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Eugene Weekly : Feature : 12.31.2009

 

Mad Love for  the Ducks

‘You can’t really explain it at all’ but here goes … 

by Rick Levin

Happy New Year to you — because, after all is said and done, everything’s coming up roses, isn’t it? That’s right. A rose is a rose is a rose, and even the reddest rose sports a thorn or two. Red is also the color of blood, but they don’t call it the Blood Bowl, do they? No — they call it the Rose Bowl, the bowl to beat all bowl games, the first ever, the pater familias, the “Granddaddy of Them All.” Would a bowl game by any other name smell so sweet?

I’ve got a joke for you: A Duck walks into a Pasadena bar, and the bartender yells: “Duck!” So everyone hits the floor.

You know, being a sports fan can be a tough, crappy job, existentially speaking, but there’s something particularly hellish about being a hard-core fan of Duck football. Or should I say: Fanatic? Along with the spectator-related anxiety intrinsic to any athletic competition — which can range from casual worry, to nail-biting anticipation, to the outright post-traumatic pathos of having your week blown to shit over a single loss — being a loyal patriot of the UO’s pigskin franchise means always hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

It’s not a matter of the Kool-Aid cup being half full or half empty. That’s not even the issue. It’s about knowing exactly what’s in the cup, and liking what’s in the cup regardless, and realizing the damn cup can tip over at any moment, and that, either way, you’ll wind up drinking the stuff every time — good, bad, bitter or straight-up poisonous.

 

We’ve all gotta Duck when the shit hits the fan

Duck fans learn at an early age to recite and to believe in — way deep down in their yellow-and-green DNA — that same catechism repeated at the end of every season by old-school Red Sox fans: “There’s always next year.” Being a Duck fan means being wry and cynical and hopeful and fragile and thick-skinned all at once. It means calling horseshit on every ESPN sportscaster’s pet truism, especially that new cliché about teams “controlling their own destiny,” knowing that such egregiously perpetuated hogwash ranks right up there with Richard Gere’s ass gerbil and Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.

Consider, for instance, the indignity of the Ducks losing the 1958 Rose Bowl by a field goal to Ohio State, the Buckeye team that just the year before had been suspended after head coach Woody Hayes admitted loaning walking-around money to his players (Hayes, named NCAA coach of the year in ’58, went down in flames when, at the age of 65, he punched a Clemson player in the throat before turning to swing at one of his own players at the 1978 Gator Bowl … and the ironies just keep piling up). Including this year’s appearance, the Ducks have been to the Rose Bowl a total of five times since 1917, when they beat Penn Quakers 14-0. They dropped a bouquet for Harvard — Harvard! — three years later, and haven’t won a Tournament of Roses since.

But, really, there’s no reason to reach that far back in college football history to strike fear and loathing in the hearts of Duck fans, is there? This new century holds plenty of painful examples of the weird combination of thyroidal expectation and fatalistic doom that seems to define Duck football. How about the 2001 season, when a Joey Harrington-led squad, having suffered but a single loss all season, was systematically screwed out of a national title bid by a BCS ranking system that went so ape-shit the NCAA was forced to retool it the very next year? Need we mention how, in 2004, UO quarterback Kellen Clemens suffered a late-season ankle injury at the hands of Arizona … and then, just three years later, how fans watched the Wildcats strike again against a No. 2 ranked team, taking out QB Dennis Dixon and thereby dashing any Ducky hopes for a Rose Bowl-bound national title? The tears shed by Dixon on the sideline, once the magnitude of his wrenched knee hit home, captured perfectly the sense of pathos, not to mention the pure heartbreak, of Duck devotees everywhere.

And then, alas, there was the punch heard around the world. Heard, and seen. As that great Teutonic sportscaster Friedrich Nietzsche warned, “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Ouch! — ain’t that the truth? When, in the season opener, UO senior running back LeGarrette Blount capped off an execrable rushing performance by coldcocking a Boise State linebacker in front of a national television audience — and then, thanks to YouTube, again and again in front of the whole fucking world — Duck fans would have been forgiven a quick trip to grandma’s medicine cabinet. Here we go again, said the collective Id, as the Superego of Duckdom cracked down, set a stiff upper lip and said, with that grit-toothed asceticism native to the Northwest: We’ll recover. Wait and see.

