It wasn't hard. Football seduced me at an early age. As a kid, I was intrigued by NFL Films and their dramatization of the game that made football seem like a Homeric adventure. The personalities, the heroes, the villains, the glory, all brought to life by the purring baritone of John Facenda, transformed a violent, painful, and inelegant sport into a ballet of Shakespearean gladiators.
Pro football became an obsession. And when I wasn't pretending to be Joe Montana in the backyard with my brother, I was devouring names, records and statistics. In high school, I watched as the great 49ers, Cowboys, and Bills teams made Sunday afternoons must-see-TV.
At some point however, football began to lose its appeal. During the mid-1990s, free agency ended the reign of the great dynasties of the past. In their place rose more entitled athletes who frequently found themselves on the wrong side of the law. The few NFL games I attended featured boring, conservative styles of play and passionless fans. It didn't take long before I just lost interest.
That's why I was only mildly intersted when my cousin invited me to go see the Ducks play Washington in Seattle that year. I had never been to a college game. I wasn't interested. In my mind, the college game was little more than glorified high school football; the NFL's stepchild. Not worth watching.
As I found my seat, I marveled at the enormity of Husky Stadium and its picturesque location on Lake Washington. I looked around and suddenly realized I was on an island of yellow and green surrounded by an ocean of purple. As the kickoff neared, the marching band boomed away, and the noise began to build. I then watched as a stuffed animal Duck was tossed back and forth by Husky fans in next section over. A cloud of feathers billowed forth and the crowd got louder. It quickly became apparent that I had been missing something. The passion, the pageantry, and the fun was light years beyond anything I had experienced in sports.
Washington was ranked 6th in the nation, but you wouldn't have known it the way the Ducks jumped out of the gate. I quickly found myself swallowed up in the frenzy of Ducks fans as Oregon raced out to a 24-6 halftime lead. In the third quarter, however, the stadium that had been silenced in the first half suddenly came to life. Freshman Marques Tuiasosopo, starting in place of the injured Brock Huard, led Washington to 22 unanswered points.
Now, I have since been to many games at Autzen Stadium. The noise there is deafening. But the 70,000 purlple-clad Husky fans roaring in unison that day was nothing short of thunderous. I could actually feel my chest vibrating. It was unlike anything I had seen or heard.
Late in the game, with the Huskies leading 28-24, junior quarterback Akili Smith drove the Ducks deep into Washington territory. With only 2:39 to go, and Smith harassed by Washington linebackers, the Ducks were faced with 3rd down and 20. I can remember the nervousness and sense of urgency as Smith dropped back to pass. We all held our breath as he let fly toward a streaking Patrick Johnson. And then, as if straight out of a movie, Johnson laid out, catching the ball with his fingertips for the game-winning touchdown.
I was twitterpated.
Eleven years and hundreds of games later, I am still in love with the greatest sport in the world.