After an epic trip to Oregon State last year, I immediately started planning another trip to the Beaver State to check out the fleet footed fluorescent older brother in town. The Oregon Ducks, with their high powered, up tempo offense and garish uniform ensembles was one of the premier football destinations I had yet to check off my list. My friend, and Oregon native Colin, and I poured over the Ducks home schedule nearly a year ago, carefully selecting the UCLA Bruins tilt as the marquee matchup in Eugene for 2013. Our predictions were confirmed, when, after both teams enjoyed a terrific start to the 2013 season, the ESPN Gameday crew selected the #3 Oregon Ducks versus #12 UCLA Bruins for their weekly destination.
Colin and I touch down in Portland early, and after a trip to the rental car counter for a sporty Chevy Malibu we hustle into downtown Portland for lunch at Pok Pok. An iconic Vietnamese restaurant that has gained considerable notoriety in food circles, we order up a wide selection of their diverse Asian menu offerings. Obviously, in keeping with my protein heavy BBQ consumption, I contribute orders for their crispy chicken wings and baby back ribs.
From there, we opt for a downtown dessert at the Portland institution of Voodoo Donuts where they serve up everything from plain donuts to eclectic, pink frosted, Captain Crunch covered pancreas busters. I opt for the “Old Dirty Bastard” donut – a peanut butter and Oreo covered chocolate frosted donut. Colin and I retreat to a table outside with Voodoo’s iconic pink box in tow, which, according to their catch phrase, “Good things come in pink boxes”.
After picking up our third party member Donovan at the airport that afternoon, we head to Beaverton, Oregon – home of Nike. Colin’s cousin Rob has agreed to give us an insider tour of the facilities, a sprawling 200 acre campus complete with lakes, full size playing fields and scores of sparkling new white buildings. Not bad for a company that was started in famed Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman’s kitchen with little more than a waffle iron. Each building is named after a famous athlete – Jordan, Griffey Jr., Tiger Woods, etc. – and bronze plaques of professional athletes line the walkways every few feet. Every step you take at Nike is in the presence of athletic greatness, and there are dozens of displays dedicated to the historical achievements of the company and the athletes that inspired them.
Naturally, we finish our tour at the Nike Company Store. Accessible only to Nike employees and registered guests, all products are available at a 50% discount from retail. Collectively, we load several shopping carts full of bright, fluorescent stretch fabrics and signature Nike orange shoe boxes. Between the 50% discount, and no state sales tax in Oregon, it’s an impressive haul for the money.
Saturday morning is an early wake up call. Our friend Donovan is an avid ESPN College Gameday fan, and this will be his first opportunity to check out the zany, headgear selecting antics of Lee Corso in person. Regardless of where the show is filmed, it airs at 9AM eastern standard time, as such we rise at 5:30 AM to make the quick jaunt south into Eugene in time for the show. In a typical early morning Oregon “mist”, we pack into the crowded lawn in front of the Lundquist College of Business while the TV personalities go through their typical pre game analysis. Unsatisfied with the level of attention we’re getting in the dense crowd, I hoist Donovans 185lb. frame onto my shoulders while he frantically waves his neon yellow sign. After a few minutes of mounting lower back fatigue, the tactic pays off, and Donovan becomes clearly visible on the TV feed between the talking heads. Soon after I set him down, Lee Corso speeds off through the crowd on the back of the Oregon Ducks motorcycle after making his selection, signaling the end of the show. Check one off the bucket list for Donovan.
After the ESPN Gameday hoopla, we tour the sprawling, lush green Eugene campus. The tour is highlighted by a visit to Hayward Field, home to the Oregon Track and Field team, a Mecca for any running aficionado. With grandstands capable of holding over 10,000 fans, it’s one of only four International Class 1 tracks in the United States. Host to several Olympic qualifying events and countless American records, the rubberized oval is where legendary head coach Bill Bowerman presided over some of the most gifted runners in the world. A bronze statue of him standing atop a waffle iron hovers on the sidelines, the inscription reading “Teacher, Innovator, Visionary, Motivator…and then there was that waffle iron.”
