September 3, 2016: Home of the Ducks and Bryce Caster
Every year for the past 6 years, I pick a new college football game to attend and then root for that team all season. The tradition started with a trip to the University of Missouri in 2011. Since then, I have been to Wisconsin, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. After looking at various schedules, I narrowed it down to two choices: Oregon or Auburn. Due to cost reasons and the lack of a need for a red eye, I chose Oregon.
The University of Oregon is located in Eugene in west-central Oregon in the Willamette Valley 2 hours south of Portland. Luckily, there are flights from LA to Eugene, although I had a layover on the way up to keep status on United.
Despite the layover, the total time from LA to Eugene was 3 ½ hours. I picked up a sweet rental car (rented through Priceline) and drove over to the Eugene Whitaker Hostel about 15 minutes from the airport. The hostel was cozy and my room only had 5 beds. After settling in, I stopped by the nearby Sam Boyd’s Garage to get a beer and watch a local band play a strange rendition of the song “Funkytown”.
The next morning, I woke up really early to check out Eugene and maximize my short weekend. As a runner, I have always admired Steve Prefontaine, the greatest collegiate runner in history. “Pre” ran for the University of Oregon and after competing in Europe, returned to Oregon impressed by the running paths he saw. He then convinced local officials to build a 4-mile path through a park in Eugene. Pre died in a car crash before the trail was constructed, and officials named the path Pre’s Trail in his memory.
The trail wandered through open grassy fields, ponds, and woods. After about an hour of running and wandering, I felt adjusted to the climate and scenery of beautiful Oregon.
I then drove through downtown Eugene and stopped to get a doughnut at Voodoo Doughnuts. The one I picked has pineapple filling and was in the shape of a crocodile!
It was now 10 AM and almost time to start tailgating for the 2pm game. As I was recharging my phone, I chatted with my hostel bunkmate, Jesus from Spain. Jesus was going to be studying abroad at the University of Oregon for a semester and was looking for permanent housing. He had never been to a football game before, so I invited him to tag along with me. He agreed.
We wandered through the town en route to the stadium. Along the way we passed by the Eugene Saturday Market, essentially a huge farmer’s market with a hippie flair. One of the coolest booths they had was an escape room. For $10/person you can try your luck.
East of downtown Eugene is the University of Oregon. The school is very pretty with mostly old brick buildings. However, these were interspersed with stunning new buildings donated by Phil Knight (founder of Nike). These new buildings were all associated with the athletics department including the “Academic Center for Student Athletes” and the Matthew Knight Arena. The campus was quiet, despite there being a game in 3 hours.
Autzen Stadium is actually almost a mile from the school. To get there, we had to walk through the forest along a paved pathway. The pathway went on a bridge over the Willamette River. Eventually, the stadium and its huge yellow O came into view.
Jesus saw the stadium and the tailgating surrounding it and decided on the spot he wanted to go to the game. We went to the ticket office and he snagged a seat in the same section 10 rows behind me. We then wandered the tailgate looking for beer. Unfortunately, we struggled to find anything, as all the beer tents and trucks were private parties. We asked a older guy who looked like he knew how to have fun. He said there were two options: the first option is a $25 all-you-can-drink tent sponsored by some alumni club. The other option is to actually go into the stadium and walk over to the indoor practice field called the Moshofsky Center. The school actually turned the practice field into a giant indoor tailgate that can house 5,000 fans. We opted for the second option.
All 5,000 fans appeared to be there when we showed up. The place was jam packed. Food vendors were right next to the entrance and a beer garden was behind it. We obviously beelined for the beer. Because this is Oregon, the tailgate had some awesome local options including Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. For food, I got a chicken stir fry. This was by far the best food/drink I have ever had at any tailgate period.
The tailgate also had TVs to watch other college football games from around the country.
About an hour before kickoff, the cheerleaders and mascot did a pregame dance that riled up the crowd. Jesus was stunned as he had never seen a real life cheerleader.
It was now time to go into the game. We walked over to our section and managed to sneak our way into the student section.
It appeared that the crowd saved their energy during the tailgate for the game. During the pregame hype video onward throughout the entire game, the crowd was very loud and did not stop yelling. Other than Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, they were probably louder than any stadium I have been in despite the relatively small crowd of 50,000.
The crowd went nuts as the team took the field lead by Donald Duck riding a motorcycle- the school made an agreement with Walt Disney himself to use Donald as the mascot. The Oregon team is known for unusual uniforms. Nike’s founder went to the school and heavily supports the athletics department. This game, the team wore grey and black uniforms.
The student section stood for the entire game, which was definitely tough given the hot weather. The game was relatively eventful considering Oregon was playing an unranked FCS team. The highlight was a 2-point conversion where the center hiked the ball way over to the left side to a running back who ran it into the endzone. I have never seen a play like that before.
By midway through the 4th quarter, the game was out of reach and I decided to leave, along with many of the fans. The walk back to the car in downtown Eugene took about 30 minutes.
Finally I made it back to Whitaker, where it was time to meet my long-lost twin. Since the dawn of Google, I have known of the existence of another Bryce Caster. My parents used to look up my name of search engines. At the time, we thought it was unbelievably cool to be mentioned on the relatively new internet. On those Google searches, another Bryce Caster kept popping up. This Bryce Caster played the viola and lived in Corvalis, Oregon.
About five years ago, I friended the other Bryce Caster on Facebook. Three years ago, on a road trip through eastern Oregon, other Bryce Caster commented on my photos saying “Hold it! This state is only big enough for one Bryce Caster.” I thought it was the funniest thing. And two weeks before coming up to Oregon, I reached out. He said we could meet up after the game. So after the game, I texted him and he gave me an address that happened to be 2 blocks from my hostel. I drove over, texted him and waited.
Three minutes later, I saw him walking down the street. We both put our arms up and yelled “Bryce Caster!!!” It was love at first sight.
We talked for around 6 hours about our families and lives. We discussed the origins of our name and figured out that besides us, there are no other overlapping names. Bryce was very open and genuine, something you don’t see all that often. After getting dinner, we went out to a bar in downtown Eugene. I am very much looking forward to meeting up with Bryce Caster again.
Around midnight, I went back to the hostel and fell asleep very quickly. The next day, I headed to the McKenzie River District.