From Ducks to Deadheads, all the world’s a stage
by Rick Levin
It’s been next to impossible to discover on-line how much PSU was paid out in guaranteed money by the UO athletics program just for suiting up and setting foot Saturday in Autzen Stadium. But judging from NCAA cross-division match-ups of year’s past, it’s safe to assume the Vikings were handed a Sopranos-sized briefcase of bills, figuratively speaking, of course — a paycheck maybe upward of half a mil or more. And, in keeping with that analogy, those poor PSU players received a Neanderthalic beating that was as explosively brutal and wince-inducing as a whack job in the Pine Barrens. Helmets flew, bodies helicoptered through the air. It wasn’t pretty.
Seeing as the Viking’s folly was as predestined as it was lucrative, the team should have gone ballistic, guzzling down pre-game Kool-Aid cocktails of Rock Star, gin, nitrous oxide and human growth hormone, dressing themselves up like Elmer Fudd on the lurch, and hitting that opening game kickoff raging like a band of blood-crazed Picts. Hell, PSU had nothing to lose, and such a berserker display might have plucked the Ducks’ feathers — just enough, perhaps, to make the game interesting, or at least memorable. As it was, the spectacle was so lopsided as to be uninstructive and even a little sad, like watching your cat luxuriously maim and murder a moth for two-plus hours.
Unless you’re a moron or complete sociopath, being a sports fan is often tough on the system, emotionally speaking. There are moments, like during the Ducks’ 69-0 route of the Viks, when an undercurrent of empathy pinpricks your ballooning jubilation, and you channel the all-too-human agony of any team’s defeat. So you take another swig off that that tall boy, and pump your fist. And there are yet other moments when the sickening machinery of greed and grandeur endemic to all higher-level sports give you goose bumps of guilt and shame. Sometimes the Duck makes me laugh. Other times I notice he’s not wearing any pants. Spectatorship, like bunk spirituality, is as much an act of forgetting as it is an objectification of displaced desire.
When news broke last week that the UO, the Pac-10 and the NCAA are investigating possible violations regarding the eligibility of former members of the men’s basketball program between the years of 2008-2010 — almost concurrent with reports, unrelated or not, that Duck forward Michael Dunigan has flown the coop to play pro ball in Israel — it felt, to use an emetic sports cliché, like deja friggin’ hoo-dee-du all over again. Depressing. The tangled fiscal and professional circuitry of the UO athletic program — from former athletic director Mike Bellotti’s $2.3 million buyout despite his lack of a contract, to Ernie Kent’s ignominious dismissal, to the opulence of a spanking new basketball stadium and student athlete learning center, to the various legal phooey of certain football players — the whole mad contraption is beginning to resemble the shadowy plot of a Cold War espionage thriller.
The Ducks, of course, are hardly alone in this quagmire of money-and-sports mayhem and, to their credit, new AD Mike Mullens, football coach Chip Kelly and certain others do seem intent on cleaning up the program. But still … sometimes you just get sick of it. As Jesus said, the poor will always be with us, and since we’ll always have the Ducks, I suggest you give yourself a break from the madness once in a while and turn your attention to other spectating activities, preferably ones that take less of a toll on your wallet and your conscience. Go cheer for some local high school team. Or, like kids do, make up new games to play or watch.
For instance, last week I rediscovered the entirely free and unscripted pleasures of crowd watching, when I found myself down near Autzen Stadium for the extracurricular activities surrounding the Sept. 16-17 Furthur shows at Cuthbert Amphitheatre. If you think that old-time religion of football creates a time warp of archaic longing, try walking through the wonky-doodle village before a gig by Furthur, a band spearheaded by former Grateful Dead alumni Bob Weir and Phil Lesch. This trip is getting longer and stranger by the decade, with no apparent destination home. It just keeps truckin’.
If getting twisted can be considered a viable pastime, Furthur fans have elevated it to sport — their continuing adherence to the cultural tenets of Deadheadedness has gathered enough spiritual force at this point to stop the clock. Inside the anaerobic vacuum of the Furthur crowd, amid the caravanning shroom-handlers and tie-dye vendors and multi-generational strata of dust & dinge & drum circling, I was privy to such crowd-pleasing exclamations as “Dude, did you know Pontius Pilate wrote a gospel” and “Bro, you know what the parking sitchy is?” and “I see where you’re coming from, it’s just … I don’t know” and, my all-time favorite: “I’m looking for the dentist … I know there’s a dentist up here lives in Portland.” Dig.
If that’s not as entertaining as a successfully executed two-minute drill, I don’t know what is.