Here among the ivy-colored walls of the University of Oregon, among the members of the Save Our Earth Society, of the Steve Prefontaine Track Club, of those who still wear Birkenstock sandals and will until the day they cut down a Pacific Yew tree, of the world's most loyal Grateful Dead worshippers anywhere with the possible exception of Golden Gate Park, of hippies wearing tie-dyed who still live in Volkswagen buses, of bark-eaters and Green Peacers and poets and distance runners from Nairobi, here among this diverse mix there is a common thread of interest this weekend.
Today's U. of Oregon-BYU football game at Autzen Stadium.They haven't had people clamoring for tickets to the stadium like this since, well, since last June when the Grateful Dead played not one but two concerts to soldout crowds.
Permanent seats to today's game were sold out long ago. All week long, standing-room-only tickets have been on sale. Stadium capacity is 41,098. A crowd over 43,000 is expected. The Ducks are grateful.
The attendance would have been more than 43,000, no question, if not for the fact the game
is on ABC-TV and you can sit in your living room or your VW bus and watch in comfort rather than stand up for a pass-vs.-pass game that could take four hours to play, easy.
Nevertheless, the crowd is assured to be the biggest for a non-conference football game in stadium history - already outdistancing in advance sales the 40,381 who watched Notre Dame play the Ducks in 1982.
"People are jacked sky-high," says Steve Hellyer, OU's sports information director. And how high is sky-high in Eugene? "They're even calling into sports talk shows," says Hellyer. "And they don't do that around here."
The game has become a passionate cause in a town not noted for ordinary spectating.
The passion is not dissimilar to that seen in Provo, Utah, a month ago prior to then No. 1-ranked Miami coming to Cougar Stadium where a soldout crowd in excess of 66,000 was aware of the potential that comes with having an acknowledged big-time program playing in your backyard.
The fourth-ranked and undefeated (4-0) Cougars are to Eugene what Miami was to Provo.
The local media has conjectured all week that if BYU gets past Eugene it will be on a downhill path to the national title.
"It is not often that the road to the national football championship is routed through Eugene, Ore.," wrote Ron Bellamy of the Eugene Register-Guard in his Friday sports column. "Not since 1972, when Southern Cal finished the season 12-0, has the eventual national champ made a stop at Autzen Stadium."
Bellamy went on to add that a Heisman Trophy winner hasn't played in Eugene since 1970, when Stanford's Jim Plunkett beat the Ducks 33-10.
The point being that BYU and quarterback Ty Detmer are national champion and Heisman Trophy possibles.
And they will continue to be . . .
. . . If the buck doesn't stop with the Ducks.
This is no easy task for BYU, since not only is the populace in general interested in this potential giant-killing opera but the significance of the game has not been lost on the University of Oregon team, either.Denny Schuler, the Ducks' defensive coordinator (who used to be at Utah State), says he has had a red circle around the BYU game ever since last November. Oregon gave up 45 points to BYU in a game in Provo a year ago, and since the Ducks only scored 41 points that was a problem.
Schuler has three defenses primed for the BYU game - the "Duck," which uses a basic 3-4 front with four defensive backs, the "Hawk," which uses six defensive backs, and the "Falcon," which uses five defensive backs.
The coach says BYU may be surprised at how Oregon mixes up its three bird defenses.
Then, too, there's the revenge factor. Oregon was winning 33-14 last year before blowing the lead by giving up 31 points in the game's final 18 minutes. That kind of memory tends to linger with a team, like a bad cold.
Add it all up - the jacked-up fans, the jacked-up underdog team, the revenge, the hometown venue - and the visiting Cougars get a feel how distance runners used to feel when they showed up at the track here and looked sideways and saw Prefontaine standing beside them.
This isn't any Grateful Dead concert. There will be no mellowing out at Autzen this weekend. For one thing, there will only be the one show. For another thing, the visitors won't be welcomed with open arms. If you're a whale, or a tree, or the earth, you're OK. But if you're BYU, they want you outta here - you and the ranking you rode in on.