Being in a like-minded crowd of 59,000 people is exhilarating experience, at times. It's also relaxing. And often boring. There are high-priced snacks, increasingly-elaborate fanfare (some effective, sometimes *THUD*).
I've following one team over 30 years: University of Oregon Ducks football. I scarcely follow any other sport. Off-field scandals? Love 'em. The primary way I know athlete names. Terrell Owen's working out on his driveway before the press, pouting about his contract with the Philadelphia Eagles like Achilles sulking in his tent was one of the best moments of the 21st century so far. Take up my Sunday watching pro football? Nah. Baseball? Okay in person, if the concessions and company are good. On t.v.? Will never stop to watch. Viewed about two innings of the Giants World Series last year. Soccer, ehm fútböl? Get the fuck out of here!
Women's tennis? Raising an eyebrow. Go on: who's playing? Don't recognize the names. Have photos? What do their grunts sound like? Well, okay. Skootch the kids out of the room, daddy's going to a dark place... Winter Olympics? Okay. Especially figure skating if prepped sufficiently by profiles of the personalities and psychodrama (networks usually oblige). I'm on Team Johnny Weir, bitches. Track & field? Sure. I grew up in Track City. I love watching that stuff, but never make an appointment or know when the events are. Still laughing at Tyson Gay's knack for 100% sensible, elegant answers. Reporter speaks with him SECONDS after he sprinted his heart out, mind and body super-charged. Gay's answer "I ran fast this time. Need to run faster next time." Not said with a smile. That's all he can muster, reporter, don't make a face at the camera BECAUSE HE JUST CHALLENGED THE LIMITS OF HUMAN CAPACITY, you fool! NBA? Interest waned as did the Trailblazers in the early 90s and the names of the players changed from the Super Nintendo NBA Jams game I knew VERY well. Secret code to play as Bill Clinton & Al Gore, FTW!
Being in a mass of people is great food for thought, or un-thought. At times I scan the crowd and think: "How many here were singing to Tenacious D, Sly Stone, Rufus Wainwright, listening to Gore Vidal, liberal radio, Harold Bloom, Anne Sexton en route here?" First, I snort derisively, then I realize statistically, LOTS of people were engaged in some, maybe ALL of those very things, many even deeper & sillier. I like that realization. I like de-smugging myself.
I first went to a University of Oregon football game in 1978 or so. The team stunk. In 1980 the Oregon Ducks went 6 wins, three losses, and two ties and the city of Eugene was elated. There was talk of bronzing the entire team before those kids could graduate. Grimly set them for all time atop a hideous concrete fountain on Willamette Street & Broadway. Happily, this was not done and the young men were allowed to lead full lives and not grimly expire, asphyxiated and scalded by molten metal. Reggie Ogburn, your heroism game after game, win or loss, kept possibly hundreds of people in Lane County from killing themselves.
Stadium capacity then was 44,000. 45,000 with standing room-only. Attendance was typically 20K - 30K. My memory of every game involves dreary rain, ponchos, and a pageant of losing game after game. There must have been dry days. They don't stick as much. Developing a ritual about figuring out in the rain when to eat the frozen Carnation chocolate malt with its sometimes non-splntering wood spoon. My dad at the time was a faculty member, and we typically sat in the corner at sections 34-35.
Later in the early 80s, my brother and I sat in the sponsor seats. Mom remarried and her new husband's family was a longtime donor to Oregon athletics. Sponsor seats meant seat backs, a roof with heaters, shorter concession lines, being tweens then teens among the Duck football upper-crust (not too snooty). A taste of the aristocratic life, its sweetness now turned acrid as I write frequently of class struggles nowadays.
Then it was rejoining the hoi polloi on wood bleachers, slats occasionally cracked into jab-friendly fragments. The benches had some kind of fungus underneath I scraped off with my fingers then pressed into an ashy residue in my palms when nervous during games. I was often nervous during games.
I've had season tickets as an adult for about 14 years now. I share seats that have been in the family for about 30 years, two seats next to two long-time family friends.
In all that time, I've not learned the names of the people around us save for the family friends.
I like witnessing the passage of time, football season after season — the changes for these familiar strangers. What have their paths been like? Reflecting back on my path when that person was pregnant, that other person started bringing his kids, now teenagers? What happened to those people too old to attend the last few years?
I like the excitement of the game in progress, and the adrenaline rush evoking similar games with different kids on the field. A long while ago, I realized I will make myself hoarse within minutes if I start vocalizing. I have mastered a LOUD CLAP. Fear the Clap! Ehm, need to work on that motto.
For a writing project, in 2002 I wrote a chapter that summed up my memories & feelings about Duck football within the framework, play-by-play, of a 1998 game between Oregon and Stanford (Ducks won, by a LOT). Check it out. That chapter starts on page 10.
I LIKE the territorial pride of our middle section that stretches from one 45 yard line to the other. Reliably each year, a student, an arriviste, will turn in disgust at our not standing up and shouting from our diaphragms at every possible play. He will turn and look up to the crowd and lament to us and to the lords and ladies and hermaphrodites who oversee our travails: "Come ON! Get UP you guys! Let's go Ducks! Let's go Ducks!" As he sits back down, disheartened the bulk of humanity simply does not care to the extent he does, a quiet chuckle ripples among us veterans. Kid, we'll burn out if we do that. Our pace is generational, not the 4-5 years you'll be around to get a degree. We will exhort the team when needed. Also, we're not as drunk as you are.