I wasn’t there mid-week. I was some 400 miles north-northeast in a place where snow has a far greater chance of coming down in late March than in little old Eugene. In Autzen Stadium.
So when the photo popped up on Facebook, showing the Ducks’ home field all dressed in white, I studied the image closely, noting a thick coat on the seats and aisles, the swirling flakes delivering more.
It made me want to get in my car and head south so I could climb into those stands. So I could frolic about, feeling my beard freeze to my face, puffs of breath warming my hands.
So I could take part in another special moment in this grand lady’s life.
The photo’s stillness also made me reflect on what has transpired over the past 45 years. All the games. All the players. All the fans. All the memories.
And what the future is likely to hold.
Autzen is no longer young — or naive.
To remind myself of how far things have come, I dug into what I call my Big Archives and wrestled out an old University of Oregon Athletic Department memo (green type on white paper), dated Feb. 7, 1967. The topic is seating arrangements for the soon-to-open Autzen Stadium.
Remember, this was before the Internet, ESPN, Nike, StubHub, YouTube and Twitter.
The AD’s plan then, seven months before the stadium opened, was to set aside 7,384 seats for sponsors and donors; 6,500 seats for anticipated season-ticket holders; another 1,269 for faculty; anywhere from 3,739 to 5,050 seats for UO students; 1,338 to 2,607 for the visiting school; and 1,800 complimentary seats (including 750 for the media and 550 for alumni lettermen).
By my calculations, the athletic department was anticipating a crowd of at least 22,030 per game for what was then a 40,000-seat stadium. Additional attendance would come from single-game sales to the general public.
The students and visitors were to receive the 10-yard-line and end-zone seats. All the other groups were to be located between the 20-yard-lines.
“If a balanced budget is to be maintained … then any seating plan must take into consideration offering a reasonable number of attractive sideline seats for season ticket sales, the backbone of any football ticket sales program,” states the memo, noting the athletic department’s expenses had risen 45 percent from 1962-67.
“It seems very likely that some increases will continue in the future,” the memo adds.
If only the unidentified AD employee who wrote the thing had an inkling what the future would bring.
A few weeks ago, there was a palpable murmur on fan message boards and in the media over Oregon jacking up football season tickets for the fifth year in a row. According to the Eugene Register-Guard, the base price for most reserved seats will be $486 for seven home games (an average of about $70 per game), up 13 percent from 2011.
I get the consternation. No one wants to keep paying more, more, more, particularly in an economy that remains flat, if not bumpy.
And if the price jumps continue on, there is the risk the Ducks will one day wake up and look around and realize the stadium is chock full of wine-and-cheesers. Not that I look down upon wine-and-cheesers. It’s just, well, they don’t make as much noise. (See what happened to the Portland Trail Blazers after they won the NBA title in 1977). And what would Autzen be without really loud noise, the kind that closely resembles a Boeing 767 taking off?
But I also get why the UO is doing this. Like it or not, the Ducks play in a small-market city in a small-market state. Oregon averaged 59,344 fans this past season while running its sellout streak to 82 games. But Autzen Stadium, while as intimidating as any, is relatively small compared to such places as Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium (81,067) and LSU’s Tiger Stadium (92,542).
According to the UO, the football program generated $27.7 million in 2011, which ranked just 32nd in the country.
If you’re going to have a top-notch program — as well as feed sports other than football on campus — you got to have the money.
Does any Duck fan worth a quack really want to aim for anything less than the top?
Oh, the price of success.
So be thankful, all you fans, for this predicament (as much as it may hurt in the pocket).
Duck football has come a long way from those humble days.
No turning back.
Now if only the snow gods could arrange a big storm just before an Oregon-Washington game. …
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