It wasn’t quite as prolific as Cal Ripken’s Iron Man streak, but it was impressive while it lasted.
Oregon was the proud owner of a sellout streak that lasted almost 20 seasons. The Ducks’ two-decade success was the cause of their 17-season streak of selling out Autzen Stadium, which has a capacity of 54,000. For most of those games, Autzen had over 100 percent capacity with standing room only.
Before the streak began, there were times, especially in the 1980s, that Oregon would be lucky to attract 30,000 fans to a stadium of 42,000. The wins, a trip to the Rose Bowl and a 2001 Fiesta Bowl win caused the Ducks to expand Autzen and it’s been full ever since.
That is, until last Saturday.
Just 53,817 were inside Autzen to witness the season opener in person as the Ducks managed to defeat UC-Davis 53-28 in a ho hum performance. This led to the debate of whether Ducks fans are spoiled with all of the program’s success, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Several factors led to tickets being available to watch the FCS Aggies, but spoiled fans aren’t among them.
One factor might be how last season ended. The 2015 Alamo Bowl was an utter disaster for the program. Oregon not only blew a 31-point lead in the second half and ultimately the game in overtime, but the Ducks looked completely inept in doing so. There were times it looked like they had never played the game before, from the center not being able to snap the ball to a quarterback just guessing as to where to throw the ball. For a program that prides itself on execution, it was a bad look and it left a sour taste in a lot of mouths.
Whether it’s the truth or not, the presumption is that tickets to games are overpriced and just not affordable. Oregon has asked an extraordinary amount of money for the right to buy season tickets in donation fees in the past. That idea may have led a lot of fans to decide to stay home instead of shelling out good money to watch a lower-level opponents.
Which leads us to the next factor … availability. Every game in the Pac-12, not just Oregon, is on television somewhere. The games are on Fox, an ESPN station or the Pac-12 Network. An overwhelming amount of football fans have cable and have access to those networks. And the majority of those fans have a big screen HDTV to watch their favorite team. It’s so much easier, and cheaper, to relax at home and enjoy the game in one’s own home with the clearest of pictures, angles and commentary. This has been a factor in dwindling basketball attendance, but it may have dribbled over to football for the first time ever. Oregon may be hurt the most from this since fans like to stay dry.
Right now, the Ducks might have an identity crisis. Fans like to have favorites, and since Marcus Mariota was the face of the program, Oregon hasn’t been able to find a replacement. Royce Freeman might be the closest to replacing the former quarterback as the fans’ favorite. But he’s the only one. The defense is so young that they are a bunch of no-names, which actually might be a good thing. There have been many successful no-name defenses in the history of the game as it signifies a group that plays well as a unit.
The last factor is unique to Autzen. Oregon hasn’t just expanded the stadium itself, it has added facilities all around Autzen with football offices, practice fields, the baseball stadium PK Park and Pape Field where the soccer and lacrosse teams play. What this has done is to eliminate the vast majority of parking spots. It’s difficult to get to Autzen, especially for those coming from out of town. A lot of fans come down from Portland to watch the Ducks, but to get a space at Autzen or close to it, fans have to leave extra early. Going to a Duck game is an all-day or -night event.
Although it’s tough getting there and staying home may be the best seat, the Autzen experience is a unique one. It’s billed as the loudest venue in college sports per capita for a reason. Those 54,000-plus fans can be louder than 100,000. Ex-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr can and did attest to that.
Nothing beats actually being there and being a part of the game. The Autzen roar is truly special. No one is at fault for the streak to end. It was just circumstances that perfectly aligned for the streak to go by the way side. A new streak will most likely begin this week with the game with Virginia, but the 7:30 pm local start won’t help matters.
To say the streak ended because Duck fans are spoiled is just not the case.