“There is always some madness in love,” Nietzsche also said, “but there is also always some reason in madness.” If mad love of the Ducks kept fans true after the Boise State punch out, such madness, in retrospect, proved reasonable. For — miracle of miracles — the Ducks did recover, and then some. Thanks to the clustering clamp-down of an underrated defense, which carried the team through some rickety ball control early in the season — and followed, in no particular order, by the rapid maturation of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the breakthrough of running back LaMichael James and the Zen leadership of Chip Kelly, who was voted Pac 10 Coach of the Year — the Ducks transformed the perfect shit storm of their game-one debacle into a winning season, characterized by increasing domination and marred only by one rather stinky loss to Stanford in Palo Alto. Along the way they defeated four nationally-ranked teams, including California (No. 6), USC (No. 4) and, to end the season, a feisty Oregon State squad (No. 13) that took them down to the wire.

Jason Blume, 20,

UO junior, history major

What would you give up to ensure a Duck win in the 2010 Rose Bowl?

“To be really specific, I’d give my left pinky.”

Why do you think football players pat each other on the butt?

“The only time you need to watch out for that is if your priest does it. If he pats you on the butt and says, ‘Good confession,’ watch out!”

What makes Duck fans special?

“It’s like love, you can’t really explain it at all. It’s overwhelming. I can’t describe why it is that I love the Ducks. It’s just getting lost in it.”

Dylan Keim, 27,

Eugene native and

former UO student

Should there be a moat filled with piranhas placed around football fields?

“Why not? I say go for it. Get some gun towers and a solid gold fence, too. Make it look like the Vatican.”

Why do you think football players pat each other on the butt?

“It’s such a tender act. In a brotherhood that tight, you have to be able to express tenderness. It’s intimate.”

Zac Brown, 21,

UO junior,

journalism major

What would you give up to ensure a Duck win in the 2010 Rose Bowl?

“I say this a lot of times for my favorite sports teams. I would give up my first-born child for the Ducks. I’ll kid about something like that, but I love the Ducks that much.”

Why do you think football players pat each other on the butt?

“It’s how it is. I think it starts in baseball. It’s always been a “good job, man.” It comes with the territory. It’s an unsaid rule, that’s just what it is. There’s nothing sexual in it.”

Mike Young, 25,

Eugene native

The fans in the stands seem to have more fun than the players. Should players be allowed to drink on the field?

“No, too much machismo.”

Should nudity be encouraged in the stands or on the field?

“Yes, on the field. We all want to see what’s under those uniforms.”

What would you give up to ensure a Duck win in the 2010 Rose Bowl?

“I’d stop smoking for a week.”

What makes Duck fans special?

“They start them young.”

Jason Coon, 31,

lived in Eugene 15 years

Will you change your UO calf tattoo if the Ducks win in the 2010 Rose Bowl?

“I could always add a date. Be man enough to put a rose on my leg.”

What makes Duck fans special?

“We bleed green and yellow, and shit orange and black.”

The atmosphere in Autzen Stadium before and during the Trojan game was intense, in a funereal sort of way — neither hopeful nor pessimistic nor celebratory nor excited. There was instead this heavy electrical thrum and raw emotional crackle that felt way too serious for the occasion. There was that, and then there was the so-called Civil War match that ended the regular season. Just a word about that game: In my life, I’ve attended concerts ranging from the Marshall-stack ferocity of AC/DC and Judas Priest to the deafening small-club detonation of Hüsker Dü, Black Flag and the Melvins; I’ve fired a .45 and had an M-80 go off really, really close to my head; I was there when the Minnesota North Stars beat the Calgary Flames in the 1981 Stanley Cup semi-finals; I’ve played in bands; the volume on my iPod is amplified by mega-powerful earphones; I have sisters.

And yet, none of this quite prepared me for the out-of-whack loudness of the Dec. 3 game against the Beavers. According to one source, the noise level for that event peaked at 118.6 decibels, which, if accurate, doesn’t even surpass the level of 127.2 decibels recorded at the 2007 game against USC. Michigan sports columnist Brady McCollough, describing Autzen as the loudest place he’d ever watched a game, called it the stadium “where great teams go to die.”

