A disease is haunting Oregon — the disease of a cultural infantilism. It's here, again, and the infection this fall is stronger than ever. We need rain and more rain as the cure, or at least to make enduring the sickness a little more interesting.
The disease is exhibited by adults in connection to the fortunes of the University of Oregon's and Oregon State University's football programs. And infantilism it is, naked, bawling, obnoxious, crushingly boring to witness. I would ignore its irritating presence if I could but cannot since it constantly invades my cultural space. Can Oregonians talk about something else, like rain or their sex lives or the death of rock?
It all brings to mind something I read by the Italian author/intellectual Umberto Eco, "Sports debate is the easiest substitute for political debate." He wrote that before the onset of ESPN and the Internet. Let me also loosely paraphrase something else Eco wrote: those who watch and obsess over spectator sports are not playing sports. They have lost the ability to play or an interest in sex, too.
UO and OSU football used to entertain me with its futility and Nikeless innocence. I pine for those halcyon days and manufactured homes for training facilities... such as November 19, 1983, when the most fascinating game of college football ever played took place in Eugene, Oregon. It made football history because of rain.
A fierce storm blew a driving rain across the field every second of the game, now known as the Toilet Bowl. Rain provided the offense, defense, and coaching staffs for both teams. I remember listening to the game on the radio and hearing the announcers use a form of the word "rain" 10,000 times during the broadcast. That, too, was a record. According to a newspaper account, here's what happened:
Both Sides Retreat in the Civil War
It had everything 33,176 football fans wanted in an Oregon–Oregon State game — except points. In one of the most bizarre games in the 87-year-old rivalry, the Ducks and Beavers bumbled their way to a 0-0 season-ending Pacific 10 Conference tie Saturday afternoon in Autzen Stadium.
Announcement of the final score probably had them rolling in the aisles at press boxes along the West Coast but the humor would have been lost on lovers of fine-tuned offense.
Two hours and 46 minutes of slapstick comedy produced the sixth scoreless tie between the two teams and the first since 1931.
The game film single-handedly could bring back Fractured Flickers to television. Oregon and Oregon State fumbled 11 times, lost six fumbles, threw five interceptions, missed four field goals and were penalized 13 times.
Rain made the teams gloriously inept and made sports history that afternoon. The outcome marked the last time a college game ended scoreless. This distinction will remain as long as Americans play football because overtime and sudden death scoring began in the mid-1980s and ended any possibility of a tie, which I find sort of sad. Finishing in a tie is often a good lesson in life.
Beautiful ineptitude, in rain nonetheless! On a slick gridiron with rippling lakes for pay dirt! Who doesn't want to see that? Thus, it came as a complete shock to me not long ago when I learned that the University of Oregon's athletic department, which owns the only known film of the entire game, will not allow a filmmaker to use the footage when he pitched the idea of a documentary on the Toilet Bowl.
Can't let those potential Florida and California recruits see that or gothic cheerleaders. Bad for the brand.
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the rain falls on Duck football anymore. I give it five years before it all implodes, and I will relish the destruction and return to sanity, or at least the business of being a university and educating young people to do more with their lives than watch corporate-sponsored spectator sports.
But for now, the disease festers, spreads, waiting for the Civil War game in December to finally kill all rational public discourse and decent civic impulses.
I pray for a Civil War storm of Noah's Ark proportions. I want those blow-dried ESPN anchors soaked to smithereens and cursing Oregon. I want rain so torrential that completing a pass is impossible. I want three-yard dive and sweep plays and a cloud of rain. I want some faux Johnny Football recruit in the Sun Belt to watch the deluge on prime time and decide right then that he'll never join a college football program here. I hope the little prick tweets it 10 million times.