — I kid you not — right across the street. Soon I met other Ducks in the neighborhood and a Google search turned up the DC Alumni Association and weekly watch party.
I showed up, sat down, and was quickly greeted and brought into a small group of friends who went through Oregon together and had moved to DC together.
It was a very, very long time before they found out I wasn’t an Oregon alum. It’s not something I broadcast, even to this day.
(You understand, even at this point in the article you’re probably irritated just by how many times I’ve written “Husky” and “Washington.”)
But by then I was their friend. They appreciated talking X’s and O’s with me and put up with my knowledge of Duck football history.
They got over the initial shock upon hearing my secret, but it took what I call my “I’m a true Duck fan but Husky alumnus” elevator speech.
As quickly as possible I told them how I grew up in Eugene, was always a Duck, and only went to UW because I had to when I couldn’t get in-state tuition, and I had married a Duck.
I told them about a study (a real study, I didn’t just make this up) that illustrated how — in terms of loyalty — hometown beats undergrad degree and undergrad degree beats graduate degree.
And my hometown was Eugene. My friends accepted this. They already knew me as a fan, so they could understand this “arc of fandom.” But other Oregon alumni I didn’t know as well occasionally found out.
Some went as far to demand to know where I went to school when they learned I didn’t go to Oregon. I always dreaded (and still do) the “So, what year did you graduate from Oregon?” question.
I even considered lying, saying I went to Montana State or some other “safe school” (see also, any school not in the PAC-10/12). When pushed and cornered, I would admit that I went to UW.
Some people just shook their head, some groaned in apparent genuine pain, one guy got up and walked away muttering about how if he stayed he might hit me. He literally got up and walked away — he was that upset.
Such is the feeling of most Duck fans. Pure vitriol.
And I believe it goes back to at least 1948, but when Husky nation started their condescension of the Duck program in the 80s, that vitriol was ratcheted up a notch. Beating the Ducks wasn’t enough, they had to make sure Oregon knew that they weren’t just an inferior football team, we were inferior people.
And now that feeling has been reversed. We are now those who hate the Huskies and look down on them. The payback has been going on for a decade, and no Duck fan I know wants it to end — ever.
And this is what it means to be a true Duck fan.
You’re a Duck no matter what. Win or lose, up year or down year, green and yellow through and through.
Being a Duck fan is different for everyone.
Sometimes you are just from Oregon, sometimes you are alumni, and sometimes you just fall in love with the Ducks and their uniforms and their high flying offense somewhere along the line and never stop.
So being alumni isn’t a requirement, nor does it make you a better fan, a more worthy fan.
Until 2008, it was more about hope, believing in the process and the journey and struggling to weather down the years.
If you became a fan in the last seven years, well, frankly, you’re spoiled. You’ve experienced nothing but 10+ win seasons and a 5-3 post season record with two trips to the National Championship game.
If that is the only Duck team that you know, then the real test is right now.
You might need to learn something new about being a Duck fan. You might need to learn how to keep cheering and keep believing — even if the team is not at the top or (gasp) not even near the top. You might need to learn how to be a Duck fan even as the team struggles.
No matter what happens, no matter what Duck history is, no matter your “arc of fandom,” we are all Ducks. We are all Oregon fans.
We all have the same status and the same function, cheering for our team, believing they will win every week, and staying true no matter what happens.