But that still doesn’t capture it. You expect things like rock concerts and guns going off to make your ears ring. What you don’t expect, and can’t really prepare for, is the pitch and volume of nearly 60,000 frenzied greenish people hollering non-stop for damn near three hours straight. It’s such, well … such a human sound. Unlike an amplified guitar or a mortar detonating or a jet plane taking off, the roar of a sports crowd creates a bestial, hysterical, up-from-the-guts sound that is simultaneously awful and awesome, like a mushroom cloud or a speed eating competition. Autzen Stadium is designed in such a way that it takes that human roaring and, despite being an outdoor structure, bounces it around and around and around, gaining volume as it echoes and ricocheting it all straight into your skull.

Regardless of the final score on Jan. 1, 2010, it’s been one hell of a year, in every sense of the word. The typical ups and downs were there, but in a wonky and uneven way. The lowest lows were front-loaded, like tragedy in reverse, with the sourest note struck first. And then came the skin-of-the-teeth wins, the near misses, the quick correctives, the scares and scrums and scrapes. The really good highs came later, and they kept getting higher. USC! OSU! Rose Bowl! For Duck fans, that’s like mainlining China white. Tasty and satisfying stuff, but as potentially shattering as Humpty Dumpty’s tumble.

But either way — rain or shine, rose or thorn, win or lose, buckshot Buckeye or dead Duck — Eugene football die-hards traveling to the Rose Bowl will arrive in Pasadena exactly the same as they leave it, as Duck fans, no more and no less. The final outcome is, in a sense, superfluous. It is what it is. The only thing that changes is the cut and jib of the uniform.

Because what a lot of folks don’t understand is that you can mount a hundred, nay a thousand, smart arguments contra sports in general or against Duck football in particular — from the violence inherent to the game to the degradation of academics to the elitist treatment accorded to athletes, from Nike booster bullshit and rampant commercialism and the false collectivity of spectatorship, to the militaristic metaphors, the lack of proper perspective, the cosmic irrelevance of the game and the insipid, disrobed, drunken, belligerent, green-painted and generally asshole-ish behavior of certain yahoos in the stands — it just doesn’t matter. You can agree with every Marxist, Foucauldian, Freudian, feminist, post-modernist, sociological and/or philosophical criticism of football, and still get carried away by it. Love of the game and the team that plays it exists in that reptilian part of the brain controlling the fight-or-flight mechanism; you can think and analyze and examine football into the ground, but once that whistle blows you drool just as helplessly as one of Pavlov’s dogs.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Duck to give up his season tickets. As long as we have capitalism, we will have Nike funding organized college sports; and as long as we have college sports and the University of Oregon, we will have Duck football. And Duck football fans.

 

If it talks like a Duck

UO junior Zac Brown has been planning on watching the Ducks play in the 2010 Rose Bowl ever since his freshman year at Lake Oswego High School. Not only watching it, mind you — watching it in person, in Pasadena, with his friends. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, especially when you understand that Brown reached legal drinking age last week on Dec. 29. All it took was some foresightedness, a little math and a boatload of Duck love for Brown to realize, all those years ago, that if things aligned just so, he could turn his 21st birthday party into a southbound road trip to watch the football team he says, only half jokingly, he would give his first-born child to see win. The journalism major recalls asking his friends in high school, “How cool would it be if we turned 21 when the Ducks went to the Rose Bowl?” And — holy Phil Knight! — that’s exactly how it went down. Cheers, dude.

“It was kind of ironic that it happened this year,” Brown admits about the co-incidence of him hitting legal drinking age and the Ducks making it to the Rose Bowl at approximately the same time. “I’m expecting a really good game,” he says, adding that he anticipates Ohio State will have a difficult time containing Oregon’s speed, particularly the triple-threat option provided by the team’s tentacled West Coast offense. “It’s going to be a high scoring game. I’m really glad we’re playing Ohio State. We can show [Ohio State quarterback] Terrell Pryor what he could have done with Oregon’s offense” (Prior was heavily recruited by the Ducks).

Brown, who came to UO for its J-school and has “loved Eugene ever since,” considers himself a “huge supporter of Nike.” He takes no issue with the millions in funding Nike founder Phil Knight puts into his alma mater, including its athletic programs, though Brown says he does have a “problem” with the athletes-only elitism of the new Academic Learning Center currently under construction.

Such a concern, however, does little to lessen Brown’s passion for Duck football. The team’s loss at the beginning of this season, which culminated with Blount’s infamous punch, “kind of just ended my night,” says Brown, who confesses to taking any loss pretty hard. “I carry it around, definitely,” he says. “You get a vibe when you’re in Eugene when the Ducks lose.”

