Okay, I know it’s not the usual scenic wallpaper, but today’s a special day for alumni of the University of Oregon. At 01:30 GMT I’ll be sitting in front of my computer to watch a livestream of the national football championship game, where the Oregon Ducks (our mascot is Donald Duck, believe it or not) will battle the Auburn Tigers for the national title.
This is a big, big deal for a college team that still bears the shame of possibly the worst game in football history. Duck fans can only hope that a win today will erase the infamous Toilet Bowl from memory…but they’ll probably hope in vain. It’s too good a story to go away.
(For my non-American readers: Bowl games are to American football what cup games are to soccer. Every team wants to go to a bowl game, so it was the height of sarcastic cruelty to dub this game the Toilet Bowl. The name stuck.)
In 1983, the Ducks met up with the Oregon State Beavers for the annual Civil War game, a grudge match between rival state universities. These were the bad old days, when the Ducks were underfunded and undertalented. The Beavers were even more underfunded and undertalented. The two teams came together on a day of sideways rain that reduced visibility to almost nothing and turned the ball into a greased pig. After several hours of the worst football ever, the final score was 0–0. For the next 13 years, no major college game ever equalled that pathetic score, and with the introduction of overtime play in 1996, no game ever will.
The Wall Street Journal has an amusing write up on this bit of history:
Up in the stadium press box, Oregon’s coaches had an unusual problem: They couldn’t see the field. Because of the rain, the press-box windows fogged up. With the rain blowing sideways, the coaches had a choice: Open the windows and get drenched along with all their notes or keep the windows closed and struggle to see. “We just decided to let the rain in,” says Steve Greatwood, Oregon’s offensive-line coach.
It didn’t do them any good.
On the field, the conditions were so poor that players fumbled the ball even when they weren’t touched by an opposing player, and that turned the game into one long comical pigskin pursuit.
“The ball would squirt out, and you’d dive on it and think you’ve got it, and it squirts out again and somebody on the other team gets it,” says Rich Brooks, Oregon’s head coach at the time. “There were so many strange plays. You’d almost have to script it to believe it.”
By the time the game ended there had been four missed field goals, including two rare failures from less than 30 yards. There were five interceptions and six fumbles, plus five other fumbles that were recovered by the team that fumbled the ball.
Probably the best illustration of how much Duck football has changed since then is the fact that the Wall Street Journal, of all papers, just wrote an article about the Toilet Bowl. That’s probably a good life lesson for all of us: the more successful and famous you become, the more interested people are in your past failures.
C’mon, Ducks. Pull this one out.
Unrelated side note regarding Autzen Stadium, pictured above: It’s known as the sport’s most intimidating stadium, due to the incredible decibel levels produced by the fans. The sound level of a 2007 game was measured at 127.2 decibels, making it the loudest game in college football history. As the Orange County Register wrote in some awe:
But the true force of Autzen is perhaps best measured by the Richter scale. Oregon fan Tobiah Moshier became convinced of Autzen’s fans’ ability to move heaven and earth while watching Oregon’s controversial 2006 upset of Oklahoma on television in his Eugene apartment.
“I could feel (the stadium) shaking my apartment walls and rattling my dishes from a half a mile away,” Moshier recalled this week. “Every time the Ducks would score, I could feel the rumble and hear the roars as if I were there.”
Too bad today’s game is in Arizona instead of Autzen. If the crowd can shake an apartment half a mile away during a regular season game, just think what it could do for the national championship. I’m picturing seismologists in Washington and California, peering at their readouts with question marks over their heads.