Our flight was from Sacramento which meant the trip began with a 4 ½ hour haul down I-5 Saturday morning. Tim and I were ready, a dream come true to watch the Ducks in the BCS Title game. The 4 ½ hours just flew by; we were in Sacramento in what seemed to be a blink of an eye. It wasn’t hard to tell where we were traveling to as we were all ducked up. With the exception of sitting on the tarmac for an hour and a half due to a problem with the rest room the flight was thankfully uneventful.
We were over an hour late but when we landed at Sky Harbor Airport smiles and hi fives were had by the few ducks that were on board, we were in Phoenix ready to join all the Duck fans who had already arrived and those who had yet to arrive. We grabbed our carry-on luggage and rushed to through the terminal to get to the rent a car shuttle. As we scurried down the escalator towards baggage claim we were hit with a shocking reality. There was another team playing in the game, a sea of orange standing at baggage claim. We were out numbered 100 to 1.
As we stood in line for the shuttle there was very little friendly colors. We were a speck of green in a sea of orange. As we climbed on board the packed shuttle there were only two other ducks on it. Everyone had their game faces on. Not a lot of chit chat, and what chit chat there was had a little smack to it. When we arrived at the rental car station the numbers of orange only grew. There was a little feeling as though we had left the country.
Once we had secured our car it was time to high tail it away from all the orange. Our mindset wasn’t that we were attending a road game, yet we felt more like we had landed in Auburn than Phoenix. It was off to the hotel and hopefully some more favorable colors. We laid low that night, as we had seen more orange than I have ever seen at Halloween or in Corvallis.
Sunday morning it was off to Scottsdale for breakfast, I had texted some friends who had been in town for a couple of days but hadn’t experience the sea of Auburn fans that we had and they were in Scottsdale so it sounded like a safe place to be. As we arrived at the Breakfast Club on N Scottsdale there it was again, orange. The place was filled with locals or Auburn fan’s, there was one table with two Ducks sitting at it. We had about a 20 minute wait so we struck up a conversation with some of them. They seemed unwilling leading up to the game to speak first, must be the deep seeded hatred that one another have for each other in the SEC.
I enjoyed saying “Good Luck have a great time” as I loved to hear them respond in their twangy southern accents. There was a gentleman waiting outside with us in an Alabama sweatshirt, he was a Bama grad who was now living in Scottsdale. Knowing the dislike the two programs had for one another I thought for sure we had an ally in Mr. Roll Tide, so I asked him, “Conference before rivalry or rivalry before conference?” He said sorry I have to root for Auburn, oh what a blow. It was our turn to be seated; the hostess looks at us and says “Go Ducks” as she tells us she is from Portland.
The Nike sponsored pep rally is at 11a so after breakfast we head over the pep rally area. We’re waiting to be let in and for the first time we see friendly colors. We finally have that Mashofsky Center feel. I hear a familiar voice call my name, I turn and it’s my good friend David. OK, the Ducks are here so let’s get the party started. The Nike pep rally was awesome. Hall of Famer Dan Fouts was the emcee, which was special as when I was 7 attending my first Duck games Dan was the quarterback. They brought out some of the greats over the past couple of seasons to speak to the crowd, Max Unger, Jarious Byrd, J-Stew, Dennis Dixon and of course Joey Harrington. To steal a line from flounder in Animal House, “wow was that great!”
It was noon, the Auburn pep rally was to begin at 2p, Tim and I wondered around to the different booths they had set up and began to notice more orange coming through the gates, and thought we’ll let them have their time let’s get out of here. The Duck shop was located at the Westin and it was where the team was staying so we headed out to the Westin just to see some green.
The official Duck rally was scheduled for 5p so we headed back to downtown Scottsdale arriving at about 3:30 to see a line all the way around the block. Green, Yellow all good stuff. We hopped in line and arrived inside the pep rally to nothing but a sea of Green and Yellow. The pep rally alone was worth the trip. So many Duck fans packed into the park that the police had to stop letting people in. It had more of an outdoor rock concert feel than a pep rally. Moshe pits, people standing elbow to elbow with no room to move. A sea of people as far as the eye could see in front of you and behind you. People began to fill the roof tops. There was a three story parking garage that over looked the park that all levels were filled with Duck fans getting a view from above.
Peter Jacobson emceed the event. They pulled out all the stops. Sebastian Bach who just days earlier had sung a song about the Ducks on Jimmy Kimmell that went viral hit the stage. They followed that with youtube sensations Supupwhichugirl and On the Rocks. They closed with a classic from animal house Otis Day and the Knights, Yes that Otis Day. In between the chants of Lets go ducks rang from the crowd. It felt like game day but we were still 24 hours away. The rally ended at sunset, gorgeous colors produced by the Phoenix smog. It will always be an hour to remember.
