If you’ve been a football fan for a while, then I’m sure you have some special memories. I would love to hear about those. I have a few also, and I want to share a couple.
Yet, in thinking about my favorite memories, I began to realize that nearly all of them have common components, components that I had either not noticed or had long forgotten.
I grew up as an Oregon Ducks fan, primarily because that was the closest college to my hometown and the only one with football broadcasts I could pick up on my transistor radio. (Yeah, I know. I also had a slide rule.)
I remember one radio broadcast on a foggy Saturday in Colorado when the Oregon Ducks showed up for a football game against the Air Force Academy. That broadcast is not only among my favorite football memories, but it also became a part of the legend of the late Wendy Ray, who was the play-by-play announcer for KUGN radio at the time.
Ray’s light-hearted approach and instant wit made those broadcasts much more than football. To me, they crossed over from sports broadcasting and became just plain good entertainment.
On that Saturday, there was a substantial fog. The first half of the game was not out of the ordinary but by the middle of the second half; the fog had become so thick that broadcasters could no longer see the field.
The last time Ray and his crew could see the action, Oregon took possession of the ball and drove into Air Force territory. Instead of being undone by impossible circumstances, Ray used his uncanny creativity to keep the broadcast going. Since he couldn’t see the plays, he began making them up— based solely on fan reaction. With pure speculation, he said things like, “Okay folks, that sounds like a three-yard gain! Second and seven for the Ducks.”
A few plays later, the stands broke into a raucous outburst, and Ray responded, “Oh no! That’s gotta be bad news. Like a turnover. Yeah. Oregon fumble! Air Force ball on its own 35-yard line!”
It reeked of sarcasm and such unabashed contrivance that I laughed through the entire second half.
Game reports later confirmed that he was mostly right about that play. Indeed, Oregon had turned the ball over, and indeed it was a fumble, not an interception. Yes, he missed the spot of the ball but only by a few yards.
In a later broadcast, Ray and his crew were busy calling the action when officials called a halt to the game. Ray looked for the cause and noticed that a squirrel had taken to the field and was scurrying from one sideline to the other with a game attendant in hot pursuit. Ray extolled the squirrel’s magnificent alertness, agility, and what appeared to be an excellent 40-yard dash time to keep the airwaves from going silent. Then, the squirrel turned and headed for one of the end zones, and Ray quickly returned to his best play-by-play voice: “He’s at the 30, then 20, then 10, and now . . .” he paused, “he’s in the bag.”
Of the many epic plays the Ducks have had on television, the one I favor is Dennis Dixon’s fake Statue of Liberty play against Michigan. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the link.
I doubt many fans think that is the greatest televised play in Oregon history. I’ve never thought it was either, which got me wondering why it is my favorite. In studying that question, I realized that there is more to a special memory than the play or the game itself.
For example, that play represents how the game in its entirety went as Oregon flummoxed and frustrated the Wolverines for four quarters. It also embraces the third-heaven kind of joy my son and I experienced when we realized what had happened. Even 13 years later, we watch it on replay, and we return each time to the joys of that day.
When I thought about my favorite in-stadium play, I discovered similar components.
It was 2016 at the Rose Bowl and the first playoff game in major college football history. One play from that game stands at the top, and it is the Florida State fumble in the third quarter, shown here.
It couldn’t have been a more perfect day. It was at the Rose Bowl in 70+ degree weather, and Oregon won 59-20. Those are enough elements to build a special memory, but all of those combined is not greater than the fact that I watched it again with my best friend—my son.
When you look into your greatest memories, I’ll bet you’ll discover that it isn’t the plays or the points but rather the people that make those memories so special.
That game against Air Force would have meant nothing without Wendy Ray’s wit and creativity. The Statue of Liberty and that Rose Bowl would not now be so special if I hadn’t experienced them with my son.
So, what are your favorite memories? Are they funny, tearful, joyful, soulful, weird? Whether college, high school, youth, or something else, I would love to know about them, what makes them so special, and perhaps share them with our readers.
Email: bobbywildcat@ gmail.com.