From the Cheap Seats:
It Never Rains in Autzen Stadium
Admittedly, this was an odd weekend for a first, and probably only, trip to Eugene, Oregon. This, after all, is the least anticipated Stanford-Oregon game in recent memory. Isn’t this the first time that one of these two teams will not win the Pac-12 Championship game?
For me, this weekend was supposed to be filled with the hectic hell of getting ready for trial. But the judge kicked our case out of court about a week and a half ago. Figuring I might never again be able to afford a ticket to a Stanford game at Oregon, I called up a friend in Portland. He snagged a couple of tickets for less than face value.
All of you know by now how the game went. So I will use most of this “From the Cheap Seats” piece to share a few impressions from a first-time visitor to Eugene.
UO’s Campus Is Okay For some reason (maybe the fact that it was featured in the leading cult film about college life, at least from the male perspective), I thought Oregon’s campus was going to be gorgeous. They have plenty of impressive buildings, but the campus is simply “okay,” in my book. Then again, I tend to favor campuses with a unifying architectural theme, like the red roofs of Stanford or Colorado or even the sandstone of my employer, the University of Wyoming. Oregon’s campus is a mishmash of buildings. But, to give them their due, Hayward Field is quite cool for this track and field fan. Their law school, named after Phil Knight’s father and therefor probably built with his money, makes the one I work in look pretty weak, and it has a basketball court near the entrance. The walk across the river to (most of the) athletic fields is also a nice feature. But nobody would trade The Farm for this place.
Friendly Fans My expectations were wrong in another respect. I thought Oregon would be one of those places where the home fans were nasty to visitors. Especially visitors from Stanford. After all, these two schools have spent about half of a decade ruining each other’s seasons. But every last person we interacted with was friendly, welcoming us to Autzen, thanking us for “coming up from Palo Alto,” and even apologizing for the weather. I did not think it necessary to point out that, even in this warm fall in Laramie, Wyoming, the weather was much nicer in Eugene than my current home town.
“It Never Rains in Autzen Stadium” We who only watch Oregon home games are unaware of the tradition (or, at least, I was) of starting the game with a “weather report” where the fans loudly proclaim “It Never Rains in Autzen Stadium.” When the shout went up for this game, it sure seemed like it was raining. But the nearby Oregon fans proclaimed that it was merely a “heavy fog.” And it did not last.
But then it poured, as Stanford scored three quick touchdowns, one aided by an Oregon fumble. The proverbial fat lady might not have sung until the second half, but she was warming up early.
The football summary, from this fan’s relatively cheap seat, is: (a) Christian McCaffrey is darn good, and so is Bryce Love (news flash, huh?); (b) The offensive line was okay (and “okay” is a step up from some games we have seen); (c) Keller Chryst threw some very nice passes; (d) Michael Rector caught everything near him; (e) Joey Alfieri made two amazing plays on the ball (and was thoughtful enough to do so in the end zone where we were seated); and (for good measure) (f) Oregon’s defense could not tackle either of my grandmothers, both of whom have been dead for several decades.
Regarding item (f), it seemed that their defense was in decent position often, so it did not seem like a scheme problem, but they have serious tackling issues.
Hometown Hero v. Hometown Hero My friend pointed out that Oregon’s quarterback, Justin Herbert, was a product of a Eugene High School. Ours is product of Paly High. How often do Pac-12 teams not from large cities both start quarterbacks from their hometowns? Not important, but kind of fun. [Yes, I realize that technically Stanford is in “Stanford,” not Palo Alto, but close enough.]
(Almost) Full and Loud One thing a state school has going for it that a small private school does not is a large fan base, even in a down year. The seats were over 90% full. And even when the game was well out of hand, the place was loud, right up to the last meaningless Oregon touchdown. There was nothing about the design of Autzen Stadium that suggests why it is the case to this observer, but the place really holds noise well. It must be ear-drum-splitting when the Ducks are winning.
A Good Bad Year v. a Bad Bad Year At the end of the game, my friend pointed out that, at 7-3, Stanford was having a “pretty good year.” Of course, I immediately responded that it sure did not seem like that to Stanford’s fans. But it is interesting to get an outsider’s perspective. Here is the bottom line: For a bad year, this still has the potential to be a pretty good year. It was not all that long ago that I was listening to a game from Seattle hoping Stanford could somehow eke out one win. I am not suggesting that we should be satisfied. But it is worth remembering that, not too long ago, the current bad year would have been considered a darn good year.
Meanwhile, things are pretty bleak in Eugene. Part of that is because they have risen to even higher heights than we have, even making it to the National Championship Game. But they are also having a measurably worse year than the Cardinal. Though I heard no significant boos during the game, the natives are most definitely restless. I cannot see how Mark Helfrich survives to coach next year.
But it is not obvious to me that they can solve their problems with a new coach, even if Phil Knight does pony up $10 million to find one, as the disputed rumors suggest. We all realize that Stanford sports have a thin margin for error, but the same is true of Oregon. They are no longer the only football program that can offer recruits amazing facilities. They are no longer the only school running a super fast offense. It is not obvious to me that they can continue to recruit enough speed to distinguish themselves on that front, now that so many others are competing for the same athletes and can sell similar systems.
I don’t mean to overstate this. Phil Knight and others have given Oregon some important advantages. They might indeed bounce back quickly. But the reemergence of Washington under Chris Peterson might be an even bigger roadblock to them than it is to us.
Post Script from The Oregonian The Portland paper’s post mortem was that two Oregon kids, Joey Alfieri and Cameron Scarlett, did in the locals. An interesting take, but not without some merit. It was fun to see both of them have success in their home state.