Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mac Court Memento

We bade farewell to McArthur Court -- home of the University of Oregon Ducks -- over the New Year's holiday weekend by attending the last two UO men's basketball games scheduled to be played in the venerable, iconic and much-beloved arena (above).

The 84-year-old gymnasium, one of the great venues in college basketball lore and the third oldest on-campus facility in the country, will soon be replaced by the state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena funded in part by Nike founder Phil Knight.

Mac Court has hosted more than 1,500 men's and women's basketball games, countless volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics matches, and college and high school basketball tournaments. Built in 1926, the facility was designed by Ellis Lawrence, noted campus architect and longtime dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

"The Pit" as it came to be known, was named for Clifton "Pat" McArthur, a former UO student body president and member of Congress from Oregon. In addition to sporting events, the arena has also featured visits by presidential candidates ranging from Robert Kennedy to Barack Obama, musicians from Elvis to The Grateful Dead and comedians from Bob Hope to George Carlin.

As a longtime season ticket holder to UO men's basketball (the view from our seats, above), I have spent a considerable amount of time at Mac Court over the years. But my first visit was not to attend a basketball game, a concert or a political rally; it was to register for class as a new student at the University of Oregon.

In my day, registration for classes at Mac Court was -- in a word -- nutty. Students were assigned times and had to sit in the bleachers to wait their turns. As you might expect, underclassmen always went last and when your number came up, you had to virtually run from table to table to register for classes. Class status and availability were posted on a large scoreboard (above).

Of course, most of the popular classes were filled by the time you got there, so you'd better have a back-up plan. The whole experience was not unlike an ant farm, with students climbing over one another to get that class they really needed to graduate. The only upside to the whole process was that it was a good way to meet girls.

By the time I arrived in Eugene, the UO basketball team had become so popular that it was hard to get tickets to games, even if you were a student. But one fateful day in February, 1974, I took a call from an old girlfriend -- a fellow UO student who lived in a sorority on campus. She bemoaned the fact that she had to travel to Portland for the weekend and asked me if I wanted her ticket to the UO-UCLA men's basketball game.

"Hell, yeah!" I remember saying, and soon I would be attending my first UO men's basketball game in Mac Court. This would be no ordinary conference game, however.

The Ducks were playing the mighty UCLA Bruins, darlings of the college basketball world, winners of 88 straight games (a record which was only just recently bested by the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team) and the No. 1-ranked team in the country.

If that wasn't bad enough, our buddies up the road in Corvallis -- the Oregon State Beavers -- had upset UCLA two nights before. Surely the Bruins would take out their frustrations on the Ducks.

But Oregon was no cellar-dweller that year. Coached by Penn legend Dick Harter, the team featured the "Kamikaze Kids," a scrappy group of players known for their swarming defense and reckless abandon. With future NBA players Ron Lee (below, #30) and Greg Ballard (below, #42), these guys led the league in floor burns and would prove a formidable opponent for the prima donnas from La-La Land.

My impression of Mac Court would forever be shaped by that first game. Before tip-off, the cheerleaders whipped the crowd into a frenzy. During the course of the game, Mac Court rocked so loudly that you could barely hear yourself think; the scoreboard swayed from the stomping and screaming of 10,000 fans. The Pit had its own pulse and you could feel the beat with every fiber of your being.

UCLA jumped to an 11-2 lead, but nobody panicked; UO found ways to break the Bruin press and the Ducks led at halftime. UCLA made a run in the second half, taking a one-point lead, but ultimately they could not stop the collective will of Ronnie Lee, his band of kamikazes and the Mac Court crowd. At the final buzzer, the scoreboard read 56-51 in favor of the Ducks and pandemonium ensued.

Sport Illustrated reporter Kenny Moore -- a UO grad -- wrote "(UCLA Coach) Wooden got his players through the melee, and when the floor cleared in an hour or so, it was slick with tears of deliverance." On that day, I became a true believer in the mystique of Mac Court.

This place was a bonafide home court advantage and students and fans were genuinely passionate for their beloved Ducks. Moving back to Eugene for graduate school, we naturally purchased season tickets (hey, what else can you do in Eugene during the rainy winter season?).

I have many other Mac Court memories including watching a bloated Elvis in his white jump suit belting out his hits just months before his death.

Mac Court was also the site of a 1984 visit by Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (right), who held court among hundreds of admiring students. I shot several rolls of film at that event (below, in a shot taken by my brother Robert's roommate Ray Bell) and they turned out so well, despite Thompson's manic ramblings, that I had a number of them framed.

Years later, Thompson returned to Eugene, this time at the Eugene Hilton.

Knowing Thompson's penchant for tardiness, longtime friend Tom Maloney and I attended a Duck basketball game at Mac Court prior to heading to the Hilton. Hoping for a autograph on one of my framed shots, I handed Thompson the picture. "Great shot, eh?" he blurted. "Reminds me of my glory days." He then handed the print to his bodyguard and ordered him to "put this with the other stuff."

Naturally, I was upset. As a consolation prize, he signed my Oregon basketball ticket with a hastily-scribbled "HST." Much later, in hindsight, my disdain with Hunter S. Thompson was replaced by a sense of honor that he thought enough of his portrait to confiscate it.

With too many memories of Mac Court to recount in this space, I'll wrap up this blog post by noting two other significant events.

