First, a history lesson

By Mark Baker | Living Here, Sports | |

DALLAS, Texas – They are here. They have arrived. Many of them, anyway.

And some of them even have their own Facebook page: “Ducks in Dallas.”

Those University of Oregon football fans who are lucky enough to possess the hottest ticket in Duck football history – Monday’s inaugural College Football Playoff championship game against Ohio State at AT&T Stadium in nearby Arlington – have descended on the city known as Big D. The temperatures in Dallas on Saturday were in the chilly mid-30s, but the hope of a first-ever national title in football for the Ducks was red-hot.

“Nothing was going to keep me from this game,” said Aleta Zak of Marysville, Calif., a 1983 UO graduate.

She was standing under the white, concrete pergola above the storied grassy knoll along Elm Street that isn’t so grassy but dead and brown in wintertime, her left foot bedecked in a highlighter-green-colored shoe and her right foot in a black cast.

Zak twisted her foot and ankle in a recent fall, she said.

But here she was, with friend Kirk Amato of Sacramento with his arms tucked inside his homemade green-and-yellow sweater vest to protect them from the cold, ready and raring to go and standing near one of the most historic landmarks in American history: the spot where our nation’s 35th president lost his life.

What a strange juxtaposition it was, Duck fans and Ohio State Buckeye fans, all dressed in their school colors, all having come here to witness history of a different sort, a much-less important sort, the crowning of the first winner of the College Football Playoff.

Yet here they were, visiting the site of one of the saddest events in U.S. history.

“I wanted to see it,” said Linda Bellah, of Phoenix, Ore. “And it’s kind of the opposite end of the spectrum, to the joy of the football team, to looking back at this incident. It’s very sobering.”

Bellah is here in Dallas with her husband, Jeff Bellah, the mayor of Phoenix. He had been to Dealey Plaza, the parklike area that is now a National Historic Landmark District, intersected by Elm Street, before. This was her first time.

While she took in the history, he was being good-naturedly chided by some Buckeye fans, who wondered why there were fewer Duck fans than Ohio State fans, the last time these two teams played, in the 2010 Rose Bowl.

“So I told them it wasn’t going to be like that this time,” a grinning Jeff Bellah said.

A white ‘X’ in the middle of Elm Street marks the spot where the fatal blow from Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle struck President John F. Kennedy’s head on Nov. 22, 1963, as he rode with his wife, Jackie, and Texas Gov. John Connally, and his wife, Nellie, in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas.

Visitors here like to, of course, have their photograph taken on that spot, but you have to wait until the traffic rolls by. And, invariably, someone will holler “cars coming!” while you pose and then run back to the sidewalk.

So it was for Jordan and Kayla Myer of Eugene and their friends Ryan Anderson and Meghan Staponski of Portland.

“Because these guys hadn’t seen it,” Jordan Myer, 36, explained as to why they all came. “Thought we’d stop by and get my soul saved, too.”

Myer was referring to the two men on the grassy knoll, one who was preaching “Repent! Repent!” quite loudly with a Bible in hand.

The area also has no shortage of conspiracy theorists, those who believe that Oswald could not have been the lone gunman, and two of them on Saturday had displays filled with video and newspaper clips and other items under the white pergola.

“It’s one of those things you get in history class, growing up,” said Anderson, of the assassination of JFK.

“But seeing it in person kind of puts it all together.”

Looking up from the street, you can see the sixth-floor corner window on the red-brick building, the window from which Oswald fired the shots that shocked the nation and changed the course of history.

What was then the Texas Schoolbook Depository is now the Sixth Floor Museum. And inside of it, Duck and Buckeye fans were shoulder to shoulder on Saturday, wearing headphones that told the story and guided them through photographs and wall displays on the sixth floor.

The window where Oswald fired his shots is blocked off by two glass walls filled with boxes from the old schoolbook depository. You can take the stairs to the seventh floor and look out the window directly above, though.

That’s where Buckeye fans Robert Chapa, 71, and his son, Brent Chapa, a 2005 Ohio State graduate, both of Columbus, Ohio, were.

“We just flew in, and this is the first place we came,” Robert Chapa said. “Haven’t even gone to the hotel yet.”

After peering out the window, Brent Chapa said: “It’s a little bit eerie, you know, because you can almost feel that something bad happened here.”

Robert Chapa was 20 years old and working in a furniture store in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 22, 1963.

Asked for a prediction on Monday’s game, Robert Chapa said of the Ducks, “You’ve got a very good team, and I’m very impressed with your quarterback. But after I saw what the Buckeyes did to Alabama, we’ve got a game.”

Then he reminded that Oregon is 0-8 all time against Ohio State.

And, standing in a place of great historical importance, he finished with: “And history tends to repeat itself.”