I awoke early in the morning. Last minute thoughts went racing through my mind. I slipped out of bed and onto the computer to check weather and other last minute details.
I made a mental note to insure that when I got to work, I would look up the roster for the Ducks so that we would know who we were looking at at any given time. I gave a wake up call to Vivian, Red's wife but he had been up for hours. I wondered how many of the men had actually gotten much sleep. Especially that ones who did not experience last years event but heard from others about it.
Judy then slide out of bed also and we made our preparations to depart. I shared with her that my anxiety was raising a bit but knew that it could just be last minute jitters. We agreed to set up a back up fail safe just in case by gassing up her rig. I stopped in at Kent's Shell station to top her off. They have the best service in town but this morning...nothing was fast enough for me. I could feel it all creeping into my head. I needed to prepare a back up for the day.
I was so glad that I had anticipated this a bit and had asked my buddy, Zin to join us and help organize. By the time that I reached the diner, waves of anxiety were flowing over me and I was having a hard time concentrating. I kept telling myself that all was well and that my doctor was joining us in the trip. What could possibly go wrong. I slipped into the office and Zin joined me there. I told him I was struggling a bit as I printed out the extra sheets of who was to go in each bus and info on all of the WW2 guys so that they could be properly introduced. I told him that I was confident that all would go well but that I wanted him to be ready to take my place.
We went in to get some breakfast and all of the men were waiting in the front room. I went over and teased Mr. Denfield that after today, he would be a Duck fan (he is a die hard Beaver fan but agreed to go on the trip). I was hoping that this distraction would help but I felt it all pushing the other way. I looked over at Zin and motioned to join me in the back room. I did not want them to see my distress. With tears welling in my eyes, I forced down as much food as I could. Knowing that something in bananas help, I told Judy that I would be right back and drove down to Safeway. I forced down one of the yellow fruit as I drove back up and parked.
Zin had them all outside and ready to go. I was feeling better and helped organize a picture of us all before we left. I stepped up into the bus and realized that it was not a good idea. There was no way out once I was on it and if I had a large problem I would end up shutting down the whole convoy.
So....I took the escape route and told them that Judy and I would drive. That decision alone seemed to help out matters and my heart began to slow down a bit from its hard pumping. As we pulled out of the lot, I wondered out loud if we would actually make it to the practice on time. "What ever happens, it will be ok.", Judy countered. She was right.
By the time that we were half way to Sisters, I was calm and feeling fine....the point in front of a convoy of two Deschutes County Sheriff busses filled with WW2 vets on their way to visit the ducks. This was the second year of this event. Last year, we had taken them over in cars. After hearing about it, the Sheriff told me that they would like to get involved in this honor of our senior vets. With two of his finest driving behind me, we were truly in good hands.
The first little glitch happened when we went through Sisters. The busses took the truck route. I merely waited off to the side after going through the town and pulled back out in front of them. The night before had been cold and wet and the pass was heavily covered with cinders. The two busses slowed behind me and I to followed suit as I kept them in my mirror. Our first stop was Belknap Springs.
I jumped out of the car to let them know that we had arrived and held the door for the guys as them came in out of the cold for their scheduled bathroom break. I kept the guys moving and noticed a couple of them with coffee and sweet rolls. They had found were the guests had their continental breakfast and thought it was for them. The staff did not seem to care so I said nothing also. The front desk asked for a picture before we left and I said as long as it happened soon. The manager met me out by one of the busses and pleaded with me not to leave. She said the photographer was right behind. We waited a few minutes and he did not show up. I said that maybe we could stop on the way home and get one. She asked which bus had the medal of honor recipient in it. I told her that Bob had to step aside as he was not feeling well. She said, "Well have a good trip.". I think that Bob was the reason that she wanted the photo op and since he was not there, she did not need it. We never heard from her.
Neil, one of the drivers, told they had to slow on the pass because of the potential icy roads but from now on, he should be able to keep up with me. Judy giggled as we got into the car. "What are you laughing about?", I quizzed. "A police officer just told you that he could keep up with your speed.", she laughed. I smiled....it was rather funny.
I came upon a long stretch of road and an impatient driver going the other way passed a car and into my lane. I hit my brakes and slowed to the shoulder letting him through. "I wondered if the guys behind saw as they were back a bit. They had...after all they were police officers trained to look for things like that. Neither of them got his license number as he flew by us the other way. I turned to Judy and said, "I can't wait to tell people that I drove from Bend to Eugene with two officers on my tail and never got a ticket.".
As we closed in on the stadium, I called Kyle (the Duck football director) and he told me to look for a gate just west of the compound gate that we had drove through the year before. I drove by and missed the gate because it was not on the road but in the parking lot. I called Kyle again and finding out my error, drove the loop around the compound once more. Right in front of the steps to Autzen there was a rather large puddle of water. I was looking closely for the parking lot entrance and not at the water. When I hit it, it splashed a huge wave on two unsuspecting students who were walking down the sidewalk. Both officers saw what happened and swung out around the puddle. They laughed that the two students were drenched. I felt real bad but one of them said that people around here are probably used to that sort of thing....after all, Eugene gets a fair amount of rain.
