EUGENE – There’s a guy who sits near me at Autzen Stadium for Oregon’s home football games, one row in front of mine, four seats to the left.
Nice dude. In his mid-40s, I’d guess. Balding, bespectacled. Brings his mom to games sometimes.
He’s had season tickets at least as long as my brother has, so we’ve seen him at home games for several seasons, and it’s almost like we know each other now.
He smiles and says “How you doing?” when making his way to his seat. And if I miss him during the obligatory high-fives that follow Oregon touchdowns, he leans across his neighbors, holds his hand high in the air and says “Hey, don’t forget me!”
Nice dude. And these days, with the Ducks treating us all to Autzen ass-whuppins nearly every week, it’s pretty much all smiles and high-fives.
But when things on the field aren’t going quite so well, things for my friend in Row 54 aren’t either.
His face reddens. He yells and cusses. He pounds his fists against his chair. Stomps his feet. Runs his hands through his thinning hair in bewilderment.
That was the scene earlier this season against Stanford, when the Ducks fell behind the Cardinal early on.
My brother, the eternal optimist, talked our bellowing buddy down from the ledge after Stanford went ahead 21-3 in the first quarter. “Don’t worry, man,” he said, “we’ll be all right; we’re a second-half team.”
Our friend explained why WE would certainly NOT be all right. That the expletive second half wasn’t going to expletive matter because our expletive defense couldn’t make an expletive stop.
He topped off all of this with, you guessed it, an expletive.
It was a tirade, for sure, and not entirely uncommon at sporting events, nor among arm-chair quarterbacks watching at home. And yet, I remember thinking at the time, “I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been quite THAT mad about anything in my life, let alone watching college kids play football.”
This part of the story has a happy ending, though, thanks in large part to Oregon’s comeback victory.
As most of the crowd was thinning out late in the game following Oregon’s second-half explosion and subsequent 52-31 lead, our friend walked over to me and said “Man, I’ve got to get some perspective in my life. I don’t know why this stuff gets to me so much.”
See, winning cures all. It brings about happiness. It dissolves misdirected anger. It helps people gain perspective.
And perspective is what it’s all about. Because when it comes to the Autzen Stadium experience, yours will be shaped in no small part by where you sit and who sits near you.
Selecting a seat at Autzen is much like purchasing a home. It’s all about location, location, location.
Volcano Man in Row 54 is about the most volatile person we experience in our immediate area, and he remains dormant 95 percent of the time.
But in the cheap seats, and near the student section, and next to the visitors section, it’s not always fun and games at these games.
Fans load up on alcohol in the parking lot, stumble into the stadium and redefine the terms “vulgar,” “belligerent” and “idiotic” every game. Autzen has a fairly wide and deserved reputation as an awful place for visiting fans.
But it’s not just the opponents’ supporters who are having a bad time.
After owning season tickets for 16 years, my friend’s dad decided to drop his ducats before the 2010 campaign because the fans in his immediate area had gotten so bad that he wasn’t willing to tolerate them anymore. Better to just watch on TV, he says.
My wife’s coworker went to her first Oregon home game earlier this year, and after three drunk 20-somethings spent all four quarters cussing over their heads and bumping into her and her handicapped mother-in-law, she said “Never again.”
But, again, it’s all about perspective. Location.
Visitors often complain about the student section, but student sections are bad at nearly every stadium across the country.
There’s a reason athletic departments stick all the students in one section; it’s the same reason zoos keep all the chimpanzees in the same enclosure.
I’m not making excuses for Oregon students simply because I was one, but I’ve been on the road, and it’s not pretty in other places, either.
I’ve attended road games in Tempe and Tucson, Arizona, the past two years, and although I’d probably return to Sun Devil Stadium after an experience that was mostly pleasant – save for the students who showered insults at us and the two guys who, in the second half, started throwing peanuts down on us from the upper level – I can definitely say “Never again” when it comes to Arizona Stadium in Tucson.
Oregon’s double-overtime victory that night in 2009 was easily one of the best live sporting events I’ve attended, but it was almost completely spoiled by the home fans.
And it wasn’t every fan. I sat next to a red-and-blue-clad Arizona supporter, who engaged me in friendly banter throughout the game. But unfortunately, when it comes to this stuff, one bad apple DOES spoil the whole bunch.
One of the three guys sitting directly behind my brother and I was so drunk – from tailgating all day after the early-morning arrival of ESPN’s College GameDay crew – that he tried, several times, to start fights with us, cussing, shoving and generally being unruly. If not for his two more-sober friends trying to keep him in line and apologizing for him, he would have been worse. He was a constant annoyance throughout the entire game, and nearly ruined our experience all by himself.
But he wasn’t alone.
One row in front of us and about 10 seats to the left, another Arizona fan was standing and spewing cuss words at the field throughout much of the game. A fellow UA fan, a row in front of the potty mouth, finally had enough in the third quarter, and turned around. “Hey man, would you mind watching your mouth a bit? I’m here with my 5-year-old son,” he said in an even tone while gesturing to the boy sitting at his right.
The cuss words were then redirected from the field to the fellow fan.
To make matters worse, after the Ducks polished off their win, UO players ventured to our corner of the stadium, to celebrate with their fans and acknowledge us for making the trek down to Tucson.
Arizona fans in nearby sections began raining down water bottles and batteries on the field and into our section. Oregon players quickly left the field. A UO cheerleader was struck in the head with a full bottle and taken to the hospital with a concussion. We made for the exit.
Yeah. Never again.
Based on that experience, I understand the frustration some feel at Autzen Stadium, and I can’t even begin to blame them for not wanting to come back.
I’m lucky to have seats where I do.
With all due respect to Oregon State, the Washington Huskies are probably Oregon’s most hated rivals, at least as far as the fans are concerned. Yet, at the 2010 UW-UO game at Autzen, I watched as a UW fanatic pranced – yes, he was prancing – up the stairs dressed in a purple shirt and fedora, wearing a golden cape and holding aloft a purple sign that read “Huskies!” He was far from the visitors section, and if ever an opposing fan was asking for it, it was this guy.
I watched him the whole way, half expecting someone to throw a full soda at his head, but the only thing he was hit with were boos as he headed up the stairs.
And then a funny thing happened. A lone Duck fan leaned out into the aisle and extended a hand with a smile. He said “Good luck, man!” And then – I’m not making this up – another one did the same. Three or four more UO fans shook his hand as he continued toward his seat, holding his sign high.
I chuckled. Gotta give the guy props for his enthusiasm and his courage, I suppose.
At the very same moment, on the other side of the stadium, a drunk Duck fan was spewing hatred from on high as Washington players took the field.
Cuss words and spit rained down.
I didn’t see it at the time, because my head was craned as I watched in amazement while Oregon fans actually shook hands with a Husky supporter.
Yep. All about perspective.
Originally published on WiredOregon.com