We are creatures of the seasons … they shape perspective, alter mood and define our lives. If sports are a prism through which we view life then each season has it’s own color, and as the calendar pages finally turn, winter to spring, Eugene’s pallet changes. It’s a reflective and golden time on campus, and in truth, a golden time to be a University of Oregon sports fan.
May is here and there is no place quite like campus on a late spring evening, the air thick with the smell of new green, and the quiet expectation of 20,000 or so kids waiting to be let loose on summer … or the next phase of their lives.
Did you ever try and study on a spring afternoon at the U of O as I once did? It was virtually impossible. Who could be inside when the sun finally started to appear after a brutally long wet Oregon winter?
And there were the vortexes that you needed to avoid, like ships and shoals. For instance, if you strayed a little too close to Taylors on your way to the library, you were screwed. The sounds of music and laughter and tinkling glasses were as powerful as any siren song that brave Ulysses faced on his journey for home.
Or how about corner of 18th and University? In my day it was baseball, today it’s softball … doesn’t matter either way. Sitting in those stands (now Sanders Stadium) and soaking up a little late afternoon spring sunshine, catching a few innings, transfixed by the beauty of the setting and the beauty of the Oregon co-ed’s, spelled disaster for any planned afternoon of heartfelt diligence. Sorry Pops, but that economics paper on Keynesian theory will just have to wait
The sun shines, the wind becomes warm, perspectives brighten, and as the school year winds down and spring sports draw to a close, we’re afforded this wonderful time to look backwards at the year that was, and forward to what may lie ahead.
I’ve come to the realization that as a fan of a particular sport or special team, sometimes anticipation is as rich a pastime as the game itself. We love our dialog, our analysis, and sharing opinions of what might be, and there may be no better time to immerse ourselves in this process than spring.
For instance, it’s a wonderful time for football fans. Spring practice is over, and those oh so tantalizing glimpses, still fresh from the Spring Game, will stoke the fires and be the topic of conversation long into the summer. Is Herbert on track to harness his enormous skill set and become the next great Oregon quarterback? Can the Jim Levitt led defense continue to make strides and erase all those horrific memories of the recent past? Can Taggart really pull off this turnaround … and if so, how long will it take him?
And as we’re on the turnaround subject … what’s your number? You know what I’m talking about … because we’ve all got one rolling around in our minds. Mine’s eight … eight as in “how many games will the Ducks win next year?” But if we’re counting bowl games …
Or how about if you are a die-hard fan of Oregon hoops? You’ve still got to be buzzing about Oregon’s epic March run (both the men’s and woman’s teams), as well as trying to wrap your head around the departure of at least half a dozen key contributors from last year’s men’s team.
The lure of big money and a shot at making an NBA team is obvious, but what’s behind the departures of Benson and possibly Bigby-Williams? Could the recruits that the Ducks have in the fold for next year be as good as advertised … possibly influencing those departures for fear of reduced playing time if they’d chosen to stay? Can Altman, the master architect, pull off yet another in a long list of magic acts and assemble a team that will compete for a Pac -12 Championship in 2018 … and possibly more?
And how about one of the great pizza and beer arguments of all time? No, not who was the greatest lead guitarist for The Yardbirds … rather: “is Oregon now a football school or basketball school?” On some campuses like Duke (basketball) or Alabama (football) the answer is obvious.
In the Pac-12 there are extremes as well, with USC in football and Arizona in basketball. But those waters are not quite as clear as they once were at Oregon. Given the recent success of Altman and the boys on the hard-court, and the debacle that was Ducks Football in 2016, could the sports landscape at the U of O be subtly shifting?
And while I’d have to give the nod towards those who argue for football, I’m well aware that those preferences don’t remain the same forever. Back in my day … before the turn of the century (got to love saying that) Oregon was most definitely a basketball school.
A sold out game at old Mac-Court, on a cold and blustery winter’s night, was as raucous and electric as any rock concert. Actually, just getting in the front door was a Stones – like adventure, as the massed crowd was squeezed through selected doors like toothpaste thru a constricted tube, blasting out toward their seats.
But regardless of how chilled you were, inside that venerable dome the heat and intensity of the contests would fire the blood, and raise temperatures to boiling points and beyond. Crowd noise wasn’t measured in decibels, it was more tangible than that. It was measured by how much of a bounce you would actually see from the old Joe Romania scoreboard hovering above center court … magical stuff.
So while football may still be king, no crown is forever ensured. And there’s so much more to contemplate from the rich sports landscape that lies beyond just football and basketball. Discerning Ducks fans have a vast multitude of sports to immerse themselves, perhaps none more compelling than track and field, from it’s storied past and oh so glittering present, to an even more interesting future. Tell me there’s a better place to be on late May evening than high up in the north stands at Hayward Field for the Prefontaine Classic?
Spring affords us all the opportunity to stop for a moment and take a look around … to smell the proverbial roses. Consider for a moment the bounty of the U of O’s sports landscape over the past 7 years: Football, Basketball and Volleyball teams all competing for National championships … a championship in golf, excellence in softball, domination in men’s and woman’s cross-country and track and field … the list goes on.
By any standard we are witnessing a golden era of sports excellence at the University of Oregon; our spring if you will, after a long, long winter dormancy, with glorious summer still ahead.
San Francisco, CA
Top photo credit: academicextension.uoregon.edu