Going to a college football game is an experience that many people enjoy every Saturday. The tradition, pageantry, and the rabid fans bring that experience to life for fans. However, there are some places on the college football map that take things to a different level.
One such place is Autzen Stadium, the home of the Oregon Ducks.
To be totally transparent with my thoughts here, I am graduate of Oregon State University. I have been to Autzen Stadium before as a youngster and as a college student for the Civil War game. In a nutshell, I was in enemy territory. I root for my Beavers with no apologies, but I learned to appreciate what Duck fans experience every home game.
From the moment you drive up to Autzen you know you are in for an experience. The “O” is everywhere. I obviously saw it on Autzen Stadium, on cars and trucks, shirts, pants, painted on people’s bodies, and it was on garbage cans. Yes, that’s right. The “O” was on garbage cans.
We all know the connection the between the University of Oregon and Nike. The school makes no apologies for that connection and they shouldn’t. Phil Knight, founder of Nike, is probably their most famous alumni and most generous giver to the athletic program. He has made donations to the program that go into the millions of dollars.
The real fun at Autzen Stadium begins even before the Ducks are introduced.
“You know sometimes we have monsoons, sometimes it sprinkles, but it never rains at Autzen Stadium.” Essig says in unison with the rabid Oregon fans.
To really understand how the crowd loves that saying you have to hear it yourself. For the fans it signals that the game is close to getting underway.
Time to explain the next Duck tradition.
Now, most teams run onto the field after running through some kind of smoke. Not the Oregon Ducks. Coming onto the field has to be different for the Ducks. They are the team with new uniforms for almost every game, so having a different introduction is right up Oregon’s alley.
The Ducks have a Harley Davidson motorcycle that gets the crowd going by revving its engine, the Oregon mascot is on the back of the motorcycle, and then the best PA announcer in Pac-12 Don Essig says “Here come the Ducks!” Once Essig says that, the Harley bike with the Duck comes flying out of their tunnel with the Oregon team behind them. The Duck fight song plays along as the team rushes the field. Between the roar of the crowd and the engine of the Harley it is hard to hear that Oregon fight song.
The crowd is primed for the battle that comes with start of the game.
Something I noticed this past weekend while covering the Oregon versus Arizona State game was that the Duck crowd is always active. Not too many people stay seated. Most fans stay standing and roar their approval of their beloved Ducks. The Oregon fans are not a fan base that need to be told when to cheer. The fans know when it’s important to be loud and it seems like that was all game on Saturday.
During a break in the action in the first half of play the Ducks play a song about the state of Oregon. This is a song that Oregon plays a lot because from outset of the song the crowd sings every word without looking at the words on the video screen. For me, this is a song that tugs at the heart. I moved from Oregon to Arizona and this song made me miss my home state.
Once the Ducks get ahead, the frenzy with the crowd just grows in its intensity. To win a game at Autzen Stadium is a tough thing to accomplish. The fans that come to the home games are right on top of the players. If you are unfortunate enough to be on the opposing team, it’s going to be a long game for you. Watching the Sun Devils deal with this noise was interesting. The crowd is usually good for causing at least a couple of false start penalties. There were some crowd induced penalties for Arizona State, so the fans accomplished their mission.
The last thing that makes the experience of Autzen great is the song “Shout”. When that song comes on you hear 54,000 people go crazy. The fans sing every line and even quiet down when the song requires you to sing quietly. From the press box you can see people use their hands for the song, dance in their seats, and cheer on the team once the song is done.
When leaving the stadium I lost count the number of times I heard strangers tell other strangers “Go Ducks”. This saying gives perfect strangers a connection that no other fan base has. It is a different culture at Oregon. The culture is a difficult thing to explain unless you go to school at Oregon, went to school at Oregon, or grew up in the great state of Oregon.
My hope is that the experience you get at Autzen Stadium never changes. The only thing I hope is that Duck winning streak against my Beavers ends very soon.