Canzano: Love and football -- a secret, scattered tale about Autzen Stadium
A story of ashes, love and football.
Years ago, I got a telephone call from a woman who wanted my help sneaking her husband into Autzen Stadium.
Jeanne Havercroft was a die-hard University of Oregon football fan. Her husband, Bob, also loved the Ducks. They became UO season-ticket holders when Autzen Stadium opened in September 1967 and never missed games. When Jeanne called me in 2004 and said she may need some help getting her husband into the stadium, I listened.
“Bob died in 1994,” she explained.
Jeanne loved Bob. Bob loved Jeanne. And together, they loved the Oregon Ducks. After Bob’s death, she had him cremated and what ensued for years was one of the best kept secret traditions at Autzen Stadium.
This may be a good time to interrupt this column with a public service announcement. Has anyone asked about your wishes? Burial? Cremation? Solemn memorial service or boisterous celebration of life?
Scatter your ashes?
If so, where?
Jeanne and Bob were so engrained in the culture of the UO athletics that it didn’t seem like much of a question at all. In 1972, Jeanne became one of the founding members of the “Daisy Ducks.” The booster group was formed by then-Oregon football coach Dick Enright, who said he grew tired of hearing men complain that their wives didn’t like going to games because they didn’t understand the sport.
Havercroft and 400 other women showed up for the first meeting. For years, they gathered on Tuesdays at noon for lunch at Mallard Hall. They invited Ducks’ coaches, who came and answered questions and explained plays.
“I may need your help someday,” Jeanne said.
The widow explained that she’d smuggled tiny vials of Bob’s ashes into football stadiums for years. She even enlisted UO staffers to scatter some of her late husband’s ashes on the field before the 1995 Rose Bowl and the 1996 Cotton Bowl. But things got more difficult as stadium security advanced and field access became more limited, even at Autzen Stadium.
In the weeks leading up to the 2000 Holiday Bowl, Jeanne enlisted Dan Rodriguez, then head of the UO Alumni Association.
“She wanted Bob’s ashes spread on the field in San Diego,” Rodriguez said.
He contacted a Holiday Bowl official, who agreed to let him sneak down to a corner of the Qualcomm Stadium field moments after the game. So Rodriguez hurried to the field. When nobody was looking, he scattered some of Bob’s ashes near the pylon of the same end zone where Joey Harrington scored earlier that day on a flea flicker pass from Keenan Howry.
Jeanne had to get more creative after that. She befriended members of the stadium “chain gang,” for example. They’re charged with managing the down-and-distance signal poles on the sidelines. On more than one occasion, Jeanne handed a member of the group a tiny vial of Bob’s ashes in the parking lot. The accomplice would wait for a break in the action, then reach into his pocket and scatter Bob’s ashes onto the field.
People always seemed eager to help and Jeanne loved it, too. The heartwarming ritual kept her connected with Bob, who loved the Ducks. In some small but significant way, she explained on the phone, “Bob is still there with me.”
It’s not unusual to hear stories about loved ones spreading the ashes of dead relatives in significant places. A friend of mine who died from cancer instructed his family to scatter his cremated remains into the ocean in Hawaii. His wife and children gathered together on the beach in Maui and opened the urn into the ocean, just as he hoped.
Sports stadiums are difficult, though. They’re locked and guarded. Laws don’t permit the spread of human remains on public property, either. Just last October, law enforcement in Pittsburgh opened a criminal investigation after someone in the stands leaned toward the field and scattered some ashes at Heinz Field in the middle of a Steelers-Broncos game.
It caused a stir. Stadium security responded and media noted it. One fan told a Pittsburgh television station that the remains blew on him and others, as well as into their food.
A Steelers’ spokesperson issued a statement after the game:
"An incident occurred during the game at Heinz Field on Sunday where a fan was spreading ashes of a deceased family member in the stadium. Heinz Field Management does not permit or condone such actions. While we respect those fans who may be interested in honoring a family member by spreading their family’s ashes inside the stadium, Heinz Field cannot accommodate those requests due to state and local regulations."
Jeanne told me she might someday require my help if things got tougher at Autzen Stadium. She had been scattering Bob’s ashes for years. The wonderful things they’d shared together, even after his death — bowl games, non-conference games, season-openers, rivalry games — she hoped to keep that going.
I agreed I’d help her if she ever needed it. But I had only one follow-up question: “How much of Bob is left?”
I remember telling then-Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens this story the spring before his final season in Eugene. We were talking about all the wonderful things that had happened on the field at Autzen Stadium over the years.
I pointed to the spot where Kenny Wheaton once famously intercepted a Washington pass. He noted the end zone Reuben Droughns ran into in 1998 after his 75-yard touchdown run against Michigan State. Then, I asked Clemens if he ever wondered how many fans secretly spread the ashes of loved ones in the stadium.
“I’ve never thought about it,” he said, “but now I can’t stop.”
Jeanne’s story is beautiful, isn’t it? She honored her husband in a way that continued to connect them long after his death. It brought her joy. When I heard Jeanne died in 2009, I wondered if friends and family might spread Jeanne alongside Bob. I have little doubt, in fact.
When I’m in Autzen Stadium on game days, I often think about that final question I had for Jeanne — “How much of Bob is left?”
Bob died in 1994.
After several seasons of scattering Bob’s remains at home football games and bowl games, Jeanne confessed that she ran out of ashes. They had a family cat named “Fluffy” though. When the cat died, Jeanne had it cremated. Nobody knows if “Fluffy” loved the Oregon Ducks, but her owners sure did.
May they all rest in peace — especially on game days.
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OK.......should I routinely have a box of Kleenex on hand? Lovely, John!
I love everything about this story. I just hope that someone was kind enough and loving enough to do the same for Jeanne. She could be with both her Bob and her Ducks.