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Road to Game Day: Week 10, Eugene

Words by Keith Arnold, who ↵is touring the country with his brother Phil as they invade a different ↵college campus each Saturday during the football season. They’ll be reporting back in this space with their various adventures. You can also keep tabs on their vagabonding over at RoadtoGameDay.com. On Saturday, they were in Eugene for the Stanford-Oregon game.
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↵“It never rains at Autzen stadium.” ↵

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↵I’m not sure how a logical person could believe this, but when you hear it from the mouths of three or four people who have been going to Ducks games for at least 20 years, you seem to believe it. Never mind the week of nonstop rain that we’ve had since crossing the border into Oregon, or the weather report I looked at Saturday morning, but when I woke up to the clouds parting and sunshine peaking through, I thought we might have gotten lucky. ↵

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↵A few hours later, I was walking back to the car to put my rain jacket on. The damage was done. Everything down to my t-shirt was already sufficiently wet. It was definitely raining at Autzen Stadium. I was so busy complaining about my late morning audible to forgo the rain coat that we didn’t even notice Phil Knight walking right by us until he had already passed. ↵

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↵We were surprised how small a town Eugene really is. The campus blends meticulously with the city, one building part of the university, the other a small business or shop. This was how I pictured Oregon 20 years ago, before the school became Nike-fied. It’s hard to overstate what Phil Knight has done for the University of Oregon. Just looking at Autzen stadium, the massive remodel screams Swoosh. That alone would be enough for most benefactors. Yet when we toured the athletic facilities, that’s where we saw Knight’s fingerprints the most. ↵

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↵We were silently in awe as we were showed the training facility. We’ve both seen plenty of first-rate college facilities, but none were even close to Oregon’s. The juice bar looked trendier than a Hollywood nightclub. The training room was the most sophisticated of any in all of sports -- collegiate or professional. Four water treadmills, each equipped with HD cameras to videotape your legs. A gigantic hot and cold tub, all in the same room, where almost a dozen flat screens hang for the athletes to watch. They even have a dentist office there, incase you chip a tooth or something. Phil had the best line of the night, when he said, “It makes you want to get injured.” ↵

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↵The weight room looked like it was designed for a Nike SPARQ commercial. The ceiling is at least 50 feet high, the walls covered with photo murals of Oregon athletes. We were told that when the finished product was shown to Knight, he looked around and didn’t quite like what he saw. So he had them knock out a wall and build it bigger. There is no doubting this man’s love for Oregon. He even came for the Stanford game. ↵

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↵We were lucky to be staying with a friend’s parents, and her father is a doctor for the Ducks. That not only got us great seats to the game (under the built in awning that semi-protected us from the sheets of rain that fell all afternoon), but also showed us first-hand the tight-knit community that exists around Eugene. After the game, win or lose, Coach Bellotti fields questions from a group of fans in a small gathering with free snacks. In the midst of a disappointing season for the Ducks, and against a Stanford team with little rivalry built up, Autzen Stadium was far from its loudest, but you could still feel the energy that builds for a key play. ↵

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↵Even if the rain chased some people from the stadium at halftime, there’s no doubt that Autzen, which seemingly sits on top of the field, would be absolute bedlam at night. Even with Corvallis less than an hour away, the Ducks own the state of Oregon. And I’m pretty sure if Phil Knight wanted to, they could own a whole lot more. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.