People Like Us

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I took an Alaska Airlines flight to Dallas last Thursday. I wasn’t going to the Oregon – LSU game although, as it turned out, almost everyone else on the plane was.

Lots of green and yellow. Not a color combination I’d wear even if I were an Oregon fan. But in spite of disagreeable colors and fans backing the wrong horse, I was comfortable.

The passengers did not resemble the average Oregon fan portrayed on husky forums. I saw no horns, no bifurcated tails. No one got out of hand – loud, obnoxious and stupid, mixing Aflac with Jerry Springer. The Oregon fans, flying from Seattle to Dallas, were relatively sedate, polite. As the plane began its descent into Dallas, one of the flight attendants, in the spirit of the moment, got on the intercom and chirped, “Go Ducks.” This was met by a murmur of agreement throughout the cabin. Then someone toward the back said, loud enough for all to hear, “Go LSU!” That statement was not met by vitriol but, rather, a mild “Uhhhhhhhhhhh” as if in disappointment that someone would be annoying enough to say that in a plane full of Oregon fans.

These were not the Oregon fans visiting teams associate with the Autzen Stadium crowd.
A round-trip flight to DFW, together with hotel accommodations, meals and transportation, can add up. Most of the fans on the Alaska Airlines flight were older. Dedicated. The large man across the aisle from me played for Oregon in the ‘60s. He was congenial, and politely (with only a slight hint of disgust) corrected me when, playing dumb, I referred to Oregon’s main supporter, Phil Knight, as the founder of Adidas.

In general, these Oregon fans behaved as any fans should behave; they behaved like I would expect people from Seattle – which they were – to behave. But, of course, they were on an Alaska Airlines flight, not at Autzen Stadium.

I’ve been to Autzen Stadium, and the unsportsman-like behavior of Oregon fans at Autzen Stadium is remarkable to the extent of embarrassment. Former Washington Coach Jim Lambright said,

"As for Oregon, I hate their attitude toward visiting fans and teams. They take away, totally [!], the sportsmanship that one receives at classy, high-quality schools when you visit. Autzen Stadium is the only place, in all of my [33 years of] coaching, where I have felt like I didn’t want my family or myself to go."

Husky Stadium gets loud. Memorial Stadium (Nebraska) gets loud. There is, however, a difference

between loud and acrimonious, excited and abusive. I recall a few years ago attending the Boise State–Washington game at Husky Stadium, and noticing how Husky fans interacted with the people dressed in ostentatious blue and orange, asking visitors where they stayed, and volunteering information on nearby restaurants or, if the visitors were completely unfamiliar with the Seattle area, sights they might consider seeing during their stay. That’s how it should be done.

The Autzen Stadium crowd doesn’t do it that way (justifiably in part because, apart from the game, there’s little else to see). Why do so many Oregon fans in attendance at Autzen Stadium feel compelled to behave as they do? What would be the underlying motivation?

This fanbase minority may believe it gives their team a competitive edge but how is that accomplished by abusing opposition fans? How does abusive behavior insure a successful drive for a score? Or preclude a freshman running back fumbling twice in a row? Of course, it doesn’t.

The intertwining emotional threads that facilitate Autzen Stadium behavior may include, among some fans, a strand of inferiority complex, and subsequent overcompensation consists of aggressive, loutish behavior meant to prove that Oregon fans really don’t care what other fans think of Oregon. At least that is the perception generated (and, of course, the effect is to certify and nurture any contempt already existing). Otherwise, if not feelings of inferiority, this behavior implies “hooligans,” the bane of British soccer, an implication which would seem less-than-credible in the geographic context of a major university except that such behavior occurs. Or perhaps it’s a mild combination of both inferiority and hooliganism where, at Autzen Stadium, fan behavior reflects the conviction that beating the enemy is all that matters, and other fans and players are the enemy, are accorded a reception as such, and the Oregon reputation for churlish behavior grows in dramatic contrast to the commendable, stolid behavior of most Oregon fans such as those on the Alaska Airlines flight.

Autzen Stadium

Unintentionally, Autzen Stadium has become a monument to louts. This is unfortunate because, as the Alaska Airlines flight evidenced, most Oregon fans are not louts; one would hope the louts were greatly in the minority although being greatly visible, and that most Oregon fans are, at heart, more like the Washington fans I watched before and after the Boise State game. If that is the case, the greater majority of Oregon fans need to metaphorically take the hooligan minority by the scruff of the neck and permanently deposit them outside Autzen Stadium. Based on recent behavior, that may include a few Oregon players and the head coach but Oregon fans – the vast majority – are deserving of a far better reputation, a reputation that suggests to visiting fans, regardless of team, that like the passengers on the Alaska Airlines flight, most Oregon fans are not louts, they’re people like us.