Brown attributes the “passionate crazy” attitude of Duck fans, win or lose, “to the fact that Oregon’s not really a big sports state,” claiming as it does only one big-time pro franchise team, the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. (On that front, Brown owns a giant cardboard cutout of the Blazers’ often-injured center Greg Oden, which he sometimes carts in all its two-dimensional glory to Duck games).

“We fall in love with them because it’s all we have,” Brown says of the Ducks. “It’s something we all have in common. We’re crazy. We have so much passion, and we hold onto it hard. We have a good athletic program, and we’re more inclined to be involved and really just breathe Ducks.”

It’s because of this passion, Brown says, that the Ducks make “the best and the worst fans in the Pac 10.” Worst, that is, if you happen to be an opposing player or a visiting fan. “We’d do almost anything to have them succeed,” he says of rooting on his team. “We talk so much trash and we don’t care. We’re mean. We get into it. We don’t know when to say ‘No.’”

Brown takes his status as a Duck fan so seriously that he is critical of some of the more outrageous antics at Duck home games. “I personally think the drinking and partying in the stands is a disgrace to the football players,” he says. “The thing about being intoxicated at games, you have an opportunity to see some of the best college football you’re going to see. What good is it to you if you’re not even going to remember the good plays?”

Eugene native Jason Blume, a history major at UO, is one of three pals joining Brown on this historic Rose Bowl-slash-birthday jaunt. Blume himself has been a Duck fan for as long as he can remember — basically, he says, ever since his father took him to a UO basketball game when he was just a kid. And as someone who has watched his friend openly weep after a Duck loss, Blume says he would place himself just a notch below Brown on the calibrated scale of “passionate crazy” Duck fan. For instance, Blume says he’d willingly sacrifice a finger to ensure a Duck victory in the Rose Bowl. “To be really specific,” he added, “I’d give my left pinky. I feel like I’d give up my livelihood.”

Being such a tried-and-true fan has its spiritual cost, Blume says, especially when it comes to the last-minute disappointments attending such high expectations at the bitter end of recent football seasons. “Over the past several years,” he explained, “what it feels like is having all the hope in the world,” and then “everything ends up blowing up in your face.”

When this season began on such a downer, Blume says, his first thought was, “Oh, man, this is going to be just like every season.” When the Ducks began turning it around, he was pleased, no more so than when an NCAA-cleared Blount was reinserted into the backfield against Oregon State. “That was probably my favorite part of the entire season,” Blume says of Blount’s last-game heroics, which included a rushing touchdown. “People make mistakes. [Blount] had a tough game. I was devastated when it happened,” Blume says of the UO running back’s notorious punch, adding that his reinstatement was hard-won. “He stuck around the team. He did everything he had to do. I think he got what he deserved in the end. That was a euphoric feeling almost.”

Blume compares the experience of being a Duck fan with another equally soul-consuming and ultimately ineluctable emotion. “It’s like love,” he says. “You can’t really explain it at all. It’s overwhelming. It’s just getting lost in it.”

Another Eugene native, Dylan Keim, however, argues that the myth of the crazy Duck fan is just that: a self-perpetuating image that doesn’t take into account the kind of sports fans that spring up in even more isolated communities. For instance, Keim — who attended the UO off-and-on between 2001 and 2006 — says that when he lived for a time in Marlinton, W. Va., he often witnessed 80-plus-year-old Mountaineer fans slathering their pick-ups in blue paint before WVU games. “They take it to a whole new level,” he says of fans in Appalachia. “The smaller the town, the more the freakiness.” Keim says that self-proclaimed super Duck fans suffer from a delusion similar to that holding most of Eugene in thrall. “We want to believe that we’re super hip and liberal, but we’re not that liberal,” he says with a laugh. “We hate our own mediocrity.”

Nonetheless, Keim admits that, for better or worse, the Ducks have become “the dominant cultural center of the town,” and in that sense they’re worth following and even cheering on, if only to a degree. “There’s something about the Ducks where you want to see them both succeed and fail,” he says, adding that “it might be a little more inspiring” if they actually lose the Rose Bowl, “like Rocky.” For Keim, a story of redemption in defeat would be far more interesting than any sort of ass-kicking the Ducks might administer to Ohio State. 

