Canzano: Getting back to what makes college football special
What are your favorite game-day traditions in the Pac-12?
The other day, I solicited questions for my weekly mailbag and I got a great one from a die-hard college football fan. She’s apparently as fed up as the rest of us with the turmoil and change in college football. She is looking for some sound ground to stand on.
Jennifer in Woodburn asked: “Will hot pretzels return to Autzen Stadium this year?”
The pretzels weren’t part of the reduced menu offered at Oregon’s stadium concession stands last season. She added, “I was surprised how much I missed them. I can’t wait to watch a game in person, forget about realignment, and enjoy the little things that make game day special.”
It got me thinking about what makes game day special. To me? To you? Because as much as the television networks would like us to believe that “special” is sitting through commercial breaks from home, the magic is still at the stadium.
Here’s what I think is special about football game day in the Pac-12 Conference:
• Parking amid the tailgaters in a grove of Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees outside Stanford Stadium.
• Seeing a small football rise high above the tailgate in the parking lot at Reser Stadium. Then, following the ball’s trajectory to see a wide-eyed youngster racing beneath it.
• Getting out of your car and walking toward the Rose Bowl Stadium’s main entry and that unforgettable sign.
• Looking east from the press box at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley and seeing spectators gather to enjoy a game for free from “Tightwad Hill.”
• The walk-up to Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium on a crisp Saturday afternoon, with blue skies and snow-capped mountains in the distance.
• Coming out of the concourse tunnel at the Los Angles Memorial Coliseum to find a football field and two teams waiting.
• Arizona State fans storming the field after an upset win.
• Washington State fans continuing a Palouse tradition and singing Andy Grammer’s “Back Home” from the tops of their lungs.
• Don Essig — the legendary public address announcer at Autzen Stadium — reminding us “It never rains at Autzen Stadium” … while it’s raining.
• Oregon State radio play-by-play broadcaster Mike Parker’s unmatched game-day emotion.
• The sunset view at Arizona Stadium in the desert of Tucson.
• A line of RVs painted in WSU colors parked outside Martin Stadium in Pullman.
• Bumping into Fox football analyst Petros Papadakis or the Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth in the hallway of the press box.
• WSU’s sports information director Bill Stevens walking around his home press box on game day, saying, “You have everything you need?” to anyone he encounters.
• A stadium hot dog.
• A Harley Davidson motorcycle roaring out of the stadium tunnel onto the field at Oregon with the Duck mascot riding on back.
• The best live mascot in sports — Ralphie the buffalo — running across the field before a Colorado game.
• ASU coach Herm Edwards in a post-game news conference.
• UCLA’s Chip Kelly being interviewed by a sideline reporter.
• Seeing ex-Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti at a Pac-12 stadium, watching a game so intently that you forget he’s not calling the blitzes.
• The glow of the stadium lights for a night game at Colorado’s Folsom Field.
• The open end of Husky Stadium and the view of all that water.
• My favorite pro-Washington radio honk, Dave “Softy” Mahler, fretting and muttering to himself on press row with the Huskies up by two scores.
• Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith going for it on fourth down from his side of the 50.
• The end of the third quarter in Eugene and “Shout” blaring in the stadium.
• USC’s band playing “Fight On” over and over and over and over.
• Student sections… anywhere and everywhere.
• Mat Kearney’s song “Coming Home” being mixed inside Oregon’s Autzen Stadium with Jerry Allen’s legendary play-by-play call of Kenny Wheaton’s unforgettable interception.
• UW athletic director Jen Cohen walking around Husky Stadium like she did as a little kid.
• Rivalry games played after Thanksgiving.
• Parents and their children, tailgating together, creating traditions.
You tell me.
Jennifer would like to forget about realignment, the transfer portal, and television contracts. She just wants to know if Autzen Stadium is going to bring back hot pretzels this season. John Sergeant, the director of food and beverage at Oregon, told me, “Pretzels will be at Autzen Stadium in the fall. We were unable to get them last year in the quantity we needed.”
I’ve never had one, but it’s on my bucket list now. I suspect they’re going to be a hot item.
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This was 50 years ago, but my Dad was one of the early landscapers in Eugene. We would work on some of his accounts in the morning and then go to the game in the afternoon. In those days the games always started at 12:30 and so we would quit at 11:00 am and change clothes at a gas station and then go to the stadium when there were still parking spaces. We got to see Dan Fouts beat Sonny Sixkiller at Auzen one year.
Btw, I was Mike Parker's original stat guy in high school when he called games for KNND in Cottage Grove....he's always worn his heart on his sleeve for games. He's a genuine guy...haven't seen him in years but really enjoyed those times.
"Traditions...you tell me," you ask, John. Excellent question. I can predict almost all the responses will center on a game day experience. There's nothing like actually being there to give us that deeper sense of participation. That's where traditions are born. Television will never match it...but that's where CFB is headed. It will become an entertainment commodity and as much as we groan in the loss, we really have only ourselves to blame. We fans asked for this. We begged for more than the simple enjoyment of rooting our team's effort and a good football game--we wanted WINS! We wanted coaches who were perfect, not just good; we wanted 5-star players, not just student-athletes; we wanted National Champions, not just a successful season. We killed the joy of the good for the clamor to be the best.