Kyle met us at the gate with a handful of passes to get in. Lanyards with the stamped names of all our people on them. I took half of the stack and we quickly labeled all our guys and they walked down to the field as we parked the rigs outside. I joined the group and noticed the marketing director was there also. I smiled and said, "I wondered if you would be here.". He said that they were going to make a small video for the web and that he would send me a link when done.
I set him up with interviews on a few of the guys as the others began to spread out and watch the team. I then realized that I had forgotten to print out the list of players so with their helmets on, I would not know just who was who. But, I was far to busy to look anyway as I went from vet to vet to insure that they all were ok and having a good time. I glanced in a time or two and caught some of the plays and noticed that they were practicing with the signs just like they played on game day.
Kyle caught up with me and told me that they would soon be breaking up and told me where to take my guys to. I spread the word around to muster on the 50 yard line. One of the guys was heading the other way and told me that he needed a bathroom. "Can you hold it for just a short bit", I asked, "We are just about to meet the team.".
I looked over my notes as I prepared to introduce the men to the team. We joined the team just off to the side and listened as the coach gave his after practice thoughts and encouragements. He also had his coaches introduce a few potential recruits along with their families. A couple of the kids looked the part already even though they were would still be juniors in high school since all seniors had already committed. Coach then introduced us and I stepped forward to make my address when he told the team to come around us and bring down the practice. All of a sudden I had huge football players standing all around me. One of them, a 6ft 3inch linebacker looked down at me and said, "Hey, you want to bring down the team?". "Sure", I said, "How". "Just say Down on me...Down on 3...123 Go Ducks". It all happened so fast, my head was swimming. "Down on me!" I yelled...still not grasping that I was actually in a huddle with the Ducks. "Down on me", they echoed. My mind was racing and I forgot the second line. The cheerful student laughed "Down on 3", he encouraged. "Down on 3", I yelled. "Down on 3" came the echo from the team. "1", I yelled....no echoe...."2?"...just a bit quieter...no echo.....Now I was confused....I turned to the player and said..."What do I say now?".. "3", he laughed. "3", I yelled and the team shouted out, "Go Ducks". My buddy Zin was not far from me. "What's the matter, Lyle, you Navy guys can't count to three?".
Hand after hand was thrust out to me as the various teammates thanked us all for coming. It was all so overwhelming having my favorite team all around me....much different than addressing them. I noticed Kyle off to the side. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders knowing that I had wanted to take a picture with the team and the guys. I walked over and shook his hand. "I know how this works", I said, "you take what you get and we are happy with that.". "Thanks", he smiled. I then joined in with the guys talking with the various teammates who lingered around.
I caught up with the coach and took a picture as I missed one the year before. I told him that I had brought a couple of Beaver fans this year. He said, "Give me an hour, we will have them converted.".
I spied Marcus as he was about to leave and shook his hand thanking him for sticking around for another year. "Cool Aloha shirt", he commented on my Duck Hawaiian shirt. "I play the Ukulele also", I joked. "I never leaned that...always wanted to.", he said. "It's pretty easy.", I smiled, "If you can run this team, you can surely play the uk.". Carrie had asked me to say "Hi" to him so I did. He seemed used to that sort of thing and said, "Tell her Hi back!" as he headed off to the locker room.
I looked around for WW2 guys who might be a little shy and found a couple off to the side, bringing them over to Coach who lingered on the field, giving the guys as much attention as they wanted. Mr. Denfield was standing next to the coach with a big grin on his face. "Are you a Duck fan now?", I asked. "Close", he replied.
Kyle then took us on a tour of the new facilities. We first had to go up a small flight of steps. With two guys on walkers and a few others with canes, this was the biggest obstacle of the day. Len (our Frogman....original Navy Seal) was carried up the steps by the two officers.....one on each side.
Their facilities left us....speechless. No wonder young kids want to play at Oregon. They are incredibly beautiful and state of the art. Their theater where the coaches can address the team is so sound proof that you can almost hear a whisper. I told the guys that we needed something like that for our meetings.
I ran into Scott Frost, the offensive coordinator and took a couple of pictures. I told him that Carrie went mad at me last year for not getting one. I thanked him and told him that we wanted him to stick around....I am sure that other teams have him in their radar for head coach. He only smiled there. As the guys were getting on an elevator, Scott thanked them all for coming. Back in the 90's. he had been the quarterback of a Nebraska team that beat Payton Manning for the title.
The lounge overlooked the practice field. It had two large sectionals made of the leather from a football and had around 8 large screen video game areas that had NCAA 2014 on them. I could just see the guys taking time off there.
As the two officers and I brought our rigs around and into the compound to pick up the guys, Ed tap danced for all to enjoy.
After picking them up, I said one last thank you and goodbye to Kyle. "See ya next year!", he yelled out as I left.
While we still have these guys around us, this will be a very worthy event.