Keim says that during his student years he “always really enjoyed the hype of the game,” even if that meant discovering, as he did outside his house one night, a couch burning in a roundabout after a particularly riotous Duck victory celebration. “That was kind of great,” Keim says. “It’s just kind of fun to be around that frenzy even if you aren’t attached to it. Anything that gives regular people a reason to drink at nine in the morning is cool.”

Speaking about the controversial issue of Nike’s direct or indirect financial involvement in Ducks sports, Keim describes Eugene as “a house divided,” calling Nike founder Phil Knight the city’s “Little Caesar” — a figure both beloved and hated for the power he wields over local culture and politics. Keim pointed to the “opulence” of the new basketball arena and all that surrounds it as an example of the Ducks’ tangled, complicated relationship to corporate America. “There’s so much money behind it, and so much backing,” Keim says of Duck football. “There’s that constant battle between academics and sports. Everybody needs to be equal,” he adds, “but we need to win motherfucking football games.”

Mike Young, 25, remembers as a kid watching his father running concessions at a Duck basketball game to raise money for his church choir; other than that, he says, he’s “not really into sports,” though he does like “getting into the spirit of it.” He watched the Ducks’ last appearance in the Rose Bowl in 1995 on television with his brother.

“I’m definitely happy they’re more successful now,” the Eugene native says of the team’s winning ways over the last several seasons. “I will definitely be watching the Rose Bowl. I enjoy it, I just don’t understand that much about football itself.” 

One thing Young does understand is that some of the town’s more avid Ducks fans get on his nerves. “They are so obnoxious,” he says, recalling the time he stumbled upon a team of frat brothers beating a car with a sledgehammer before a home game. “That’s insane. It can be kind of irritating being around that kind of atmosphere. I definitely feel like Duck games can go too far.”

As a fan, then, Young says he supports the team, but only insofar as he’s not forced to beat on a car or don the garb of a true Eugene patriot. “I will never wear yellow and green together again,” Young admits.

Jason Coon not only wears yellow and green; he’s had the colors permanently inked on his calf in the form of a UO tattoo. A Sacramento transplant who has lived in Eugene the past 15 years or so, Coon, 31, says that “as you get a little bit older, you become a little more passionate about the football team.” He says that, should the Ducks win this year’s Rose Bowl against Ohio State, he’d consider adding a date to his existing tattoo to commemorate the occasion — that, and he “might be man enough to put a rose on my leg.”

Coon explains that, when it comes to talking Duck football in Eugene, you have to understand the impact the sports team has on the community. “It’s kind of a way of life around here,” he says. “At the end of a work week, you look forward to a Saturday game. People spend a lot of money to go to the games,” he adds, pointing out that the Ducks influence runs deep, extending as far as Eugene’s fiscal well-being.

Beyond any financial good the Ducks may do, they also tend to unite Eugeneans in a common cause, especially when it comes to the deep-seated rivalry with a certain neighboring university just a few miles north. “We bleed green and yellow,” Coons says of Duck fans, “and shit orange and black.”

 

Bleeding green and yellow

The poor guy just isn’t cut out for the gloomy, gothic atmosphere that suffuses this dank little city, right down to its sports teams. He’s too vulnerable to waterlogging, and far too susceptible to the blunted adversities of the Northwest. This is traditionally a town of losers. Chronic defeatism is as much our aesthetic as our curse. Even our victories are corrosive … Indeed, it does seem that the team represents a sort of psychic barometer of our local subculture, in the same way I think Nirvana, Bill Gates, Ted Bundy and the Mardi Gras riots tell us something important about the freaky, spongy, unstable ground upon which we so blithely trod.

This is something I wrote a few years back about a struggling player on the Seattle SuperSonics, and while I’m not in the habit of quoting myself, something former UO student Dylan Keim says about the strange spiritual conundrum of being a Duck fan brought this rushing to mind. In discussing the Duck tendency to trip at the finish line — whether that last-minute malady be self-inflicted or thrust upon them by fate — Keim brings up Steve Prefontaine, the Coos Bay-born runner and UO student athlete and Olympic Games hopeful who in 1975, at the age of 24, was killed when he crashed his car into “the rock” on Skyline Boulevard. Keim asserts that Prefontaine’s haunting legacy speaks volumes about the psychological make-up of everything surrounding UO athletics and, by extension, Eugene itself. “In terms of the Ducks losing, it burns it,” he says of Prefontaine’s promising career being cut tragically short. “It’s like a curse.”

