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We’ll get to the Ducks in a minute, but have you ever noticed how you can form a bond with fans sitting next to you at Duck games? Strangers become friends after the first touchdown, close friends after a win, and things go from there.
You go from high-fiving, talking about how good the team is playing, discussing the incoming recruiting class to giving a total stranger who I was sitting next to a ride home after a game. The guy must’ve felt like we were family because he lit up a cigarette in my car on the drive home.
“Hey buddy, I know the Ducks won and everything and it was an amazing game and all, but you can’t smoke in my car.”
Adrenaline After Big Wins
As the TV cameras scan the chaos after dramatic endings from the best games of our generation, you’ve seen emotions that will stick with you forever — even if you weren’t at the game. My all-time favorite has to be the camera following Jim Valvano in 1983 after his NC State Wolfpack upset Houston for the NCAA basketball title:
Many Oregonians remember that Valvano’s Cinderella finish had a Northwest start. Some of you may have been at the first few games of NC State’s NCAA tournament run in Corvallis 32 years ago. The Wolfpack started their come-from-behind winning ways in the West Regional edging Pepperdine and UNLV at Gill Coliseum.
I knew I had the greatest job a 15-year-old could have. I was a stadium vendor selling Pepsi, walking up and down every stair at Gill watching Valvano’s boys pull off one of the most unlikely upsets in tourney history … and when the game ended Valvano could find no one to hug.
There were tears of agony and joy on both sides after Christian Laettner‘s game winner against Kentucky in 1992:
Switching to college football, the first three minutes of this YouTube clip is priceless after Auburn returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a game-winning Iron Bowl touchdown against Alabama:
How about you and the Ducks?
What stands out more for you — the pain from close losses, or The Pick?
Are you moving past the Ohio State game? Have you put the 2011 Auburn loss behind you?
I have nothing against crying, but I’m not a crier.
When my wife had our first child in 1998, no tears. Elation? Yes. A sense of indescribable humility? Yes. But no tears. When someone stole my bike in the 7th grade, sure I missed that Centurian 10-speed but crying wasn’t needed with this loss. When I got an F on my first Writing 121 class at the U of O, no tears. When Macaulay Culkin died in the movie “My Girl” … dry eyes.
And then came February 12, 1987, it’s Civil War Basketball. Oregon leads Oregon State by double digits much of the game, but Gary Payton and company rallied back to get within two with 11 seconds to go.
Somehow the Ducks left Bill Sherwood and his mullet alone in the corner and he drilled a three for the game winner. That did it for me. The tears flowed as I walked from Mac Court back to the Carson Hall dorms.
Beaver radio broadcaster Darrell Aune called it ” … one of the most amazing comebacks in Oregon State basketball history.” I remember the pain:
The night after that game I remember thinking my life would never be the same. Nothing mattered. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My dorm roommate Brian snored all night after that Civil War loss. I couldn’t get all of the green-and-yellow face paint off, and the paint left a rash on my face.
The next day my first class was Physics, and I had a test that I wasn’t prepared for, but for the right reasons. I had spent the night before the test mourning Oregon’s loss, and the night before that, camping in front of Mac Court so I could sprint inside to get a front row seat for Civil War hoops. Who can study in a tent?
Life Lessons from Keith Balderston
So, the morning after Sherwood’s dagger, I’m walking past the EMU on the way to class and I see Duck basketball player Keith Balderston talking with some friends and I’m taken aback.
Baldy is talking to people? Keith, how can you talk?
About 12 hours ago we just lost to the Beavers on a last second shot. Isn’t your life over, too?
I learned something from Balderston that day. You’ve got to move on. Mourn the loss, but basketball is basketball. Games are won and lost. Other stuff though, things like family, loved ones, God, Jesus, breakfast at The Glenwood, a pint at Taylor’s, the Wednesday special at Track Town Pizza, whatever is important to you is what matters.
Balderson helped me take a step back. Maybe my life wasn’t over as a sophomore in college. Maybe there’s something to look forward to. Maybe I’ll have a family someday and we’ll all root for the Ducks and this loss won’t hurt so much.
My favorite all-time memories at Autzen Stadium were with my dad. We saw Marcus Mariota‘s first game together with my two boys, in 2012. Three generations of the family and a brother-in-law at a Duck football game, very nice.
But my favorite Duck game was in 1976, Oregon hosting powerhouse USC and an upstart new Trojan coach named John Robinson … former Duck John Robinson.
Mehl is going to ring Ricky’s Bell
The pregame hype was that U of O linebacker Darrell Mehl was going to ring Ricky’s Bell. Remember the Pac-8? It was the conference opener for the Ducks and, 53-0 later, USC was still undefeated.
The actual game wasn’t so memorable, but what happened after the game was. My dad didn’t hurry out of the stadium to I-5 North after the blowout. He took time to go down to the Autzen turf and throw around a Nerf football with me for about 20 minutes on the field, just like kids do now.
I always knew my dad loved me, but seeing him stay after the game and be willing to throw the ball around with me on the field meant a lot. Now as a 48-year old man, it’s a lesson for me to spend more time with my kids doing what they want to do.
Sure, I love the tight wins. Matt MacLeod‘s onside kick and game-winning field goal against Colorado in ’86, the Terry Obee reverse against the Huskies. I love the Cal win in 2010, all of the Civil War victories and the Florida State beat down in 2015, but I think my favorite Duck game was the 53-0 loss to USC ’76 — and throwing the ball around with dad after the game.
Dad and I don’t do as many things together as we used to. We live five states away and things are different, but every time I think back to that time on the Autzen turf almost 40 years ago, I’m reminded that my dad liked spending time with me – just me and him.
I’m not a crier, but that does bring a tear to my eye. I think I’ll call him after finishing this article.
Now, is there anyone you need to take to an Oregon game and play catch with on the turf?
Top photo from Kevin Cline
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