Don Essig has been the public address announcer at Autzen Stadium, the football home of the University of Oregon Ducks, for the past 46 years. In 1990, umbrellas were banned at Oregon football games after fans complained about blocked views. Fortunately for the fans who attended that first umbrella-less game, it did not rain that day. In his pre-game weather report, Essig tossed out a somewhat tongue-in-cheek line: “It never rains in Autzen Stadium.” Somewhat miraculously, it did not rain again at Autzen for 34 games, which made Essig’s line seem quite prophetic.
Of course, eventually it did rain, and has rained many times at Autzen Stadium, as we can attest from last year’s Cal-Oregon game where we had to drag out the coats we never wear in California. And the hats. The gloves. The scarf. The beanie. The rain boots. It rained very hard that day, which was just insult to injury as Cal lost by a wide margin and I went back to my hotel soaked to the bone.
For our second trip to Autzen, though, there was not even a hint of rain. We had the most beautiful blue sky with just a couple of puffy white clouds floating along.
The game we attended was the Ducks’ Pac-12 home opener against the Colorado Buffaloes, a game that coincided with move-in weekend for students. With all of the students back for Fall quarter and thousands of parents in town as well, the stadium was rocking to say the least. For the second year in a row, Oregon lost its first conference home game. Last year the Ducks lost Utah by a shocking score of 62-20 – a six touchdown deficit at game’s end. This year, the Ducks kept it closer, failing to score at the end of the game and losing a close one 41-38.
In both games, something struck us about the fans that attend Oregon games: they are some of the most intense, loyal and committed fans in football. No matter what the score, Duck fans stay engaged, they keep cheering their team on, they find something positive to focus on. Even down by five touchdowns last season, they applauded first downs and big gains knowing that the team could not possibly come back and win. At many stadiums, when a team gets down by 10 points, or 14 points, or worse, the stands start to empty out. Things are different at Autzen Stadium. Last year, at the end of the third quarter, down 54-13, sitting in a torrential downpour, virtually no fans had left the game. Admittedly, after one more score the fans started filing out, but long after they would have most other places.
This fan loyalty must be partially cultural, but also reflects just how difficult it is to get a ticket to a Ducks football game. There are only 54,000 seats at Autzen Stadium – far less than the 100,000+ capacity at other football powerhouses such as Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State or Alabama. Moreover, for students, getting a ticket to a home football game is nearly as monumental as getting a golden ticket in the Willy Wonka movie. About a month before the Fall term begins, a small number of student season tickets is made available via online lottery. Students, including our son, have multiple browser screens open at the Athletic Department website waiting for the stroke of 6 p.m. Pacific Time when the allotment of tickets are put on sale. Most students are unable to get tickets through this lottery process; their recourse is to put their name in for a supplemental lottery each Thursday where single-game tickets are available. With such a mismatch between supply and demand, we suppose that students understand how lucky they are to get a ticket.
One consequence of the high demand-to-supply ratio is that the visitor’s section is one of the most meager and inhospitable of any we have seen in college football. Many stadiums allot the visiting team an entire end zone, or several sections in one of the corners of the stadium. At the Colorado game, we thought for a moment that there were no visiting fans; but when Colorado scored we heard a tiny commotion coming from a group of stalwart fans cheering from the tiniest wedge of a section you could imagine. This was the same for the Cal game and the Utah game in 2015, which tells us that the Ducks simply don’t allocate tickets for the visiting team.
The combination of a hard-to-get ticket, and nearly 100% home fans, make for a raucous and energized crowd. During the entire game, the student section never sits down; the fans are jumping up and down and leading non-stop cheers. Our favorite tradition occurs at the start of the 4th quarter of every Oregon home football game: an entire stadium of fans singing the song “Shout” from Animal House. What’s the connection, you ask? Perhaps the most iconic college comedy of all time was filmed at the University of Oregon, with most of the fraternity scenes shot in an actual University of Oregon fraternity. Ever since the release of the movie, students at U of O have had a strong identity with the movie. Perhaps the strongest “Animal House” identification is with the song “Shout,” performed during the movie by Otis Day & the Knights. We shot a quick video of the assembled 54,000 fans singing the song, clapping and dancing along to the words (“a little bit louder now,” “a little bit softer now”).
Last season, during Oregon Basketball’s run to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, I witnessed the same thing at Matthew Knight Arena, home of the men’s basketball team. Although the basketball arena is a smaller venue, it is indoors so the energy of the crowd was even more frenetic than at the football game. We will try and get to at least one basketball game this Spring, and maybe one more football game this Fall.
John & Irene Ingersoll
October 12, 2016