The day I graduated from the University of Oregon, my father showed up dressed head to toe in Oregon Ducks gear. He wore a green Nike hat with the Oregon “O” emblem above the brim. His shirt was gray with “University of Oregon Dad” written across the chest in large green and yellow letters. A green Oregon jacket slightly covered up his shirt. He wore running socks with the outline of the state of Oregon emblazoned with a heart and green, special edition Nike University of Oregon shoes – again with the “O” emblem on the shoe tongue and sides.
When I found him after the ceremony he engulfed me with a hug, bursting with pride. As over the top as he was, all I could do was laugh because the truth was, he was not alone. Looking around, many other parents were dressed in just as much green and gold. That’s just the kind of school University of Oregon is. The pride and spirit surrounding its football team extends beyond the confines of the stadium and into families and alumni no matter where they live.
The Oregon Ducks (9-3) will be bringing that school spirit to the Alamodome on Satruday, Jan. 2, when they’ll face Texas Christian University’s Horned Frogs (10-2) for the Alamo Bowl. While neither team is playoff-bound, both will be bringing their best games to the Alamodome to make it in the top 10.
I attended Long Beach Poly High School in Southern California. Sports Illustrated named it the “sports high school of the century.” It was no secret that football ruled the school spirit, so when I stepped onto the University of Oregon campus in 2011, I was happy to find that same energy. It felt like home.
The first week of school the Ducks played a game against University of California, Berkeley. The school was abuzz with excitement as people made plans on where to tailgate, when to meet, what to wear, and what players to look out for.
Months before classes even started, recruitment officers sent out videos and photos to students that captured the famous “Walk to Autzen,” a mile long path from campus, onto the historic Pre’s Trail, to the foot of Autzen Stadium. I joined hundreds of other fans, cheering along the way.
It had been raining, but the upperclassmen were not concerned.
“It never rains at Autzen Stadium,” they said above the light drizzle. Sure enough, as soon as we entered the stadium grounds, the rain stopped. The feeling at the stadium was electric. Flashes of yellow and green became a blur as thousands of fans found their seats. A wave of movement was building momentum as people threw the cheers “Go” and “Ducks” from one side of the stadium to the other. When the team ran onto the field, the crowd erupted. It must have been one of the loudest stadiums in the country.
The City of Eugene turned into a ghost town on game day. The streets were deserted and the only sounds that interrupted the whoosh of the wind stirring up red and yellow fall leaves were the distant cheers from the stadium. It seemed the whole city was either at the game or in front of a television, loyally supporting their Ducks.
During my senior year of college in 2014, second year coach Mark Helfrich and Heisman winner quarterback Marcus Mariota took the team to the National Championships. The team blew through Pac-12 North Division, advancing on to the Pac-12 Football Championship, and then dismantled Florida State, the previous year’s champion, at the College Football Playoff in the Rose Bowl. It seemed as though this would be the year for Oregon. My friends and I talked about how amazing it would be to win a National Championship our senior year of college. What better way end the season and close out our college careers?
Our freshman year, the Ducks lost to Auburn University at the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. Last year, however, it felt like the Ducks were just meant to win. We had matured since freshman year, so surely the team had as well. The symbolism of that possibility made everyone crazy with hope and excitement. Unfortunately, history repeated itself. In a grueling game against Ohio State, the Oregon Ducks were defeated with a score of 42-20 leaving them national runners-up, right ahead of the Horned Frogs of TCU.
In fall 2015, Oregon recruited a new quarterback, Vernon Adams, and the hope to seek a national championship rose once more. The first game of the season started with a face-off against Adams’ former school, Eastern Washington. The 61-42 win for the Ducks was a great start, despite Vernon Adams taking a few late hits from his former teammates. Any doubts about the quality of the 2015 team after the graduation of Marcus Mariota could for now be held at bay.
The following week held a rematch game against Michigan State, but something was off with Adams. After several inaccurate long passes and misses to open receivers, viewers could tell that Adams’ gloved hands were more than a fashion statement. His index finger on his throwing hand was broken and in turn the Ducks suffered their first lost of the season. Without their quarterback, the team was losing confidence and so were the fans.
The next game against Utah brought their third largest margin of defeat for the Ducks at Autzen Stadium with a score of 61-20. Last season had brought so much promise and pride, not to mention a Heisman Trophy and multiple NFL recruits. This season was dim by comparison. For the first time since 2009 the Ducks were no longer a ranked team, Adams was recovering from injury, and the possibility of a National Championship runner-up was not even a question.
The thing about Oregon pride, however, is that it is constant. There is a reason my dad was not the only one at graduation decked out in Ducks gear. When you are a Ducks fan your pride for the team that brings you national recognition and unites the state is something that doesn’t fluctuate with the number of wins or losses. It grows with every game because of the unity it creates and the development of the team each year brings.
Oregon may not have a shot at the National Championship this year, but they do have confidence in who they are as a team. After the setback from Adams’ broken finger, the Ducks returned strong as ever to win the next eight games, including a strong victory over Stanford University, the PAC 12 Champion, landing them a spot in the Alamo Bowl.
I graduated from University of Oregon this past June and have moved here to San Antonio to start a job at The Rivard Report as a photographer and videographer. Just as my graduation day was filled with people in green and yellow Ducks gear, so too will my first day on the job as I photograph the Ducks’ game with TCU at the Alamo Bowl. I’ll be Oregon proud in my new Texas home.
*Top image: University of Oregon fans show their Duck pride during a game at Auzten Stadium. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.