DALLAS – They called it Playoff Fan Central, and it was a decidedly corporate affair inside the enormous Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas.
The three-day fan festival put on by the inaugural College Football Playoff, which charged a $17 entry fee for adults and $12 for youths, ran Friday through Sunday and featured a Friday night Country Music Television-sponsored performance by the likes of Toby Keith and Lady Antebellum.
The festival also featured lots of games for kids and fast-food booths like Chick-fil-A – and mannequins wearing Nike-made Oregon Duck and Ohio State Buckeye football uniforms.
Oh, and on Sunday, there were a couple of “mini pep rallies,” as CFP officialdom described them, for both Duck and Buckeye fans to get ready for today’s championship clash at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, in nearby Arlington.
Unlike four years ago, the only other time Oregon has played in a national championship football game, this Duck pep rally did not feature any live musical acts like “Otis Day & the Knights” of “Animal House” fame, or any rousing speeches by former UO greats Ahmad Rashad and Joey Harrington, or even an appearance by head coach Mark Helfrich and the team.
And there weren’t an estimated 30,000 people here, as in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Jan. 10, 2011, before the Ducks took on Auburn in the BCS Championship game the following day and lost 22-19.
That’s probably because this pep rally, like everything during the three-day festival, was staged by the College Football Playoff, not the UO.
And it was all over in less than 30 minutes, as Ohio State fans quickly filled the very same seats for their pep rally.
“I think it’s pretty disorganized,” said Duck fan Libby Holden, 65, of Eugene.
“We expected a little more but, hey, we’re happy,” said her husband, Mark Holden, 63.
The good news is “that we’re here,” Libby Holden said.
“Here,” with about 5,000 other Duck fans at the pep rally on Sunday, filling one side of the stands of a makeshift football field inside the convention center, and almost half of the other side.
They cheered on the UO Marching Band and the UO cheerleaders and an appearance by the Duck himself.
“Oh, this is a dream come true,” said Caron Shore of Chicago, a 1971 UO graduate who was jumping up and down in the first row of the grandstands, dressed in black from head to toe with a big green and yellow necklace around her neck, her fingernails also painted green and yellow.
“This has been a power organization for years,” she said of the UO, “and hopefully they’ll get the respect they deserve.”
The East Coast and much of the rest of the nation still sees the UO and other West Coast universities as an afterthought, Shore said.
One sign that the UO, at least when it comes to its Nike-sponsored football program, is getting more national respect is that Duck football fans are no longer limited to Oregon’s borders.
“I’ve just always loved Oregon,” said 18-year-old Matt McAdam, of Denver, who was wandering inside the convention center before the pep rally, with his father, Tom McAdam. “I like how passionate they are about sports, because I’m passionate about sports.”
Matt McAdam is a freshman at the University of Colorado, not the UO. But he was wearing green UO shorts to go along with his black Denver Broncos T-shirt.
His father, also of Denver, was wearing a yellow Oregon cap and a yellow Duck T-shirt with a sign on his back that said “Need a Ticket.”
As in a ticket to today’s game.
“We sold our Colts-Broncos (NFL playoff game) tickets to come here,” said Tom McAdam, 60. “If worst comes to worst, we’ll just get a couple of standing-room-only tickets.”
Duck and Buckeye season-ticket holders were able to buy tickets at face value prices of $450 and $650 last month, but standing-room-only tickets went on sale Thursday and were quickly snatched by the general public.
Some of those tickets were on sale Sunday at secondary online sites such as Vivid Seats (low price of $218) and StubHub ($309.45).
No matter, the McAdamses are here, and so is Matt Kavadas, a 26-year-old from Canton, Ohio, who also cheers for … the Ducks?
“Just because of what they stand for – never been a Buckeyes fan,” he said, standing in a long line of other UO fans prior to the pep rally to get autographs from former UO football greats and current pros LaMichael James, Kenyon Barner and Jairus Byrd.
Kavadas was wearing a black No. 8 Marcus Mariota jersey and a white CFP national championship game hat. Oregon “is not about themselves,” he said. “It’s always the team, the community. Mariota’s a true leader. He carries himself well off the field as well as on.”
And once the pep rally got rolling, and the band was playing, and one side of the crowd was screaming “Go!” and the other side was hollering “Ducks!” it was hard to find anyone who disagreed with the Ohioan’s assessment.
“We love the Oregon community,” said John Free, 64, of Olympia, who grew up in Roseburg and attended the UO in the 1970s.
He and wife Karna Jo Free are well-known among Duck fans for their colorful dress that features lots of green and yellow tie-dye, giving them something of a “Grateful Duck” look that often catches the attention of TV cameras during UO games.
“We like to see smiles,” John Free said of their outfits, which include his long beard getting a green and yellow dye job and his eyes offset by yellow contact lenses.
“And we like to support the kids who work their butts off for us,” he said of the Oregon football team. John Free predicted a 45-27 Oregon win, and he wasn’t alone.
Mark Holden said it would be a little closer, 48-41, but with the Ducks prevailing.
Molly Scoggin of Portland, wearing a white No. 8 Mariota jersey, had no doubt.
“We are!” she said, when asked who would win. “With our speed and endurance, we’re gonna win!”