After exclusively playing up in the northwest all year, today I finally got my first chance to see the 2009 version of the Oregon Ducks team in person, as they took on UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
My buddy Kyle had flown down here to LA for the game, and Rex (who I have been slowly converting into a Duck fan after taking him to the USC game and Holiday Bowl last year) also said he wanted to go.
So everybody gathered at my place, then hit the road for the Rose Bowl. My buddy Sacks was throwing a tailgate party at the stadium, and after a little bit of the run-around we found it and got our group of six over there (Kyle's friend 'the other Kyle', Kyle's sister Bailey, their friend Jen, and then Rex and I).
Kyle, Bailey, and Jen at Sacks' tailgater
Yeah it's only 11am, but on gamedays it's perfectly alright to be two-fisting it with beer and a bottle of jack.
It was Sacks' birthday (well, Wednesday technically, b-day weekend) so a bunch of people turned out for it, a nice mix of Ducks and Bruins co-mingling.
Sacks rockin' the green wig
The pre-requisite self-portrait
Rex grabbing some food
Rex and I hadn't picked up tickets yet, so we left the party a bit early to hike to the far side of the bowl to get some GA seats...I stopped for a second to get a snapshot of the famous sign at the main entrance.
I love going to games at the Rose Bowl. The tickets are super cheap compared to other Pac-10 stadiums, the setting is gorgeous, there is plenty of parking because they open up the golf course outside the stadium to cars to park on, and while they hiked the price since I was last there in 2007 it was still reasonable comparatively to others.
Gametime approached, and the Ducks took the field.
The Duck was up to its typical hi-jinx...at one point doing a headstand (quite impressive in the costume), other times wearing a cheerleader's yell thingy (what do you call those?) on its head, looking a bit like a Klan member.
and a few cheerleaders made the trip as well.
About 75,000 people made it to the game, all with no shade to be found. It wasn't really that hot, but it was bright, and most left the game with a sunburn.
Rex and I kept cracking up from a UCLA fan sitting two rows in front of us on the end aisle. He was so jaded and pessimistic, and felt the need to talk shit to everyone that walked by even the UCLA fans. When there was no one to harass, he'd turn halfway around and randomly yell out towards Duck fans "Whats brewin' for ya? Feeling that heat! You Ducks can't stand the heat!" or some variation thereof. I found this rather odd, considering that about 2/3s of the Duck football team is from southern California, and it really wasn't that hot to begin with. Rex wore a sweatshirt for the game...
The first half was quite slow actually. Oregon, with some players suffering from the flu and without the starting QB or right tackle, couldn't get into a flow on offense, but the defense held stout. After a blocked FG attempt, UCLA managed to drive down the field far enough to get a 52-yard FG, leaving the score 3-0 at halftime. It was a defensive struggle, UCLA holding Oregon in check while once again the Ducks defense was just dominant. Oregon stopped UCLA on 1st and goal four times, while twice they manged to pin a punt down on the 1-yard line.
Halftime came around and already Rex and I were feeling sunburns coming on. Shockingly the UCLA band didn't do a tribute to Journey at halftime, something I encountered at every Duck game I attended last season. Instead they did something about a tribute to the wild west, which had of all things a marching band version of Escape Club's "Wild Wild West", the cheesiest 80s dance-rock song ever created.
Thankfully we couldn't really hear it, all we could decipher was the drums.
But for as much as the first half may have been uneventful, the second half started off with a bang immediately. On the opening kickoff, Oregon RB/CB Kenjon Barner took it 100 yards for a touchdown.
The Oregon flag became unfurled for the first time all day.
But we barely had time to sit down and regroup before things changed again...On the next play from scrimmage UCLA's QB Kevin Prince stared down his receiver and CB Talmadge Jackson jumped the route, taking it back 32 yards untouched for another touchdown. In the span of the first 26 seconds of the second half Oregon had scored 14 points.
The Duck was being kept busy with his push-ups in the endzone for each point scored.
Sacks definitely sticks out in a crowd...
After a quick defensive stand, the Duck offense got the ball back and promptly worked their way down the field ending with a 20-yard TD catch, the first touchdown reception for an Oregon WR all year. In only a couple minutes, a game that UCLA had led at halftime 3-0 was suddenly 21-3 and essentially out of reach.
The Duck celebrated the touchdown by planting the flag in the endzone, claiming the territory for the state of Oregon.
UCLA was now forced to play hurry-up, and Oregon smelled blood. They started blitzing, and just punished UCLA's QB with multiple sacks and big hits, eventually knocking Kevin Prince out of the game forcing them to play the backup Kevin Craft, who also took some wicked shots.
The game slowed down again, with the Ducks getting a late FG by Morgan Flint to make the score 24-10.
UCLA's offense couldn't get anything done in the second half, but they did manage to get a punt that pinned Oregon down on the 1-yard line. On the second play, Oregon QB Nate Costa dropped back to pass, then scrambled and threw a ball right at a jumping defender who SOMEHOW managed to catch it and tap his toes in bounds before falling out of the back of the endzone. It was one of the most bizarre, impressive, and just fluke plays I've ever seen. But it counted as an interception and touchdown, and for a minute the 24-3 lead didn't feel quite so secure.
But after the Flint FG and the fluke touchdown, the second half turned into a defensive grind agai just like the first half, as indicated by Sacks' apeman yawn.
UCLA managed to get the ball inside the 10 yard line again, but were stopped on 4th down, the second 4th down stop in the redzone for the Oregon defense in the game.
Eventually, Oregon was able to just run the clock out, final score Oregon 24, UCLA 10.
And in what has become a Duck tradition, after the game the team came over to the Ducks visitor section to salute and thank the fans for coming to the game, and to celebrate the victory.
While this was going on though, something bizarre occurred. The UCLA head coach Rick "neuweasel" Neuheisel got on the PA mic for the stadium and begged that UCLA fans be patient with them, that they will improve, and to beg for them to come back next week. I personally have never heard before a losing coach immediately after a game get on the PA and plead with the fans to come back again...it was just weird.
...Thankfully, I just happened to catch it on video (listen to the audio around the 0:40 second mark)
After the celebration died down and fans made it to the exit, I spotted Kyle and the other Kyle up in the Duck section and we re-connected with everybody.
On our way out, we made sure to get a group photo with the scoreboard in the background.
(L-R: the other Kyle, Bailey, Jen, Kyle, me, Rex)
Nursing our sunburns, we hiked back to the cars on the golf course and parted ways with Kyle and crew. I dropped Rex off back at his place and got home to watch the remainder of the day's football games, where I sit now typing this while nursing a brutal sunburn on my neck, face, and arms and my vocal chords completely shredded from yelling all game.
Starting a new job on Monday, I will be showing up bright red, but with a big smile on my face from yet another Duck victory.
Oregon is now 5-1 and in the drivers seat to potentially make a return trip to the Rose Bowl this year, this time around for the BIG game, as Pac-10 champs. But there's still a lot of football left to be played, after a bye week next weekend a trip up to Seattle to face the hated UW Huskies goes down 10/24.