Some say it’s the rabid fans. Others claim it’s the superior design of the stadium. But no matter what theory you have about why Oregon’s Autzen Stadium is a special place to spend a Saturday afternoon, there’s one underlying consensus: It’s deafening.
Per capita, Autzen is the loudest venue in all of college football. With its recent expansion, which culminated before this season, its capacity is a mere 55,000 – half the size of the Big House. But in this case, Oregon fans and players would agree wholeheartedly that size does not matter.
“The emotion, it’s just going to be electrified to be honest,” Oregon linebacker Kevin Mitchell said. “Until I got here and played in those games, I never realized. You can’t talk, you can’t even hear yourself yell. You have to communicate without even talking. With Michigan coming, it’s just going to be crazy.”
Shaped like an amphitheatre, Autzen was designed to get the most out of the noise its fans make. It received its first national acclaim in 2000, when the Ducks – backed by their home crowd – knocked off the nation’s No. 6 team in back-to-back weeks (first UCLA then Washington). Today, the Autzen mystique draws comparison to stadiums that nearly double it in size, including “The Swamp” at Florida and “Death Valley” at Louisiana State.
The third-ranked Wolverines are 3-0 against the Ducks in their history, but they’ve never made the trek to the Northwest. Oregon fans have had this game circled on their calendars ever since the game was scheduled in the late 1990s, creating an overwhelming game-week atmosphere.
“Everybody around here is pretty excited,” Oregon wide receiver Demetrius Williams said. “People are treating it like it’s a bowl week. To the community, it’s a pretty big game.”
To Michigan coach Lloyd Carr’s dismay – he’d prefer his team play on the West Coast only on New Year’s Day – the Wolverines are making their third voyage to the West Coast in the past four years. The team leaves tonight with hopes of erasing bad memories from losses at UCLA (2000) and at Washington (2001).
“They are very difficult to beat at home,” Carr said. “The crowd is, from every report I get, from every coach I’ve spoken with, a real factor. You have to learn to communicate without talking, because talking doesn’t do you any good. So (I’m excited) from the standpoint of for the first time this season, this team will have to show what they can do when they have thousands of people cheering against them.”
When asked if he had learned anything from his two previous trips to the West Coast, Michigan captain Carl Diggs said he is still trying to figure out what it takes to win there.
“We still have a lot to prove,” Diggs said. “Saturday was a big game, but it’s over now. We haven’t played on the road yet, so we haven’t proved anything yet. We need to go out to Oregon and play a good game.”
“If we take them lightly,” said Michigan defensive end Larry Stevens, “it will be a long plane ride back.”