In 1846, peripatetic New Yorker Eugene Franklin Skinner built a cabin on a rise not far from the upper portion of the Willamette River--which is, counterintuitively, two hours south of where it flows into the Columbia in Portland. He was not special, particularly--the local Kalapuya Indians were local inhabitants and advised about where to place his cabin. Nevertheless, it is his name--his first name, strangely--that now identifies the 44 square miles that constitute Oregon's second-largest city. In 1872, the Oregon legislature selected Eugene as the site of the state's flagship university and, exactly 30 years after Skinner put up his cabin, the University of Oregon opened its doors.
Tonight the Ducks will battle perennial powerhouse Ohio State for a national championship. I have no great confidence in their chances. Oregon (the state) is spectacular at certain things, but they are never the things the rest of the country cares about. The climate of western Oregon is akin to a rainforest and produces tropical-looking verdant vistas. Consequently, people flock to sunny California. Our beaches are arguably the prettiest in the world, bounded by spiky volcanic hills that tumble into the sea. The water is, even in summer, icy cold, however, and so people ... flock to sunny California.
In the world of sport, we are similarly offbeat, and this is relevant to tonight's game. The Oregon Ducks are, without question, the most storied running university in the country and, 40 years after his death, long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine is probably still the most famous athlete from the state. Our only two major-league professional sports teams are in basketball and soccer (where the fans are rabid).
Oregon is nowhere near anything. It takes ten hours to drive to San Francisco, which we think of as relatively nearby. If you want to travel anywhere in the world except the far east--which to Oregonians is the near east--get ready for interminable flights and long layovers. Even our weird name, which no one knows the origin of, is regularly mispronounced. I once asked my dear spouse Sally, a New Englander, what she thought of Oregon before I convinced her to move here. "We didn't think of Oregon. Ever." Okay.
Oregon likewise does not do big splashy things like win national championships. The Blazers did win an NBA title, but it was during the 70s when the NBA was in its famous trough of popularity between the eras Cousy and Bird. If Oregonians had wanted to win championships, they would have stayed in their hometowns of Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. (Okay, Chicago's a bad example.) Or Columbus, Ohio--now that's a championship town.
Oregon does have great beer. Eugene was a laggard on this front, boasting only a smattering of brewpubs for decades. Now, with Ninkasi, Oakshire, Falling Sky, and Agrarian, the city has proven its mettle. For those hearts who pump lime green and electric yellow and sound like the distant call of a mallard, good beer may be the best thing about tonight. Football championships come and go, but good beer is forever. And who knows, if the Ducks win the championship, people may actually learn how to pronounce the school's name.
Update. As the world now knows, the 7-time national champs beat the poor Ducks like toy drum. They are now the 8-time champs and Oregon remains a championship-free zone. Delay the apocalypse at least one more year.