Football Entertainment Needs Midweek Boost

An open letter to UO Football Head Coach Chip Kelly:

First, thanks for all you’ve done for this community. Enrollment is up and up at the University of Oregon. Eugene enjoys a resultant student housing boom, bringing us plenty of jobs. Many Americans are learning how to pronounce “Oregon.”

We’ve staged a winter parade without Santa Claus. We always knew we had it in us, but you were the one to find it.

You’ve sped up your sport. Many are grousing about Autzen ticket prices, but if we calculate points-per-dollar, you’re delivering an entertainment bargain. You give points. We give cheers. As former UO President Richard Lariviere was always careful to point out, the sport and the entertainment are symbiotic.

For you and your staff, your players and your recruits, football is a sport. For the rest of us, it’s entertainment.

Banks allow their employees to wear team jerseys on Fridays before games. Grocery stores sell chips dyed green and yellow. Every autumn, the salutation “sincerely” is replaced with “Go Ducks!” My son moved to a larger apartment, in part because he needed closet space for all his Duck-wear.

The sport you coach counts only 60 minutes of playing time each Saturday, but the entertainment you provide goes on all week.

One of your first moves as head coach was to end all but the most severe player injury reports. From a sporting point of view, the change made sense. Why let your competitors know who is and who isn’t full-go? Your “next guy in” mantra values team over individuals, which is a good life lesson for these young men.

Please understand that we’re bonding with these players too. We learn all we can about them. Kids clip full-page posters from this newspaper and plaster their wall with them. We cheer for them on Saturdays, but we care about them all year long. It was sad that we had to learn about John Boyett’s career-ending injury this week from what he told his hometown newspaper in California.

When you’ve adopted a son, you want to be the first to know about their pain.

You’ve closed all practices to the public and the press. The building boom near Autzen includes wallwork that literally solidifies that stance. Again, the competitive advantage for this lack of openness is perfectly clear.

We were surprised to see how good our new quarterback was. Maybe Darron Thomas knew what we didn’t and it contributed to his early departure. Reporters may have asked different questions of our team’s touchdownest Duck if they knew what can we see now.

Our newspaper has lost two good sportswriters in the past year. Is it partly because football beat reporters been relegated to midweek paparazzi, hanging out in a parking lot, trying to gauge progress by sweat stains on jerseys? Not since the Cold War Kremlin-watchers have reporters had to fill more column inches with less new information.

As fans, we want a steady stream of news about our team. If it mattered to us for only three hours each week, we wouldn’t buy a jersey. We’d rent a tuxedo.

It’s not a wedding. It’s a marriage.

You’ve revolutionized your sport by recognizing that while only what happens between the whistles gets points on the board, the time between plays can be stretched or compressed to gain competitive advantage.

UO Track Coach Bill Bowerman had a similar impact on his sport. He also won national acclaim for his innovation. When he recognized that the public’s passion needed some fuel in 1949, he invited “all comers” to run at Hayward Field on Saturdays.

You’re now part of that legacy.

Give us some midweek storylines so we have something to talk about. We want to care less about ticket prices, so give us more to care about.

How about ending practices once a week with your speedsters running 4×100 relay races at Hayward Field, professionally timed and open to the public? An eating contest for the linemen? A human tractor-pull? Let some of those competitive juices flow in public.

We’re not on the field, but crowd noise can help you win. Sport and entertainment are symbiotic. Replica jerseys cheer louder than rented tuxes.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.thats.dk