I’m a Duck. My brother is a Beaver. And today we engage in the seventh oldest college football rivalry in the United States.
We’re not a football family. We didn’t grow up passionately cheering on our teams. Even in high school and the years between that and college, I never really cared about the Oregon rivalry specifically, but then again, there wasn’t much to celebrate in those years.
I remember walking around on campus and seeing Joey Harrington in between classes during his final year there. Later I had a class with Kellen Clemens. Something about collegiate football grows on you. By the end of my two years at the University of Oregon, I was a full-fledged Duck fan.
Early in my awareness of football as a national sport in the United States, I was under the misguided notion that your team somehow defined you. I would pick the best team and claim that I was there number one fan. My first was the Dallas Cowboys, a team I picked after watching them destroy the Washington Redskins on a Thanksgiving many, many years ago.
Years and many teams later, I watched a Super Bowl with my father. That year I was a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals because they were beating everyone else. I was a candle in the wind fan if ever there was one.
My father had sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge into a new life in America as a young boy. Into one of America’s greatest cities. As a San Franciscan, he loved Bay Area football. Having been born in the Bay Area but never having lived there long, I did not inherit his love for the 49ers. Not until that game.
Watching Joe Montana and Jerry Rice march down the field and a John Taylor touchdown with 35 seconds to go was pure, unadulterated football beauty. And I was hooked. I have been a 49er fan ever since.
Watching the Ducks dominate this year has been a pleasure. The pure machine that is their offense is so fluid and fast, one can’t help but enjoy it. Well, unless you’re my brother. He tends to think that the coach is a classless lout and that the Ducks cheat at every available opportunity.
But I also find myself falling back to something that my dad taught me along the way. A close game is better than a blowout any day. In every high-scoring game this year, there came a moment when you’d just know there was no way the tired opponents could stop the Ducks. You’d watch the defense give up, and the Ducks would reach for 20 and 30 point leads.
After spending three years in Missoula, Montana, a place where the football team’s unbroken streak of conference titles is the second or third thing you’ll hear when you arrive, I’ve grown a little tired of college football state rivalries.
Facebook is full of Beavers complaining about a surge of “new” Duck fans that seem to have come from nowhere and Duck fans taunting the Beavers about their lack of ability to find the goal line. It was the same in Montana with Griz fans mercilessly taunting the beleaguered Bobcat fans in the windup to the Brawl of the Wild.
I’m going to be very happy if my Ducks beat the Beavers today and go on to the National Championship. That can almost go without saying. A big bowl game and a national title would be incredible, if not tainted by the fact that the BCS is so corrupted and the two best teams may not even be playing in the final.
But if the Ducks happen to drop the ball today and the Beavers win out in a hard-fought game, I’ll be all right. I’m a Duck, but their football team doesn’t define me. I wish I could say the same for my kids, three kids bedecked in green and yellow and as rabid as any fans I’ve ever seen.