Monday, September 5, 2011

Fear and Loathing in Autzen Stadium

The novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on two trips to Las Vegas, Nevada, that Hunter S. Thompson took with his attorney.

It appears that the college football world is now afraid to make decisions based on two trips into Autzen Stadium that traditional football powerhouses took with their coaches.

The first trip spawned as the first in a home an home series with the Michigan Wolverine football team. Coming into a football house of horrors, the 3rd ranked Wolverines jumped out to an early 3-0 lead before being swarmed by a flock of Ducks and falling behind 21-3 at the half and 24-3 early in the 3rd quarter. Michigan rallied, only to lose 31-27.

Terrence Whitehead
In the novel, a few weeks later, Thompson returned to Las Vegas to report for Rolling Stone on the National District Attorneys Association's Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He was also looking for additional material to write the larger Fear and Loathing narrative. Besides attending the attorneys' conference, Thompson and Acosta looked for ways in Vegas to explore the theme of the American Dream, which was the basis for the novel's second half, to which Thompson referred at the time as "Vegas II".

As college football teams look to fulfill their football dreams, another powerhouse made a visit to Autzen a few years later. In 2006, completing the second half of a home-and-home series with Oregon, Oklahoma, having already beaten the Ducks at Norman in 2004 and in the 2005 Holiday Bowl, strolled into Autzen with prestige and history on their side. In what is known, though, as possibly the most controversial ending in Oregon football history, Oklahoma's fate would be no better than that of the Wolverines. After trailing at halftime 13-6, the Sooners went on a rampage outscoring Oregon 27-7 to take a 33-20 lead with 3:00 left; victory seemed all but assured. Then the impossible happened. Oregon Scored to close to 33-27 with 1:12 left, recovered an onside kick and scored again. The game was not secure, though, until Oregon blocked a last second field goal attempt.

Two trips by national powerhouses; two College Football dreams shattered.

The Ducks did not fear scheduling teams, later agreeing to home-and-home series with the likes of Kansas State, Georgia and Tennessee. As it turns out, though, none of those teams will live up to their commitment.Oregon fans will not get the chance to see any of these teams as their most common attribute: canceling a planned trip to Autzen Stadium.

As we learned this week, Tennessee is the latest “traditional” powerhouse team to back out of playing at Autzen Stadium. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the "American Dream" is the novel's prevalent thematic motif, while searching for the literary and metaphoric American Dream, and for an eponymous real place in Las Vegas, Duke and Dr Gonzo find only a burnt psychiatric office. In Fear and Loathing in Autzen, similarly the theme is the chase of the “College Football Dream: The National Championship.” Teams like Michigan and Oklahoma came to the very real place of Eugene only to find the burnt wreckage of a shattered football dream. An ear-shattering place known as Autzen, louder than jet engines, sent teams scurrying for cover and wondering what happened to their dream.

Oregon vs. Oklahoma, 2006
At the start of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Duke claims their adventure shall be a "gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country", an idea soon cooled when the excess and fear settle in them. And now we see, with Fear and Loathing in Autzen that what some had assumed would be a salute to their historical superiority also cooled when noise and fear settle in those that once considered Autzen a simple stepping stone to a national title.

Throughout Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the protagonists go out of their way to degrade, abuse, and destroy symbols of American consumerism and excess.

Throughout the history of Autzen Stadium, the opponents have gone out of their way to abuse the Ducks in their pursuit of College football excess.

Unlike the book, however, where Las Vegas symbolizes the coarse ugliness of mainstream American culture, Autzen symbolizes the simplicity with which football history can be made. No longer is the team playing in Autzen the stepping stone; the ugly side of college football. They have ascended into a powerhouse. That ascension, though, comes at a price; fear. Traditional teams that once flocked to Autzen in September as if they were newlyweds to a tropical paradise have run away faster than Usain Bolt.

No longer is the road to an easy win paved through Autzen. No longer is Autzen a quaint place where teams come for a tune-up on their way to the big time. Instead, Autzen is the place where great teams have come to die an ugly death. Now, though, we may never know.

Cliff Harris Returns Int for TD at Tennessee
In reality, the decision of those teams pulling out likely has less to do with fear and more to do with dictatorial stewardship of the “old guard.” These traditional teams fear coming to Autzen not because they fear the loss of a game, but they are stubbornly attempting to guard the gates to the country club of the elite teams. This decision is not all about the fear of a single loss, it is about the fear of losing their seat at the big boy table.

Do you know how you get into an exclusive club when no one will let you in? Build your own club. So, Oregon can no longer get the bog boys to Autzen. That is okay, the Ducks will simply have to build their own club. The only way to do that? As Adrian said to Rocky: “win.” As long as the Ducks keep winning, then they will simply break ground and build their own club. Along the way, we can all sit and watch as teams who became complacent (as well as making bad hiring decisions) continue to show their true identity: The Scarecrow.

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