It’s been all over the sports news since last Thursday after the Ducks won the Fiesta Bowl. With seven NFL head coach positions open, it was pretty much guaranteed that Chip Kelly would be going to the pros. But guess what? He decided to stay in Eugene. What a fool! Or is he?
I’ll tell you who cares, though. Save for the uber-hipster Whitaker neighborhood and all the I-don’t-watch-TV-because-I’m-too-cool-eating-granola-and-kale-while-biking-in-the-rain types, that whole town cares. About a third of the city’s population ends up in Autzen stadium every home game and with the numbers they’ve put up over the past 4 seasons, yes, we would’ve hated to see Chip go.
Honestly, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about college football before I moved to Eugene. I was a die-hard Minnesota Vikings fan. Sounds strange being that I grew up in southern California and still haven’t been to the land of a hundred lakes. Or is it a thousand? A million?? What matters is that Prince is from Minnesota and I think I liked purple at the time. Anyway, after living there for only a month or so the season started up and I became an instant fan. Not only was it my first fall in Eugene- one of the most beautiful times of the year there- but seeing how excited everyone got about the Ducks was pretty contagious. I remember practically feeling it in the air on game day. And I always thought it was odd that some of the people I met in grad school, who would only be in Eugene for a couple of years but still had to find something to rage about, complained about “Nike U” as if Phil Knight and the University of Oregon were single-handedly destroying our whole system of higher education, yet completely ignoring the real impact, both social and economic, that a successful athletic program has on a struggling town (and state for that matter) like Eugene and Oregon as a whole. Nevermind that Eugene is called “Track Town USA”.
As students, we even got free tickets to the games. And it was always so much fun to go, even when it was just me and a couple friends cheering in a typical freezing Eugene downpour.
Fortunately, I had an inside connection. My longtime friend…we started skateboarding together 27 years ago…worked as a contractor for the UO. As such, he got two all-access passes for every game and invited me along for one of them shortly after I moved there. Unfortunately, they were playing Portland State so the excitement factor was a little less than it would be if they were playing….say…Stanford (those bastards! Who names themselves a color anyway?? Though admittedly, I’ve always thought “ducks” was a comical name for a sports team, too.) Hell, these days that seems to be par for the course with the Ducks scoring an average 40+ points per game. It was still a blast and these photos now provide some great memories for me of that beautiful fall day. All this recent talk about Chip got me reminiscing so I thought I’d share a few.
The devil wears yellow. I swear to god he said “Say shoes!” as they snapped the photo. Maybe he really is evil.
It was funny to me that the band ended up being the rowdiest bunch of fans and hecklers. I was at a basketball game one time sitting next to them, and cracked up how into it they got, literally screaming themselves hoarse. Subsequently, I ended up running onto the court and getting stuck in the middle of a huge sweaty mass of jumping (and mostly male) undergrads when the Ducks won. Good times.
My inside connection in the shadows, haha. He was a little nervous with me carrying my camera around. The university has some pretty strict rules when it comes to its trademarks, logos, likeness, etc.
Up in the press area, we got free dinner and drinks and a little shelter from the cold. And a nice view of the Coburg hills.
Got to see some of the ‘guts’ of Autzen. This is a back stairwell leading down from the roof and the best seats in the house.
This is looking towards downtown Eugene.
At one point a fight broke out below us. Lots of head turning.
Being down on the field during the game was pretty cool, especially at that point in my photo career.
And I gotta say, going through the tunnel with the players after they won was a definite highlight of my time there.
And then there’s the inevitable post-game traffic. Maybe those bikes aren’t such a bad idea after all 😉 But I’ll still never get rid of my TV. Or eat kale.
So yeah, Chip’s staying. It’s good for Eugene. It’s good for Oregon. I wonder, though, how good it is for Chip. He’s a 49-year-old bachelor making millions of dollars a year. As nice as the town is, it’s pretty small and limiting when you get down to it. (And that’s something I need to consider a little more seriously, too.) I just can’t see someone with his opportunity sticking around much longer. He needs to go to the pros. It’s the ultimate test for a coach in his position. I don’t blame him for sticking around another year, but then again, I hope he truly lives up to his “Big Balls” nickname and decides to win the day at the next level sometime before his stock starts to drop in the NFL. We’d hate to see you go Chip, but you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.