Mac Court was the site of both my graduation ceremony and that of my daughter, Gina, (above, middle) who is pictured here at one of the entrances to Mac Court with fellow University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication classmates Hannah Smith (left) and Beth Evans (right).

So it is not without a bit of nostalgia that we say "farewell" to beloved McArthur Court. It is, as the man says, the end of an era. As singer/songwriter Jackson Browne would lament:

All good things got to come to an end,
The thrills have to fade, before they come 'round again,
The bills will be paid and the pleasure will mend,
All good things got to come to an end.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Much Ado About Goomsba

To the editor:

The December 15, 2010 issue of The Leavenworth Echo featured a great cover story by Nevonne McDaniels on the Woody Goomsba promotional video. It was a balanced, objective treatment of a subject that occasionally lends itself to controversy: the art and science of advertising.

Of course, once I read the story, I had to check out the video. My impression? The video is very creative, and Howell at the Moon Productions should be congratulated on a job well done. However, some fuddy-duddies in the Bavarian Village are not so easily impressed. But “outrage” concerning “damage done to Leavenworth’s reputation as a family destination?” And “scantily clad women?” Let’s not go overboard here. These folks need to lighten up.

As someone who has worked in the field of advertising, promotion and media relations for over 30 years, I can tell you that advertising professionals walk a fine line in communicating their messages. First and foremost, advertisements must be creative enough to grab attention; but they cannot be boring or -- by and large -- offensive.

The key to effective advertising, however, is whether the messages communicated reached the intended target audience, in this case, the under-30 crowd. Hate to break it to some of the folks on the Leavenworth Area Promotions committee, but they are not the intended audience for the video. At least one member of the committee readily admits that fact: “To be honest…I don’t click on Facebook and those kinds of things.”

So, did the Woody Goomsba video attract the attention of its target audience in a creative way? With nearly 150,000 hits as I write this letter, I’d say “yes.” The media attention generated by the promotional video is clearly a bonus.

My hat is off to the innovative members of the LAP committee for taking a creative approach to reach an untapped audience, one that will be vital in an effort to sustain economic development in the Bavarian Village and vicinity into the future. As for the negative reaction, just remember that opinions are like birthdays: everybody has one, especially when it comes to advertising.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Birds Of A Feather

Okay, so I lied; however, I have a good excuse, and this is coming from someone who has heard a few from students in his day.

As a long time Duck fan -- and despite the claim that my most recent post would be the last of the year -- I couldn't pass up the opportunity to comment on the subject of the run by the University of Oregon football team to the BCS national championship game against Auburn University in Glendale, Arizona on Monday, January 10.

Receiving an invitation to witness history in the 2010 Civil War from Mat Northway, my former supervisor at Eugene Water & Electric Board, we ventured north to "the belly of the beast" -- Reser Stadium in Corvallis, home of the Oregon State University Beavers. Mat (a loyal Beaver fan), in a genuinely altruistic gesture, invited two other EWEB Duck fans (Tommy Williams and P. Steve Stuart) to the game as well.

Arriving at the the stadium (below) early to witness "senior day" festivities, the weather was as good as you could hope for a Civil War in December -- mostly sunny and in the low 50s. Mind you, most Civil Wars are conducted in a cold, blinding rainstorm with high winds.

The Beavs jumped out the a quick lead after taking advantage of a Duck turnover to make it 7-0. OSU fans were fired up -- particularly the Beaver gal with the shrill voice directly behind me -- and it looked like the Oregon State football team came ready to play despite a 38-0 drubbing by the Stanford Cardinal the week before.

But, as has been the case all season, the Ducks soon took control of the game, refusing to let a few turnovers ruffle their feathers. By halftime, the Ducks led 19-7 and by the fourth quarter, UO had a three touchdown lead over their in-state rival. Beaver fans (below) could see the writing on the wall; the Beaver booster behind me had already retreated to her tailgate party to drown her sorrows.

So, after years of futility and then gradual improvement, the undefeated University of Oregon "Fighting Ducks" will play in the national championship game. It's been a long and windy road from the Toilet Bowl (the 1983 Civil War, the last 0-0 tie in college football history) to the more recent trend of Civil Wars that actually mean something. For that matter, it's been a long ways from Shreveport, Louisiana (the 1989 Independence Bowl, the first postseason appearance for the Ducks in 26 years) to Glendale, Arizona.

Because tickets to the game are both hard to get and expensive (and because we are only entitled to two as season ticket holders), my "partner in crime" at Duck football games -- Randy Enders -- will be taking his Dad to the championship contest in Arizona. For me, I'll watch the game on television and content myself with thoughts of the memorable home games and the historic Civil War that I witnessed in this magical season. Go Ducks!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Write Stuff, Right Time

Faithful readers, I will be taking a short hiatus from my blog during winter break at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication in December to continue work on my novel.

Due to the start of a three year process to renovate Allen Hall (above), home of the School of Journalism and Communication, the adjunct offices have been moved to the UO Annex (below) on 12th Avenue near Kincaid Street, in the same block as Rennie's, a popular campus watering hole, and the UO Bookstore.

The building, an old dormitory from the same era as the Animal House, is turning out to be a nice location. Close to Barry's Expresso and a variety of eateries in the neighborhood, the UO Annex is a quiet spot to work, even when school is in session. During winter break, it should be the ideal place to get some serious writing accomplished.

Have a great holiday season and see you in January. Go Ducks!