The Worst Game Ever Played at Autzen

Mark Weinrott Editorials, History

Duck fans interested in time-traveling to Eugene may want to skip Sept. 20, 1975.  That Saturday evening, Oregon and the San Jose Spartans played the most boring game in Autzen Stadium’s 50-year history. Yes, even worse than the infamous 0-0 “Toilet Bowl” versus OSU in 1983.  The latter, amidst a November monsoon, was more an exercise in survival than an athletic competition. Eleven turnovers and four missed field goals were frustrating, but frustration does not equate to boredom. Indeed, the Ducks and Beavers racked up nearly 600 yards of total offense, despite the horrible conditions endured by two third-string quarterbacks.

So, let’s set the stage for the ’75 home opener.  The Ducks, losers of nine in a row, were coming off a sacrificial 7-62 money-grab at Oklahoma. The evening, at least by meteorological standards, was perfect: 70 degrees at kickoff, no wind, no rain, no excuses (to coin a phrase). Aside from bruised egos from the thrashing in Norman, injuries were not a major factor. San Jose State was a respectable team that looked vulnerable in a close win over nondescript Santa Clara.

Third-quarter crowd shot

Second-year Coach Don Read planned to run the ball inside against the Spartans’ 3-4 defense. Oregon’s veer offense, which produced only 13 touchdowns in 11 games the season before, was designed to capitalize on speed, an element of surprise, and one-on-one situations. Yet, Read felt SJS was weak up the middle and The Ducks would pound the Spartans into submission. Maybe not.

Allegedly, 25,000 warm bodies ventured into Autzen, a Spicer-esque crowd estimate padded more than a La-Z-Boy. I was one of those bodies. This was my first Oregon football game. After attending Denison, Harvard and McGill (all teams wearing red and white), I was ready for some big-time college football and a different color. Clad in what is now referred to as “vintage green,” and armed with 750 milliliters of Almaden Hearty Burgundy, I was prepared regardless of what unfolded on the field. So too were the few fans scattered near the 20-yard line.

Those who arrived mercifully late missed nothing in the early going. The first quarter ended 0-0. Neither team could move the ball. This pattern persisted, with the punters taking center stage. The entire first half was played between the 30-yard lines. A 52-yard field goal gave the Spartans a 3-0 halftime lead.  Those fans who weren’t leaving (for good), and were still awake, booed halfheartedly.  If there had been a replay screen in 1975, the best highlight would have been of the raffle winner. Had there been smartphones, no one would have been watching the game. Instead, they would have been checking to see if Mattress World was still open.

Fans who left early headed here

Surely, the second half would bring more action. Wrong. The most significant play was an Oregon high snap that sailed over the punter’s head, resulting in a safety. For those mathematically-challenged readers, that made the score 5-0. And, that’s the way it ended. Five to zero! I had too much to drink to leave early; there were no handrails along the stairs as there are now. A game that undoubtedly had a sobering effect on the coaches and players had quite the opposite effect on me.

The final statistics were every bit as ugly as the live spectacle: 14 punts, 320 combined, total yards, Oregon’s 42 rushing yards and SJS’s three passing yards. Charitably, one might describe the evening as a defensive struggle, were it not for the horrible play calling, poor offensive execution and untimely penalties. Neither team could sustain drives long enough even to commit turnovers.

After the game, UO President William Boyd told a reporter that he “would rather be whipped in a public square than sit through another game like that.” This concise assessment deserves its own paragraph.

President Boyd faces a difficult choice

The Ducks went on to lose their next four games, extending the losing streak to 14. This was, arguably, the lowest ebb in the modern history of Oregon football. Anyone who predicted that Autzen would one day house a perennial Top-25 team was siphoning their drinking water from the millrace. Yet, that’s precisely what happened. I hope that President Boyd lived to see it.

Mark Weinrott
Eugene, OR

Top photo from Alamy and Google Images
Photoshopped by Paul Taplin

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