Flip Week: Oregon

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
10:30
AM ET
Editor's note: During Week 12, 10 ESPN.com reporters changed conferences to experience college football in unfamiliar territory. Here is what they learned from the experience.

In mid-November, several of the college football reporters at ESPN.com flipped out. We traded conferences, traditions and fan bases for one college football Saturday -- an experiment deemed “Flip Week,” intended to experience and relay different cultures of the sport we all love. I went to Eugene, Ore., for my first Pac-12 game and saw Oregon play Utah. For two days I walked around campus and downtown, trying to soak up all I could about the culture of Oregon football.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the highlights:
Best meal: Breakfast at the Glenwood Restaurant. It was so good I went twice, the first on Friday morning for standard eggs and bacon fare, and then again on game day for a ham, egg and cheese omelet. I went Saturday morning to see how different it was on a game day, and the place was bustling. On Friday morning, I was the first and only person there. On Saturday, I had to wait in line, and the place was filled upstairs and downstairs with both Oregon and Utah fans.

Must-see sight in Eugene: Oregon’s facilities. I’ve never seen anything like it. Anywhere. Ever. It was like a cross between The Matrix (doors that unlock with players’ fingerprints, practice film that is uploaded into each players’ iPad before they’re out of the showers) and a spa at the Ritz Carlton (waterfalls, anyone?). Honestly, one glass door was so clean I almost walked right into it. (My living room, this was not.) They even have their own dentist in there. Everything is built with perfection, with functionality, and with the finest materials in the world.

[+] EnlargeOregon Indoor Tailgate
Heather Dinich/ESPNOregon fans take the tailgate indoors as the Ducks practice facility is open to fans on game days.
Biggest surprise: The Moshofsky Center, aka “The Mo.” What a fantastic indoor tailgate -- not to mention a smart concept. The Ducks’ indoor practice facility is turned into a tailgate on Saturdays. Everyone kept telling me to go check it out, so I did, and I was really expecting just more of what you see in the parking lot, but it was food vendors, a live band, games for the kids, and just rows and rows of fans sitting around and talking like they were old friends and family at a wedding. It really had a special feel to it. I got some food, sat down and immediately struck up a conversation with some Utah fans. Everyone was so welcoming.

Best moment: The duck on the motorcycle. With 4:01 remaining until kickoff against Utah, Doug Koke disappeared behind the shiny visor on his motorcycle helmet, and revved the engine of a pristine black Harley. The larger-than-life duck, sitting behind Koke, wrapped his right arm (wing?) around Koke and with his left gave a webbed wave to the crowd and a fist pump. Just when it seemed as if it couldn’t get any louder, the players emerged from the tunnel, and it was at this very moment that the energy in Autzen Stadium was at its most palpable. It was electric, and with each rev of the engine, it was as if you could feel every heartbeat in the stadium vibrating with it. The players began to bounce and jump as the anticipation built, and within seconds, they were released like a pack of wild animals, charging after the duck on the motorcycle and setting the stage for yet another sold-out crowd.

Best tradition: The walk over the Willamette Bridge to and from Autzen Stadium. On the way over the bridge, I stopped halfway just to take in the scene and interview fans as they made the trek to the stadium. This is a walk that literally takes you over a river and through the woods -- a tradition that brings the fans together every Saturday. The most amazing part was actually the walk back. It was literally stop-and-go traffic, as fans were shoulder-to-shoulder on the path and on the bridge.

[+] EnlargeOregon Walk
Heather Dinich/ESPNOregon fans walk through the woods to get to Autzen Stadium on Ducks game days.
Biggest difference from ACC: There just isn’t that folksy feel in the ACC. The ACC is more Southern charm, with its barbeque, sweet tea, and “y’all,” and its Tobacco Road traditions. Oregon had a much more organic, earthy feel to it. There are so many trees on campus -- more than 400 kinds -- that the university offers a class on them.

They said it: “What I love? The whole ambiance of being in Autzen Stadium. What makes it unique is the program. We have a great football program, that’s all there is to it. We did not have a great program in the '70s and early '80s. The people who’ve been around here for a long time really realize and appreciate what we have now. We used to have 20,000 people, and half of them would go home at halftime. And it rained about every game. Now, it never rains here.” -- Don Essig, who has been the public address announcer at Autzen Stadium since it first opened in 1967.

If I could go back: I can’t believe I never got to see Pre’s Rock. As a recreational runner, it was one of the things at the top of my list, I just never got around to it. On a second trip, I would definitely visit that iconic rock, and find a few trails to run.

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