"Are you kidding me?" my head pounds, "The Beavs miss the Pac-10 championship and Rose Bowl for the second year in a row at the hands of Oregon?" My wife Amy, a proud OSU Theta, immediately starts cleaning and our two young Beaver fanatic sons, 15 and 13, look at me with disbelief. In my best upbeat effort, I hide my own disappointment and announce the likely football bowl destination for the Beavers. Vegas Baby.
BACK IN 1983, I attended my last Beaver football game as a student -- a miserable rain soaked, scoreless Civil War that was later, and so aptly, nicknamed the Toilet Bowl. After graduation, I left the rain of Oregon for the sunshine of southern California but 25 years later, my Beaver pride still shines on.
I attended my first Dad's weekend this year with my OSU son. Our vacation plans each year include Beaver travel games, the cat is orange, our German Shepherd is named Benny and friends laugh at our weekly orange laundry load. But I am confident I am not alone in my dedication to all things Oregon State. And it is from this perspective I will share my experience of the 2009 Maaco Las Vegas Bowl.
I SLEPT LIKE the 13 year old version of myself before a deer hunt with my dad the night before we depart on our early Monday drive to Las Vegas. For the next 5 ½ hours, we drive a loaded down tailgating ready 4Runner -- a blur of car flags, license covers, bumper stickers and magnetic Beaver heads. Proudly, we make the statement to all we pass on the open road -- "We are heading to Las Vegas to cheer on the Beavs!"
And as we drive, the conversation is lively and interesting -- discussions range from Beaver players, possible outcomes of other college bowls, even Bronco Mendenhal, the Beaver turned BYU coach. Looking around after a while. I notice my son has donned headphones and my wife is fast asleep. I take no heed, and continue my analysis and the make my final prediction, a convincing Beaver victory. Las Vegas here we come…
THERE IS OPTIMISM everywhere about Las Vegas for an Oregon State victory as we stroll around town Monday afternoon. I take my positive belief in a Beaver win and head to the blackjack tables to recoup money lost during my first UNLV weekend. I didn't think about it at the time but the first signs that things may not work out well for OSU were foretold here.
Unaffected by an initial lack of success from the tables, I roll on into the sports book and make a bet on the Maaco Bowl -- $100 on a Beaver win, and they'll cover. "The line is going down, the BYU fans are betting on their Cougars," the clerk behind the counter remarks. I conclude he is a BYU sympathizer. And I confidently pull out another Benjamin and tell him I'll take the over AND a Beaver victory.
Yes, I think to myself, I am going to pay not only for this trip, but Christmas as well, with my Vegas winnings. Go Beavs. In hindsight, the only thing colder than my luck turned out to be the temperature at game time.
THE BEAVERS ARE staying at the Venetian and when we arrive, we're greeted with friendly and constant "Go Beavs". I'm feeling the Beaver love. The few BYU fans I do encounter around the strip are very low key -- I'm not sure if they are intimidated by our excessive orange or the $25 tables at the Venetian.
My sons have been excited about our Monday night dinner since we left home. Being one of North County San Diego's better known Beaver families has its rewards -- over the past five years we have enjoyed a great friendship with Carlsbad native Sean Canfield and his family. Looking over Sean's career at Oregon State I cannot be more proud of what he has accomplished.
Being an alumni and diehard fan connected to a Beaver athlete and his family has also given me an appreciation of the commitment and dedication of the players, and just how fun -- and intense -- it is for families of the players during the ups and downs of a college career.
Sean Canfield and Jeff Stuck
My son is bummed out when Sean informs him the Ducks are not significantly different on the field compared to other Pac-10 teams, not the right answer for my hardcore Duck-despising son. Sean listens attentively to his endless questions, laughing and teasing him throughout the dinner.
Afterwards, I enjoy more bad luck at blackjack with our dinner friends and have to hit up the ATM for cab money to head back to my hotel.
WE WAKE ON Tuesday's game day to a forecast of rain, an early afternoon shower. That's no big deal for Oregon State Beavers. We are the same devout and hardy fans who survived Mother Nature's extreme 100 degree elements in September against UNLV. And I am confident we can take whatever she can offer in December.
Tailgating is a big part of my college football experience. It's like a four hour camping trip with your best friends combined with all the fanfare of a wedding reception. What's not to like? Endless amount of food and drink, surrounded by Beaver themed tables, chairs, grills, pop-ups, coolers, with the clink and clack of silverware, plates and glassware all about. There is no doubt food tastes better accessorized by orange and black.
