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Editor's Desk // Column
Don Chapman

Where Everything Is Just Ducky

It wasn’t my idea – really, it wasn’t – to put Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota on last week’s MidWeek cover. I don’t have enough brass to ask my bosses to send me to Oregon, where I was born and attended journalism school, to watch my favorite college football team play a game. (UH is 1-A, even this year.) But when MidWeek publisher Ron Nagasawa suggested it and company president Dennis Francis said OK, well, I’m not one to argue with my superiors …

As much fun as it was to watch Marcus throw four TD passes – as Wade Keliikipi, Mana Greig, Koa Ka’ai and DeForrest Buckner played significant roles – in the Ducks’ 51-21 okole-whipping of Northwest rival Washington, in many ways the best part was finding what terrific young men the Island Ducks are. Marcus almost floored me with his greeting: “So how was your trip over?” He’s the QB of the No. 2 team in the country, and getting a ton of national media coverage, and there’s not a bit of big head about him. As we were saying goodbye after our 25-minute conversation, he said, “OK, have a safe trip home.” He was just as polite when I interviewed him following the game. All of the other Koloa (Hawaiian for Ducks) were also personable, thoughtful and polite …

Before the game, it was also fun to meet up with several of their parents at the tailgate party for 5,000 inside the Moshofsky Center, the indoor football practice field adjacent to Autzen Stadium. They included Toa and Alana Mariota (whom I’d interviewed the week before in Honolulu), Pua Ka’ai and Al Yim (father of Bronson) – each rightly proud of their son’s achievement …

This was my fourth trip to watch the Ducks play football in the past five years, and there is nothing quite like a game at Autzen, which opposing coaches and players have said is the loudest stadium they’ve ever played in – often for them disruptively so. As Wade told me, Oregon players love the atmosphere that is “so big” …

The whole town gets into it, with festive O and Duck banners flying from street light poles, seemingly everyone wearing yellow and green, and people greeting strangers with O hand signs and “Go Ducks!” …

If you ever get the chance, I’d highly recommend taking in a game there, just as a great and unique sports experience. Though some Islanders fly into San Francisco and then up to Eugene – as Marcus’ family and my pal Ed Nishioka did that weekend – I always take Hawaiian Air to Portland and rent a car. Because the Hawaiian flight lands at nearly midnight Portland time, I get a room at the Airport Ramada Inn, which has free shuttle service 24/7, and rent the car in the morning. From Portland to Eugene is about two hours south on Interstate-5 through the broad, mostly agrarian Willamette Valley …

There are a number of reasonably priced motels along Franklin Boulevard just across from campus, and about a 1-mile walk across a footbridge over the Willamette River and through lovely woods to Autzen. Yes, it’s over the river and through the woods to the Ducks’ game we go …

My favorite Eugene restaurant is the downtown Oregon Electric Co., where diners can sit in old railroad cars. Fave dish is the Steak Diane … On this trip I also discovered a fantastic Italian restaurant, Beppe and Gianni’s, located in a comfy old house near campus. Owner Beppe Macchi confirms it’s a favorite of Oregon’s defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti … And the best pizza I’ve ever had is at Track Town Pizza on Franklin. Fave is the Decathlon – five meats and five veggies on a perfect crust … For breakfast, you can’t beat the Original Pancake House on Franklin … Taylor’s is a classic campus pub, located across from the school book store at the 13th Street entrance to campus. Oregon’s reverence for Nike founder Phil Knight and his generosity with his alma mater is best seen here, in large, side-by-side, same-pose portraits of Knight and Pope Benedict …

I’ve heard certain local sportscasters criticizing Oregon’s multi-hued, envelope-pushing football uniforms – hello, old friends Don Robbs and Jim Leahey – saying they prefer a “traditional” look. Here’s what a billboard-size sign on a wall of the Mo Center says:

“Tradition has a scary mascot. Tradition wears three colors. Tradition practices at ‘half-speed.’ Tradition milks the clock. Tradition punts on fourth down. Tradition eats turkey on Thanksgiving. Tradition never changes. Champions do.”

That kind of attitude is very attractive to young men, as is Coach Chip “Win The Day” Kelly’s approach to the game: “I’ve never believed in the idea that ‘there is no I in team.’ We have 105 I’s on this team, and it’s our job as coaches to get each one of them as prepared as possible to do their best every day.” …

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