Friday, September 26, 2008

A Beaver Believer....for one day

A few weeks back, my buddy Frank Patka from Printer Resources was in the diner with a salesperson from LA. The man was an avid USC fan and Frank told him that he should take us to the USC game with Oregon State. Us meaning Frank and Mark from PRR and me.

I never gave that much thought again until Wednesday when Frank called me and asked me if I wanted to go. Will, the USC fan, had just shown up and let Frank know that he had the tickets. "You bet!", I said, "Tell him thanks for me.". "You tell him yourself.", spoke Frank, "He is right here and you are on speaker phone.". "Thanks", I yelled, "I can't wait to see the Beavers beat the best team in the nation.". Little did I know how my jest would become truth.

I packed what I thought I might need with my bleacher chair, blanket, umbrella, and backpack. I looked down at my camera and thought that I really would not need that. After all, the game would probably be over in the first quarter. We took off around noon and arrived in Corvallis around three. The closer we got, the more traffic with orange flags on them surrounded the three Duck fans in my van. We drove into the middle of the campus and found a pretty good parking spot.

College Football has to be my favorite spectator sport and I was really enjoying the atmosphere that was evident even as far away from the field as we were. We walked in with a variety of colorful Beaver fans and arrived at the stadium with the Beaver band playing loudly along with variety of kid friendly events happening next to the main entrance of the field.

We walked around the field and found our host who was a part of a tailgating party that had both OSU and USC fans in it. We ate and talked about previous games between the two schools and how OSU had had some pretty good luck against them. I don't think that any of us, however, felt that the Beavers had even the slightest chance in the day's game.

I took a walk around the stadium and watched as the OSU team ate in a tent close to the practice field and then as I continued, I found myself walking amongst some tall guys in black sweats. Someone on the side of the road yelled out and I notice that the guys I was with had numbers on the back of their sweatshirts. I was walking with the USC Trojans....Wow! I pulled over to the side and tried to memorize the numbers of the guys that got the best yells. One big guy that was quite close to me was number 58. Upon returning to the tailgate, I told the USC fans what I had seen. I was asked for numbers and said, "Well, the guy who got the most yells was 58". "That was Rey Maualuga", I was told. "He is considered the best linebacker in the nation."

As kickoff time neared, we walked in with our hosts and found our seats. We had great seats on the goal line. To top it off, the seats had backs so they were very comfortable. Or were when we could sit in them. From the opening kickoff, the fans in front of us were on their feet....and so were we.

USC seemed confused by the OSU defense and a very slippery little running back was running right through the vaunted USC defense. The running of the freshman Jacquizz Rodgers allowed the passing game of OSU to open up and by halftime, the Beavers were ahead by 21-0. OSU had gained over 220 yards in the first half with USC only making 75. To top it off, USC had only one first down.

We all decided to go down and get something at the half and as I left my seat a lady from two rows back motioned for me to come over. She said, "Would you guys please sit down in the second half. I can't see a thing.". " I would be glad to sit down if the guy in front of me will.". "You need to tell him to.", she demanded. I just smiled. I was just thinking how well that might go over and how she felt that we should all tell the persons in front of us to sit and they needed to tell the persons in front of them and so on....just for this woman.

We harassed Will a little about the score but none of us felt that the Trojans would come out in the second half with nothing short of killing the Beavers. We laughed about wanting to be a fly on the wall in the USC locker room. "Is Pete Carroll a screamer?", one asked. "He sure is", came the reply.

Finding our seats again we readied for the coming onslaught that we knew was coming from what many considered to be a team so talented that they could probably beat some pro teams. Once again, the crowd was on it's feet and I heard the lady two rows back yelling for everyone to sit down. She yelled that for a few downs and then must have either given up or left. Oregon State received the kickoff and for pretty much the first time in the game, went three and out and punted back to USC who as we expected caught on fire. The QB was lighting up the Beavers, throwing the ball way before the receivers had even turned and catching them right in the numbers on the turn. The score was quickly 21-14 and we all saw no way for the Beavers to survive. But no one told them that. Once again they seemed to dig in and hold the now charging Trojans.

The fourth quarter brought a dog fight with neither team being able to move up and down very well. USC still looked to be the better of the two and with the minutes waning, the OSU punter got off a great punt that held USC inside the five yard line. Frank mentioned that OSU would probably go into a prevent defense but I noticed that was not happening. The first pass went just out of the hands of a USC receiver who was screaming down the field and if caught would have easily scored. We wondered out loud why some of the defenders were not held back to defend that. But Coach Riley knew better and with the pressure that they were giving the USC QB, the next pass was intercepted and ran down to the two yard line. Moments later, after the OSU touchdown and missed extra point, the score was 27-14 with two and a half minutes left in the game.

The crowd was electric. Even more so than most of the Duck games that I have been to. And then the real USC finally showed up. They went down the field in what seemed like seconds just as we all felt that the game was in the bag. The score came so quick that it almost silenced the screaming fans. We all held our breath as USC lined up for the onside kick. Only when the OSU player secured the ball did we all breath the sigh of relief.

With the new forty second rule and only thirty five seconds left on the clock, the fans could not be held back. The wave of orange smothered the field as the USC players ducked quickly to the sidelines to escape them. OSU players were lifted up and carried around by the celebrating revelers. We all felt bad for Will. He had bought us all seventy five dollar seats only to have his adored team lose. Will left us and said that he would meet us downstairs. In good form, we found him congratulating Beaver fans and shaking their hands. Most were very nice to him with only a few chiding him. We heard one "University of Spoiled Children" but not much more. Most were almost apologetic to him.

With the night getting late, we walked back to our cars with the ecstatic OSU crowd and began to make our way out of town and back to Bend. Three hours later, we were back in town and I was back in bed. Frank, who usually keeps me company on those late night drives conked out halfway home. I guess the standing up got the best of him. He called me up this morning. "I woke up this morning and wondered if it had all been a dream.", he said, "And then I looked at my hand.". I then looked at my hand and saw it too....the Beaver stamp that I received when I walked into the stadium.

A reminder of a great experience that none of us will likely forget and yet I have no pictures to prove it.

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