Hungry, it was time to scout out a place for dinner. With thousands of people on N. Scottsdale and all the places packed we were looking a block off the main strip, and there it was, Thai. Eugene is full of Thai restaurants and a Thai restaurant is surely one of the last places you’d find Auburn Fans. Sure enough we open the door and nothing but Ducks. To say the restaurant was not prepared for any kind of a rush that night is an understatement. The poor kid was totally over whelmed. After dinner it was time to head back, ran into some good friends on the way to the car chit chatted, but the game was less than 24 hours away. It was time for ESPN and some sleep so we’d be prepared for the long day that Monday was going to be.
Game Day! The strategy was in place. Breakfast at the hotel, back to the room for a little bit of work some ESPN and then to the stadium parking lot which would be open by 12 noon.
As we were eating breakfast we had a couple wearing duck gear sitting next to us. Couldn’t help but hear that southern accent that we had so gotten used to hearing the past two days, but they were in Duck gear. The husband wearing a yellow duck shirt and the wife with a LaMichael James jersey on. My curiosity was peaked, so I struck up a conversation with them. They had come in from Texas and were now Duck fans, as we talked about the ducks the wife pointed out that her husband was the high school coach of LaMichael James. Wow, this was cool. Not only had he delivered us a great kid and RB in LaMichael but in February on Letter of Intent day we will be getting our second RB from him. We couldn’t have had a better start to the day, great guy great conversation.
After nervously waiting around the room watching the pre-game hype on ESPN it was time to head to the stadium. 114 years of playing football, 40 years of me following the Ducks and 37 days since we secured our spot in the game with a win in the ‘Civil War’ it was here, the BCS Championship!
We arrived at University of Phoenix Stadium, which looks a lot like a very large Jiffy Pop Popcorn. Surrounded again by a lot of orange what we had realized at the airport and throughout our travels is that we were going to be outnumbered in the stadium. You hear about how well the SEC travels and about how rabid their fan base is, but we’re the Oregon Ducks! Nobody on the west coast travels as well as the Ducks, this had got to be a 50/50 split right?
As we began to wonder around the ring of the stadium we began to see a lot of organization from their fans. Our fans are very organized when it comes to tailgating, but these Auburn fans are organized at everything. We witnessed what I would call like a mad rush. A line of about a thousand fans rapidly in unison walking rushing the stadium doing a War Eagle kind of chant.
We knew where to find our Ducks, look for the RV parking lot, that’s where friendly ground will be. So to the RV lot we go. We had some friends who were there and ran into many more. The Ducks fans certainly outnumbered the Auburn fans there and you felt as if you were at Autzen Stadium on a beautiful September afternoon. We weren’t into much drinking; this is after all the BCS Championship Game! We ran into several people that we knew and the excitement the happiness was off the charts.
We walked over to watch what is called the Tiger walk. They couldn’t replicate what they do at Jordon Hare Stadium but they tried. Wow pretty impressive. While the Ducks do their walk through at the Moshofsky Center and the individuals who are inside at the time stop doing what they’re doing and line up to cheer the team. For Auburn everybody whereever they are at join in on the Tiger Walk. The line was long, really long, and it was 10 deep in places, all this just to cheer the buses as they came through.
It was getting close to 4p, gates were going to open, just 2 ½ hours till kick, so we hit the line. The line was full of Ducks. We wanted to soak up every minute that we could inside the stadium. Through security check we went the pat down, then tickets ready they get scanned and we’re IN! While most Auburn fans were at or just leaving the Tiger walk the concourse was filled with Ducks Fans, the Let’s Go Ducks chant was echoing throughout the concourse. While we had seen a lot of orange and they may out number us they couldn’t be as loud as us, and we were making that statement in the concourse.
I looked at the face of Duck fans. It was finally beginning to set in. Tears on the face of the older fans who had been supporting the team for 50 plus years through thick and thin thinking they would never see the day. The scoreboard, the Oregon in the end zone it also seemed a bit surreal. We sat in our seats and looked. All the media that you see at all the biggest events were right there in front of us. After sitting and absorbing it was time to walk around the ring of the stadium and soak even more of this day in. By now the Auburn fans had begun to arrive inside the stadium.
As we toured the ring we ran into where ESPN was doing the Pre-Game show from inside the stadium. They hadn’t gone to air yet, but there was Chris Fowler front and center to his right was Nick Saban, to his left Urban Meyer and Kirk Herbstreet. The area was packed with Auburn fans just heckling Coach Saban. As a Duck fan we have a few coaches that we dislike, but I’m telling you Auburn Fan DOES NOT like Coach Saban. It was pretty funny seeing them go after him.
