I was 14 years old when my dad began taking me to Autzen Stadium to watch the Oregon Ducks. Division I college football in person--especially with the atmosphere at Autzen--was simply incomparable.
It was the 1994 season--a good year to become a Duck fan--because Oregon began a magical ride to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1950's. I've been hooked ever since. There's one play from that season which epitomizes the turning point of Oregon football. Known as the "The Pick", it's simply the most famous play in Oregon football history. The Ducks had only beat the Washington Huskies three times in the past 20 years, and now they had a 4 point lead on the 9th ranked Huskies. I was there for that game--in person--but not for the most famous play in Oregon football history.
Washington began driving down the field in the final minutes and they were getting closer and closer to the goal line and to scoring a touchdown. Dad, most likely assuming that the game was about to be lost since Washington was sure to score, decided that we might as well beat the traffic. If only I could go back in time and beg him to stay! Because the next thing I remember is that we made the trek back to the car and arrived just as we heard the entire stadium erupt in cheers. I quickly turned on the radio. Here's what we missed:
Kenny Wheaton returned that interception 97 yards for a touchdown to preserve the Oregon win. I've never left a game early ever since.
The Ducks then began their ascension of improvement, building a solid program with premier facilities (thanks in part to the generosity of Phil Night--founder of Nike and an Oregon alum). In 2001 Oregon should have played in the BCS National Championship game, but inexplicably got left out when a Nebraska team that failed to win their own conference was put in the title game with Miami. Oregon went on to finish that year #2 in the nation with a convincing win over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl.
Oregon came mighty close to getting to the National Championship game again in 2007. They were #2 in the nation, led by quarterback and Heisman favorite Dennis Dixon. Dixon's season ended abruptly with a torn ACL, and with no solid back-up, the wheels fell off. Oh what might have been.
Fast forward to 2010. Oregon finally did it. They won all 12 of their games, and most of them with flair. Head coach Chip Kelly kept the team focussed on "winning the day" and not looking ahead. They find themselves about to play in the National Championship game. Here's another special call of Jerry Allen, the same radio broadcaster who called "The Pick", as the final seconds ticked away on last Saturday's "Civil War" game:
Anything can happen against Auburn in the National Championship game. Auburn (aka Cam Newton) looks awfully good. But for now, like other Oregon fans, I'm simply excited by how far the Ducks have come. They've played hard and fast. Now we'll see if they can finish what has become a very magical ride.