History doesn't need video to make a story come alive

Fri, 11/04/2011 - 3:25pm
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 4 weeks 6 days ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

I love sports history, and one of the best nights of the year for me is the annual Oregon Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

I’m a tremendous fan of Wikipedia and YouTube as resources for discovering historic events, but there’s nothing like hearing a story directly from someone to make it come alive in your memory.

What makes the night more special is they get to hear my side, too: like Oregon’s game at Cal in 1993.

At this year’s event, I ran across longtime Oregon football assistant coach Joe Schaffeld and directed our conversation to that game. What happened? Do you remember that game?

“Nope,” he said plainly. “When you’ve been part of the game for so long, and coached so many games, they just run into one another. I don’t remember that one.”

So, I told him about it. Oregon, a year after playing Wake Forest in the Independence Bowl, was 3-0 having just beaten Illinois on the road. At Cal, a week before a home game with USC, The Ducks were destroying the Bears 30-0. Watching the game at sun-baked Memorial Stadium, the score was so lopsided that a crotchety alumnus, watching the game by himself (and with no shirt) had gotten me to agree to do something stupid, like streak across the field. When the score got past 40-0, I was going to disrobe and show off my physique to those in attendance, during a timeout, of course.
Almost immediately, Cal scored.

Then Cal scored again, and again. At the close of the game, the Bears converted third down after third down and won 42-41. Biggest comeback in Pac-10 history. At least, that’s how my memory has it. On the way to our car, my group of alums - in school colors - had to walk through Frat Row. We got hazed, mercilessly.

Pounding the Bears and headed for 4-0, the Ducks collapsed, lost the game and finished at 5-6. Ouch.

The game is what makes the Kenny Wheaton interception even more memorable, because the end of the Washington-Oregon game in ‘94 was playing out just like the Cal game - the Huskies converting third down after third down.

That was my brief story for Joe - the kind of story you might tell someone in a sports bar. Later, it hit me that it’s pretty easy to lose a game, even one like that, to your memory when you’ve been a part of so many games as a player and coach. I’ve probably been at 200 games as a fan and reporter, and I can’t remember half of them. Joe, as a player and coach, has probably been at 400 games in person, but seen all or parts of 10,000 as a recruiter.

The Kenny Wheaton game is hard to lose to your memory because of the tangible evidence - the video of the interception and return for a score.
Imagine if the score of the game at Cal had gotten to something like 41-0? Even if the Bears had still won 42-41, what might make the game memorable is the video on YouTube of a fan streaking across the field (probably with Ray Stevens music in the background).

“Remember that game? The one with the streaker and the big lead that Oregon lost?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“What do you suppose put that guy in the mood to tear off his clothes and reveal his six-pack abs and one percent body fat to the world?”

Were the video available, it would be on the Web, which competes directly with the need for a physical Hall of Fame. That’s the tremendous challenge with raising funds to have a museum - for every museum, too. When it can come to you via a computer, why do you need to go to it in person?

This is what makes the induction ceremony so enjoyable - getting to meet the people who made and make things happen.

Toward the end of this year’s dinner, I met Portland restaurateur Steve Stanich and we chatted about hamburgers and the jukebox at Stanich’s. It’s from 1949, and still plays records.

Remember jukeboxes? Vinyl records? Ray Stevens? There’s a story behind all of them.

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