Saturday, November 08, 2008

Oregon – Stanford (08-11-2008)

This season I’m working at the University of Oregon in Eugene, known for two sports: track & field and football… American football that is. The Ducks, as all sports teams of the U of O are called, are part of the PAC-10, a kind of premier league of college football teams of the West Coast. While the West is not the heartland of college football, the PAC-10 has some strong teams (notably the USC Trojans), and Oregon has become one of them (not the least because of the millions of support of Phil Knight, one of the two founders of Nike).

I left my house some 45 minutes before kick-off, grabbing a bagel and a rain coat on the way. After a beautiful sunny October, the rain had started a couple of days ago, and seemed to have picked this game to make the point that Oregon is a rainy state. I walked with a growing group of green-yellow fans, over the foot bridge, to the beautiful Autzen Stadium. Just before kick-off I arrived.

Built in 1967, and significantly renovated and expanded since, most lately in 2002, Autzen Stadium currently has an official capacity of 54.000. However, most games attract a couple of thousand more people: today’s attendance was a sell out with 58,013! This in a town of just over 150,000 and a university of some 20,000 students. I had bought my ticket online, more than three months ago, at which time it was already impossible to get two seats next to each other. Although fairly expensive, at 55 USD and a 4 USD “facility fee”, I had a very good spot, relatively close to the pitch and at the 30 yard line.

I arrived just in time for the delayed kick-off, slightly after 12.30, somewhat (pleasantly) surprised to not hear the national anthem. The Ducks started on fire, getting a turnover after one minute, and being 0-10 up within 5 minutes. Stanford got a field goal back, but after the first quarter Oregon seemed to have things under control: 3-17.

But the Ducks are a young and very instable team, so as so often before it completely lost its momentum. Within five minutes of the second quarter, Oregon had squandered its lead: 17-17. The rest of the quarter was a close fight with little result: still, a late field goal ensured a tiny 17-20 lead for the Ducks at half-time.

Despite the fact that it was raining the entire game, and Autzen Stadium is not covered, the vast majority of fans stayed in their seats and continued to cheer and shout. Even without encouragements on the scoreboard, often the only way American fans make noise, the yellow and green rain jacket wearing fans would make the O-sign and shout OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

And, with only 2:18 on the clock, Stanford attacked, fumbled the ball, and got into the end zone. After a long discussion on the pitch, the referee ruled that it was not a touchdown. But after another minutes-long review off-pitch, Stanford were awarded a touch-down after all. 28-27 and only 2 minutes to go: time for general desperation. From now on, everything had to go perfectly… and it did. In 11 plays, after 74 yards, and with only 6 seconds on the clock, the Ducks scored the no-longer-expected touchdown and took the game. Together with the field conversion it brought the final score to 28-35! Autzen erupted! What a finale!

The third quarter was tight, with Stanford equalizing, before Oregon took the lead with another touchdown: 20-27. Soaked by now, the home fans got increasingly annoyed by the bad throwing of the quarterback and the fumbling of some of the receivers. Stanford got two points back, making the difference only 5 points.

Although I was by now soaked and cold, I left the stadium with a deep sense of satisfaction. I clearly have found a love for college football – although I do think the games last too long (four 15-minute quarters lasted over 3.5 hours). And everything I heard about Autzen and the Ducks fans proved right: they rock! GO DUCKS!
Georgia Tech – Florida State (01-11-2008)

As this was going to be one of my last visits of Atlanta, and the last time during Football season, M.G. and I got tickets for a game between two of the main teams of the Atlantic Coast Conference (numbers 31 and 16 nationwide). As these games are sold out well in advance, we went online (at StubHub) and paid 85 USD each.

Already on the walk to the stadium we were surprised by the number of fans of Florida State University, in Tallahassee, a good 270 miles to the southwest. Around the stadium there seemed to be as many white-old gold home fans as garnet-gold visitors. Everyone was in jolly spirits, enjoying the surprisingly sunny weather.

After an endless climb up the stairs we took our place in the scorching sun… surrounded by Florida State fans. The Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field is located at the city campus of Georgia Institute of Technology. It has a capacity of 55,000 – today’s official attendance was 53,528 – and gives an impressive view of downtown Atlanta.

The game started very well for Florida State, which made me root for the Yellow Jackets (i.e. Georgia Tech). After the first quarter the visitors were 10-3 up and we were semi-broiled. Even though it was the first of November, the sun was shining as if it was middle of July in the south of France.

The second quarter the game exploded, with the Jackets scoring three touchdowns in a row, before the Seminoles could get a touchdown back. A 45 yard field goal sealed the quarter with a small lead for the hosts: 20-24.

After a half-time of band music and cheerleading, the third quarter solidified the Georgia Tech lead: 20-31. As the FSU fans around us were looking increasingly desperate, and we were finally starting to hear the home fans, the game changed yet again. The fourth quarter was all about the visitors, which first scored a touchdown and then converted with a field play (i.e. 2 instead of 1 point). However, that was all they had time for, so in a narrow ending the Jackets won 28-31 against the Seminoles. The first victory of Georgia Tech over Florida State since 1975!

To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed by the home fans. The Bobby Dodd Stadium is a great football ground, smack in the middle of a city, but this game the visitors (accounting for almost a quarter of the attendants) seemed to make most of the atmosphere. That said, it was great weather and a good first American Football game!