[Editor’s note: by day, Robert Stroup is a mild-mannered architecture student at Lehigh University. But as a Duck alum, his heart is in Autzen 365 days a year, and between assignments and projects he sends along periodic contributions to The Duck Stops Here. This week he takes a look at a seminal moment in recent Duck history, the day disgruntled fan Tony Seminary sent Chip Kelly a bill for a refund after the Boise State game.]
The Age of Tony Seminary: The Dawn of a Greater Passion
—guest column by Robert Stroup
A handful of days ago, against all good judgment, I listened to John Canzano interview coach Chip Kelly. After his interview, Canzano mentioned how Oregon wasn’t “an SEC school” and had better things to do. He additionally criticized the loyal fans for showing up and supporting the troops. This is my rebuttal to that comment.
FishDuck is correct when he points out my relative youth. As someone who has followed the Ducks less than a third of the years accumulated by the Duck “godfather,” it is impossible to stake my claim a wise man. But as someone who regularly scours any news, be it good or bad, for Pac-12 football I’d like to posit that I’m not of my generation: I don’t live and die for sports, my interests are mostly architectural, and I really, really enjoy reading a quality novel.
And, if there is such a thing, I have always rooted for the Ducks first, but I also have rooted for USC and Stanford. Or to put it another way, for the majority of my life, I’ve grown to respect good West Coast football however it may come. And I truly do believe, in my heart of hearts, that when West Coast football is at its best, it’s better than any other product out there, including SEC football. This is, admittedly, my personal bias.
But until the last ten years, I never paid much attention to Duck football as something other than good West Coast football, and when FishDuck mentioned “the lack of perspective of Oregon on the college football [national] scene,” he very eloquently elucidated what many fail to understand, which is namely, the importance of the Oregon brand to the West Coast markets. While USC remains the flagship of the Pac-12’s tradition, there’s no denying that Oregon has emerged as the heartbeat for college football out west. People go to the games, the fans are deafening and the lust for quality football leaps off the television screen in a nanosecond. In a sport where perception is largely reality, Oregon provides a better overall perception of how West Coast fans actually do care about what happens to their teams.
So while many have derided him, I believe that Tony Seminary, in all his narrow-mindedness, was fundamental to this recent shift in perception. If your fanbase is going to be known throughout the landscape, your team has to have that fan. Someone akin to a Jeffrey Maier or a Buckeye Guy whose zealous passion transcends his/her mere attendance and becomes, for better or worse, the symbol of a greater passion. To a certain extent, Seminary was just that. For a couple of hilarious seconds, he provided national intrigue and perspective into how Duck fans were fans that demanded accountability. Given the lack of respect for Pac-10 football at the time, his timing couldn’t have been better.
For years it has been common knowledge that the SEC is the conference that possesses the most fans. The fans of SEC teams have illogically assumed this to mean that the SEC has the best fans (which is probably an absurd notion when the best fans don’t poison trees and shoot brothers over football games). But on the dreaded day of September the 3rd, which resounds in Duck football history with a thud, one man changed the perspective of West Coast football with a simple invoice call and to a smaller extent he changed the national perspective as well. His name? Tony Seminary. And this is the e-mail message he left on Chip Kelly’s computer:
“The product on the field Thursday night is not something I was at all proud of, and I feel as though I’m entitled to my money back for the trip. ”
Now, every Duck fan knows of how Kelly famously sent back the check for $439 and then led the Ducks to a Rose Bowl. But what was glossed over by The Oregonian and other West Coast news publications as well was how entitled Seminary felt. Most scoffed at Seminary as “an idiot.” And across the board, from respected journalists and from others, like John Canzano, Seminary’s foolish action seemed all too indicative of what “an idiot” truly was.
But Seminary wasn’t an idiot; he was truly genuine a fan. And while entitlement is largely seen as a flaw (as it should be), Seminary’s response captured what many Duck fans thought but didn’t have the guts to say. Oregon football was becoming more than just a local story (to some it was more important than life or death), and losing in a miserable fashion at Boise was suddenly unacceptable.
It wasn’t always that way. In 2004, Oregon lost to Indiana at home and many considered the loss an embarrassment but easily moved on with their lives (I know I did). And even when the Ducks lost to BYU by 30 in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2006, many spent the off-season questioning Mike Bellotti’s resolve and questioned the program but most did so with a modicum of humor and general apathy.
But as the Oregon program has grown over the last fifteen years so has its fanbase, and the apathy of the mid-2000s is entirely gone. The Boise loss was not to be borne, the win against USC was monumental and the losses to Ohio State and Auburn were flat-out nauseating. Oregon became a story: electric, brilliant, innovative and at times, controversial.