No visit to Oregon track, however, would be complete without a mention of Coos Bay, Oregon native Steve Prefontaine. An incredibly gifted middle distance runner in the early 1970’s, Prefontaine once held the American records in 7 different middle distance events from 2,000 to 10,000 meters. His exploits have even been chronicled in two major movies; “Without Limits” and “Prefontaine” made some 25 years after his career ended. But it wasn’t his god given ability that Pre was known for, it was his intestinal fortitude or, quite simply Guts. Some of his quotes have inspired runners for decades since his early demise, including his most remarkable “To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift”.
Arguably the most famous Oregon Ducks athlete in history, the relationship between Pre, Nike, and the University of Oregon are all inexorably intertwined. A “Track Town USA” banner hangs above Hayward field, with Prefontaine’s image overlooking the oval. And his famous quote “A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts” is emblazoned in large letters above the doors in the Nike company store. We pay a visit to Pre’s Rock, the site of his fatal car crash in 1975 that tragically ended his life at age 24. A small stone plaque with his image stands at the site, and runners continually leave sneakers, jerseys and other tokens of remembrance in his honor.
From there, we file into Rennie’s Landing, a homey, two story pub in the heart of Eugene for some mid morning refreshment. Sliding into a few empty wooden tables, it’s a token college town saloon. A few flat screen TV’s flash away in the corner, and an impressive selection of Oregonian microbrews line the taps. Naturally, we kick the morning off with a round of Irish Car Bombs prior to sampling a handful of offerings from Deschutes, Widmer and Ninkasi breweries. The hours pass quickly in good company, and shortly after popping the last cheesy bacon tater tot into my mouth, we’re off to the stadium where a late afternoon kickoff awaits.
As the game kicks off, Autzen roars to life. This place gets loud, L-O-U-D. It’s among the loudest stadiums I have ever been in, which given the modest size of the venue (60,000 capacity), speaks to an ardent fan base. Having visited about half the Pac 12 by now, I was expecting the casual, aloof, “whatever brah” West Coast attitude that permeates the culture at some of the other venues. Not so at Oregon. These people are passionate, boisterous, continually on their feet and screaming themselves hoarse for as long as the game remains competitive (which, to be fair, usually isn’t long in Eugene). The raucous atmosphere in Autzen is among the best that college football has to offer.
On the field, the game proves more competitive than a typical Ducks contest, most of which are blowouts midway through the second quarter. The fast tempo Ducks offense sputters, as UCLA plays impressive containment defense and forces a couple of fumbles from the Oregon ground attack. At halftime the score is knotted at 14, and despite UCLA’s lofty #12 ranking, Ducks fans stand bewildered at the close score. They’re a spoiled bunch in Autzen….
As the second half winds on, Oregon starts gaining momentum. Heisman contenting quarterback Marcus Mariota starts finding his rhythm as the UCLA defense starts to tire against the breakneck pace. Finally, in the fourth quarter, the Ducks blow the game open and the route is on. Mariota connects with WR Bralon Addison for a touchdown, and shortly thereafter speedy tailback Byron Marshall rumbles for his third touchdown on the day. The hapless UCLA defense is smoked, and great gashes open up for the Ducks to pour through. Oregon lights up the scoreboard for 21 points in the fourth frame, and skates away in their customary blowout fashion with a final tally of 42-14.
In the end, Oregon is easily the best venue I have visited in the Pac 12 thus far and it would take a goliath effort from some of the remaining schools to unseat them. For the past few years, they have dominated competition in the conference with their unique brand of hurry-up, explosive offense, and oft overlooked stout defense. The roar of Autzen Stadium is like watching a game from inside a jet engine, and the Oregon faithful are a rowdy, boisterous bunch. Even the town of Eugene has a charmingly smaller, college town vibe solely dedicated to supporting the Ducks. The University of Oregon is truly a sublime Saturday experience in the Pac 12. Now if only they could convince Phil Knight to tone down those jerseys…
Thanks to Rob and Nozomi for giving us the full tour of both Nike and Eugene, and being such incredible tour guides the entire weekend!
Thank you to Ruth for the gracious hospitality, and allowing me to visit Oregon once again. Can’t wait for some more pies next year!
Thank you to Donovan for prodding us out of bed early on Saturday, buying way too many shots, and making the trip an absolute blast.
Thanks of course to Colin for another amazing Beaver State experience, can’t wait to see what we plan for next year man!
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