After making it to the Auburn side, we wondered back to our seats, when we arrived we noticed two seats over in our row were four Auburn fans, we also noticed that we were going to be out numbered in the fan department.
Those high ticket prices us Duck fans were bitching about, well Auburn fans were buying them, by the boat load, we think at times it’s hard to get out of Eugene; well Auburn doesn’t even have an airport. The stories of how many connections some of these fans had to make were nutty. Drive to Atlanta; fly to Cincinnati, then on to Minneapolis, to Denver, to Los Angeles and finally Phoenix.
A Duck fan approached the Auburn fans in our row, she said they were in the Auburn section and had pointed to where they were across the stadium and if they would like to just trade tickets. An awesome Gesture, the Auburn fans took them up on it and I’m sure that they each had a much better time for it. I thought that’s what this day is about.
Seeing the Duck band in the end zone alongside the Auburn band was when you knew you had made it. People were in their seats and the place was packed an hour before kick. Every movement a team made drew huge cheers. Each side trying to outdo the other side. It was now pre-game time the ceremony was ok, you just kept watching the clock waiting for it to hit zero so we could get this thing on. Auburn has a tradition of flying a trained eagle over head at their home games, so I wasn’t too pleased when in the pre-game the BCS had a American Bald Eagle fly in the stadium. I’m sure it had been planned long before Auburn had secured their spot, but still thought, “hey where is the trained Duck?”
The game began and we all know what happened on the field. From inside the stadium, I can tell you the place was loud and rocking. Auburn fans are loud, really loud. We take pride in Autzen for being the loudest, and think we’re the loudest, well all I can say is I would love to hear how loud Jordan Hare stadium is because what they brought to Arizona was loud. They have very cool organized chants and they’re fun and have a lot of fun.
The fans on the Duck side on the 100 level where we were at never sat, not for one play. The only time your butt hit the seat was at the end of the quarter and at halftime. We stood in unison for every play. Yelling our hearts out and encouraging the courageous effort the Ducks gave us. The game flew by; it seemed like the 3rd quarter the clock never stopped running. The anxiety level began to hit our section after the stop on 4th and goal late in the 3rd at the one yard line. We all felt like we were going to when we were just wanting to begin to see it.
As we hit midway through the 4th quarter the Phoenix Police Department, and what had to be other Police Departments, began to surround the field, by the hundreds, which made me realize that the game was closer to the end than the beginning. Next the Police on horses came and I then begin to think that they’re not there to keep the Duck fans from rushing the field, but to keep the Auburn fans off the field at the end of the game. Then came Casey, when Casey Mathews punched the ball loose from Cam Newton midway through the 4th we knew it was our time. Our section was ecstatic!
Now the cops were there to keep us from the field. At times on that drive it was hard to watch, as the title lay in the balance of this one drive, or so we thought. LaMicahel James caught the 2 yard TD pass from DT right in front of us. Tisha and I have a tradition of kissing after ever Duck Touchdown, since she wasn’t there and Tim was in the seat next to me, I damn near kissed Tim when LaMichael scored. The 2 point conversion means one quick stop and on to OT we go.
Only that wasn’t to be. As the field goal went through the uprights Duck fans headed for the exits, I don’t blame them that was my first reaction too. Then I thought as close as we’ve been to this game the last 10 years, we’re going to be here again, yes it takes a certain chemistry and a lot of luck but I want to see this, and being proud to be a Duck, and knowing that I could get my Latte at Starbucks the next morning I knew the world wasn’t going to come to an end because we lost.
We watched as the confetti shot to the ceiling, we watched as ESPN set up the stage facing the Auburn section. We watched as they awarded the trophy to Coach Chizik and the Auburn Tigers. It was now time for us to leave and begin dreaming about what it might be like in New Orleans next year.
My hat is off to the Auburn fans, such gracious winners. As we took the long walk back to the car one Tiger after another stopped to congratulate the Ducks. They had a tremendous amount of respect for the ducks, and knew what kind of team we had returning and wished us luck next year. This just didn’t happen in the parking lot, it happened in the restaurant we stopped to eat at near the stadium, it happened in our hotel when we returned and the following morning over breakfast, and at the airport. It was a love and respect fest the last 24 hours of the trip. Us loving our Ducks and the season, Auburn fans loving that they not only won a National Championship, but they won it against a team like Oregon.
I found the Auburn fans very classy in victory. I hope that when we win the National Championship some day that whoever the opponent it will feel and say the same things about the Ducks fans. Thank you Auburn fans for the great experience, and because of this experience, I’ll be pulling for you in next year’s Iron Bowl.
In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of the Ducks playing in New Orleans next year – can’t quite wait for the home opener at Autzen. As amazing as this year has been for the Ducks, next year’s going to Quack!