What luck, our tailgating location is perfect -- we are surrounded by a number of senior player's families and Beaver faithful. There is nostalgia and pride in the conversations, and the appreciation of yet another Beaver bowl appearance. Surrounded by Howard Croom Sr., his wife and an entourage of Beaver fans, we spent the afternoon with people who really know how to throw an outstanding tailgater. This is a very friendly group, especially for attractive female fans who would like to join in a celebrating toast.
CLOSE TO KICKOFF, the Oregon State Band and Benny come by to fire us up for the game. Benny is sporting a classic white jump suit -- his persona is a combination of Elvis and Wayne Newton. Everything is looking up for the Beavers. And then an unwanted guest shows up right before kickoff.
Gale force winds.
I have attended two noteworthy Beaver football games where weather became the major factor -- rain at the 2004 LSU game in Death Valley, and the wind at the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl. In both cases, there was a brief moment of Northwest pride -- No big deal, we are a state of Oregon team, bring it on. And both times, the feeling didn't last long.
GAME TIME ARRIVES with helicopters flying overhead through the chop and a field-sized American Flag, engaged in a tug of war with countless military personnel trying to keep it from becoming airborne.
From my third-row, 45 yard line seats, it's good to see Beaver greats A.C. Green and Steven Jackson standing on the sidelines. Both legends are painfully underdressed for the weather -- 45 degrees with 45-55 mph winds and are gone by halftime. But before that, a Justin Kahut kickoff boot, tailwind aided, sails out of the end zone and Las Vegas Bowl begins.
I'VE HEARD FROM players that when the wind blows in Sam Boyd Stadium, it's like playing on the moon. I can only surmise that BYU must have trained for this game in a Park City blizzard. Credit to the Cougars, they look unaffected by the tempest and plunging temperatures. The Beavers on the other hand are not doing well -- the players, coaching staff and fans are freezing.
During the game I am getting text messages from other Beaver fans in attendance saying they had returned to the hotel due to the cold. Other popular messages are: Wow, is it blowing as much as the television is showing, and the overly perceptive, It looks cold. By halftime, it's evident this is not going to turn our well for the Beavers.
The only convincing win on the night is the Beaver Band with their Thriller themed song and dance. They completely owned the BYU band's sleepy polkas. I wasn't proud of it but I did shout out some well thought out smack towards the BYU Band, and to my surprise the BYU fans behind me were in full agreement.
AS THE THIRD quarter starts, my wife and youngest son retreat to a heated car while myself, my other son, James, and Sean's family tough it out to the end. It's not our day as every dropped pass, missed first down and increasing gust of wind confirm our fate, a season ending loss. I had a number of friends warn me beforehand not to bet on the Beavers, they told me it was bad luck. I assured them I was not that powerful. Watching this game, I contemplate the possibility that I am the Dark Lord of Beaver fans. And just to be safe, I promise myself there will be no more betting on the Beavs from me.
SITTING IN THE chill wind minutes after the game ends, the reaction of the 2009 Beaver team is helping me deal with the loss. While BYU players and fans celebrate across the field, I watch with pride as Beaver players embrace each other and their coaches. The realization dawns that this team's time together has ended.
I'm reminded these are the players and coaches who through the years beat USC, and split with Oregon. They owned Cal, and erased decades of road losses at both UCLA and ASU.
The stadium is nearly empty as we make our way to a waiting 80 degree heated car. I find my wife and son fully frustrated listening to the local radio announcers who called the game. Listening to them, I know I made the right choice staying to the end in the cold windswept stadium.
MIDDAY, WE START our return home -- the 4Runner is again proudly sporting Beaver heads and flags as we creep along in the heavy holiday traffic. Somber discussion about the loss is quickly replaced with hopes for the 2010 season and the upcoming events of our remaining holiday break.
Later, as my passengers nap I think about the previous night.
I am disappointed by the loss -- it was, I tell myself, the first bowl loss in five appearances for Mike Riley coached Beavers. And I realize my disappointment is based on expectations that were all but unimaginable not many years ago.
Pulling into my neighborhood, I am confident the large group of returning Beaver players will remember the grit and determination of this "rebuilding" 2009 team's spirit. For me, it's time to focus on the holidays and get back to my busy life.
But in the back of mind the excitement of 2010 season has already begun, as I think to myself; "When are you going to get your tickets for the opener in Dallas?"