On Nov. 5, 1994, I guided my slightly decrepit but always dogged International Scout II through the drifts of an early blizzard, at the risk of getting mired and possibly having to set the seat cushions ablaze to stay alive, just to find out if my beloved Oregon Ducks would beat Arizona State and stay in contention for the Rose Bowl.
I did not get stuck.
I did not have to set fire to anything.
And the Ducks trounced the Sun Devils, 34-10.
I think occasionally about that magical and distant autumn when Oregon, my alma mater, shrugged off embarrassing nonleague losses to Hawaii and Utah to win six straight Pac-10 games and advance to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 37 years.
I drove to Pasadena with my dad and my brother. On Jan. 2, 1995, we watched the Ducks lose 38-20 to Penn State, a game, I feel almost contractually obligated to point out, that was tied at 14 late in the third quarter.
Oregon playing in the Grandaddy of Them All hasn’t been exactly routine since then. But neither has it again been quite such an epochal achievement as it was in 1994. The Ducks played in the Rose Bowl in 2010, 2012 and 2015, winning the latter two.
They’ll return to the famed stadium this New Year’s Day to play Wisconsin.
This has prompted me to revisit that season a quarter century ago, and in particular to ponder the dramatic changes that technology has wrought on a rabid fan’s access to his favorite team’s exploits.
This might seem passing strange; it did to me initially.
After all, 1994 hardly qualifies as ancient.
We had cable TV and compact discs and much else that still seems familiar, albeit rather outdated in some cases. CDs, for instance, likely would befuddle many people born after 1994, since the shiny discs obviously won’t fit into any of the ports on a smartphone.
But it’s what we didn’t have back then that makes the otherwise modest interval of 25 years such a chasm — and explains why I was busting my Scout’s front bumper through snow to reach Elkhorn Summit, elevation 7,396 feet, near Anthony Lakes.
The first of these is ubiquitous television coverage of college football.
Today, of course, fans are accustomed to being able to see pretty much any contest, even if they have to take out a second mortgage to cover the platinum package.
And in the rare case when there’s no live TV coverage, we can of course engage the internet at our leisure.
But that Oregon-Arizona State game, in common with the majority of college games in 1994, wasn’t aired live on any of the major networks or cable channels.
And the second factor — the internet — for all intents and purposes did not exist in 1994.
Most computer owners who accessed the internet — and very few of us in fact did — used a dial-up subscription service such as AOL. A study by the Pew Research Center in October 1995 found that in 1994 just 11 million American households even had a modem-equipped computer, and fewer than half of those used a subscription service to access the internet.
I wasn’t among those.
But even if I had been, the website that would have appealed most to a football fan — ESPN’s — didn’t exist. The all-sports cable channel debuted its website in April 1995.
Notwithstanding the comparatively crude options available in 1994, you might reasonably wonder why I didn’t just listen to the Oregon-Arizona State game on the radio.
That medium had of course been readily available for decades before 1994. The problem, at least for me, is that in 1994 Oregon Ducks football games weren’t carried on any local stations.
(I vividly remember sitting in my Ford Escort station wagon, parked in the carport on the night of Sept. 10, 1994, and getting an occasional 10- or 15-second burst of clear reception on a Portland AM station as the Ducks lost to Hawaii, 36-16. This ersatz experience was possible only due to the atmospheric vagaries of AM radio signals after dark, when the reduction in solar radiation allows signals to “bounce” along, sometimes for hundreds of miles, rather than being absorbed.)
The Arizona State game on Nov. 5, however, was an afternoon contest.
As peculiar as it might seem today, had I stayed in Baker City that day, the only way I could have tracked the game would have been to phone someone who was either listening to the game or was actually at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
In retrospect I suppose I could have prevailed on my dad to phone me occasionally. But I’m certain that this option, even had it occurred to me then, would have seemed an unsatisfying substitute for actually listening myself.
And so I climbed into my venerable Scout and headed toward the Elkhorns.
It was my first four-wheel drive and although I sold it more than a decade ago my affection for the rig lingers.
The Scout was painted a shade of dirt-brown that no automaker would dare slather on a vehicle these days. I thought it ideal, though, for a model designed to plunge through mud bogs and similarly torturous terrain — splatters of grime were rather effectively camouflaged.
The Scout lacked the off-road capability of the Toyota FJ Cruiser that replaced it, falling short in ground clearance and low-range gearing and boasting a less-effective positraction rear differential rather than a mechanically locking type.
But on that November day the Scout bested the snow, which was rather more than a foot deep above Anthony Lakes. Elkhorn Summit was my destination because, based on past experience, I knew it to be the closest place where I could reliably pull in a Pendleton AM station that broadcast Duck football.
I remember the day clearly but some of the details are fuzzy, as they tend to be at a distance of 25 years.
I don’t recall, for instance, whether I stayed until the final buzzer or whether, given the Ducks’ large lead, I headed down the mountain early as the autumn dusk fell.
Nor do I remember whether it snowed while I was there. Weather records from the Baker City Airport that day show a high of 41 with one-tenth of an inch of snow falling, so like as not there were at least a few snow showers at Elkhorn Summit.
When the Rose Bowl kicks off Wednesday afternoon I expect to be sitting on my sofa, the impeccably manicured grass field looking lush in high-definition and the murmur of the 100,000-plus fans echoing through the 5.1-channel hi-fi.
I will not have to worry about the prospect of shoveling for half an hour to extricate a rig high-centered in the implacable snow. The furnace, softly exhaling through its grates, will keep me more reliably warm than a 345-cubic-inch V8 engine, and with no risk of carbon monoxide accumulating.
A frosty beverage will be just a few strides away.
But I expect that at some point during the game I will briefly reminisce about that wintry afternoon high in the Elkhorns, when my only link to the game was the tinny, decidedly low-fi voice of play-by-play announcer Jerry Allen, beaming to my antenna from a transmitter beyond the snow-draped shoulders of the Blue Mountains.
Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.