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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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When life imitates football

EUGENE – This is my Homecoming.

I won’t need a parking pass for tonight’s Eastern Washington game at Oregon. Instead, I’ll walk to Autzen Stadium by the same route I took exactly 40 years ago, from a hotel that’s 200 yards from my freshman dorm.

I’ll walk over the Willamette River and through the woods, replaying the memories in my mind: 40 years of life intertwined with college football, especially the two schools playing here tonight.

I never played the game, but college football has shaped my life for four decades. The game sparked my interest in sportswriting, led me to Spokane and my future wife, and brought me home again for weekend trips to Eugene with my sons.  

If that sounds sappy, I won’t apologize.

Back in 1975, I didn’t embrace the game as much as endure it. The Ducks won 11 games during my four years as a journalism undergrad, and once lost 53-0 to USC while never crossing midfield, and yet I kept coming back for more.

I returned every year, through the mediocrity of the ‘80s, the feel-good ‘90s and the incredible success that followed. For 36 straight years, from 1975 to 2010, I made it to at least one Duck game each year.

Yes, Oregon football has come a long way since 1975, but so has Eastern Washington. In the summer of 1983, I was the sports editor at the newspaper in Idaho Falls, Idaho. While covering the annual Big Sky Conference coaches gathering in Sun Valley, I met Jim Price, then the sports information director at Eastern.

The Eagles were ready to make a move from NAIA to Division I, and I was ready to move back to the Northwest. It was Price who told me of a sports opening at The Spokesman-Review. Five months later, I got the job; a year after that, I met my future wife, Dannette. (Thank you, Jim!)

That was in 1985. Ten years later, I was taking my 6-year-old son Nate to his (and my) first Rose Bowl – and Oregon’s first in 37 years. The Ducks gave up an early touchdown, prompting Nate to join the cheering: “Go Penn State, go Penn State.”

“Look, son, we’re not here because Penn State’s in the Rose Bowl,” I said sternly. “Go Penn State,” he said.

 Nate never quite caught on, and that may be why he wound at Western Washington, which doesn’t even have a football team anymore.

My younger son Nick caught on faster. Perhaps he was just sucking up, but he was a sponge for the game, and seemed to know more about the game than I did.

On it went, for 15 years. Father-and-son football trips to Eugene and back, staying in Portland with my German-born mother who had no idea what the fuss was all about. The best memory: storming the field after a win over in SC in 2009, a game that I’m convinced drove Pete Carroll to flee back to the NFL.

But kids grow up.  Nine months later, Nick was a high school senior looking to move on. We checked out the Eastern campus on a Saturday morning in 2010. The Eagles were playing Sac State, and  we watched a great game.

Nine months later, Nick was a freshman at Eastern, and Eagle gear began to appear in our house. Now my wife Dannette has a season ticket while I watch from the press box.

And now we’ve come full circle. Life doesn’t imitate football, but for me, it’s come pretty close.


Jim Allen
Jim Allen joined The Spokesman-Review in 1984. He currently covers K-12 education and women's basketball.

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