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In 2009, I nearly died at the University of Arizona’s Football stadium.
Those that know me know I generally make an annual trip to Arizona during football season to visit family and watch the Ducks play whichever Arizona team they play that year. In 2009, I made my first trip to the University of Arizona. I surprised my very shy teenage brother with tickets to his first college football game and thanks to the ZonaZoo (nickname for Arizona’s student section), it was his last.
A chance at the Rose Bowl was on the line for both teams and the game’s crazy double overtime ending made it go down as one of the Pac 12’s classic games. Before the end of regulation, Arizona was up and it looked as if they were going to win. I looked behind me and saw packed stands full of Arizona Fans (The ZonaZoo) ready to stampede the field. I quickly grabbed by brother and said “We gotta get out of here!” To the hostile heckling of fans in our section, we quickly ran down to exit the stadium. Just as we made our way to the sideline, the Ducks miraculously tied the game in the last seconds, as overzealous Arizona fans had already stormed the field. Chaos erupted and we, along with a ZonaZoo mob were bottle-necked in the end zone sideline. In case you don’t know the rest, the Ducks, led by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, would rally through double overtime to win the game. What followed was my near death experience (no seriously) and a knocked out Oregon Cheerleader, who was struck by a bottle thrown from the stands. In the chaotic mess of angry Arizona fans stood a sprinkling of green and yellow trying to make their way out. We were blocked from exiting, taunted and yelled at. Finally, an older couple in Red, who undoubtedly saw the fear in my eyes, quickly grabbed my brother and I and led us to safety. I’m not kidding when I say that not even the bus drivers outside would give us directions to the parking lot. We would walk for over an hour trying to find our car but the Ducks won and that’s all that matters.
Tomorrow will be my first time back to visit the ZonaZoo. This time, I’m grateful I’ll be in the comforts and safety of the press box. I love my Ducks, but without that press pass, I’d probably not be making the trip. I like my life. Contrary to its in-state rival, Arizona State University, where fans are cordial and almost seem more interested in making it to their frat parties, Arizona’s ZonaZoo obviously creates one of the most hostile and even dangerous environments for any opposing team and their fans. Despite the Ducks being favored to win and all the talk about this basically being an easy 3rd to last step to the Rose Bowl, the Ducks (and I) know better. Yes, Oregon has a better team (Sorry, U of A fans, it’s true). The Ducks should win this game and likely will but they will have to be prepared for all that is the ZonaZoo. It has the ability to be a game changer.
I asked Oregon Offensive Coordinator this week how the coaching staff has prepared the team, especially the younger guys, for all that is the ZonaZoo. Although he’s well aware of the hostility, Frost confidently replied,
“They’ve been in tough situations before. We’ll talk to them about it and let them understand how hostile it can be but our players have done a good job and they thrived on situations like that. I think sometimes when an opposing crowd is more rowdy and rancorous it can actually be a boost to the enthusiasm of the visiting team.”
Clearly Scott Frost went to Stanford because I actually had to look up the word Rancorous (don’t laugh). Just in case you are dumb like me, per vocabulary.com, rancourous is defined as: “Showing deep-seated resentment.”
I hope Frost is right because after being being shut down by the Ducks 5 times in a row, describing the ZonaZoo as Rancorous may in fact be an understatement.