There’s just something about the Northwest — the attitudes we carry so stubbornly, the overcast sensibility, the desperately loving way we leech like limpets onto our sports teams and our microbrews and our whole murky, rain-sodden way of life. Whenever you hear a fan bitching about the Ducks not achieving national recognition due to “East Coast bias,” what they really seem to be saying is:

Listen, just because the sun sets first in New York doesn’t mean we don’t have running water way out here in Cottage Grove. You elitist, cosmopolitan assholes might be able to hail a cab at 5 pm in midtown Manhattan, but you wouldn’t last three days in a Northwest winter, where your toes turn to prunes and everything closes after last call and you better get to the liquor store during the week and, damn it, we grow our boys just as big and strong and durable as any corn-fed Podunk farmer’s son out in Nebraska! There’s always next year! Just you wait! You’ll see …

Is it any wonder, then, that EW readers voted Blount’s punch the best moment in local sports, or that The Register-Guard’s readers voted the Ducks’ quest for the Rose Bowl the third biggest story of the year, just below the recession and police use of Taser guns, and above the murder of three homeless men, the local toll of the swine flu and Country Coach filing for bankruptcy? It shouldn’t be. Something utterly, burningly crucial and at the same time ultimately pointless is wrapped up in this year’s Tournament of Roses: namely, our identity. If that seems sad, that’s because it is. And if that seems equally touching and inspiring, well, that’s because it is.

Whether torn by its thorns or surrounded by its aromatic haze of momentary fame and glory, the important thing about the rose in the bowl is that the Ducks got close enough to grab it. 





 

A Brief History of the Rose Bowl

The Rose Bowl is arguably the most beloved of all college football games. Now in its 96th year, “the Granddaddy” in Pasadena is the oldest bowl, having hosted its first match in 1902, when Michigan rang up 49 unanswered points, causing Stanford to forfeit early. That inaugural game, played in Tournament Park, was such a fiasco that the Tournament of Roses committee nixed football for the next 14 years, opting instead to feature such delectably archaic competitions as ostrich and chariot races.

The actual Rose Bowl itself was built in 1922, and since 1945 the game has been the highest attended of all bowl games. Its capacity is a tad more than 92,500 human beings, though for the 1973 bowl a record 106,869 fans were crammed in.

Including the 2010 game, Oregon’s appearances in the Rose Bowl total five and, aside from this year, they’ve lost all but their first. The Trojans have the most appearances and most wins; the Beavers have been there four times, not since 1965.

The Rose Bowl is just about the only bowl game that hasn’t whored itself out completely to corporate sponsorship (seriously, the Meineke Car Care Bowl?), though since 1998 the game has been “presented by” AT&T, Sony/Playstation 2, and Citi, respectively.

But, seeing as recent attempts to dump undervalued stock caused the U.S. Treasury to back off a planned sale of its 34 percent stake in Citi, it’s not outlandish to consider that one-third of this year’s Rose Bowl is actually “presented by” us, the American people. — Rick Levin

 





Gambling on the Rose Bowl

Among friends and acquaintances and relatives and co-workers, a casual bet usually plays out something like this: “Dude, I’ll bet you 20 bucks the Yankees kick the Phillies’ ass in the World Series,” and dude says, “You’re on.” Seeing as New York defeated Philadelphia in this year’s championship, the dude would owe his friend a crisp $20 bill. A “gentleman’s bet” runs pretty much the same way, but the only thing at stake is pride or dignity or geo-political identity or theoretical penis size; no money changes hands.

The difference, then, between casual wagers and doing some serious Las Vegas-style sports betting is the difference between learning simple arithmetic and mastering advanced calculus. The intricacies of sports-book gambling are as fancy and daunting as a Henry James novel but — unlike the English language James made dance so complexly — the rudiments of gambling are pretty simple. If you happen to find yourself in Nevada on Dec. 31, or you know a bookie or have access to an off-shore gambling web site, here’s all you need to know to place a quick bet on the Ducks, just in time for the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl.

As of this writing (Dec. 29), the Ducks are favored to beat Ohio State. That does not automatically mean, however, that if the Ducks win, your bet will pay off. In fact, the Ducks can win the Rose Bowl, and you can still lose money. This is due to the “spread,” a number that registers, somewhat confusingly, as a negative number for the favored team. Right now, the spread is hovering somewhere between -3.5 and -4, which means that Oregon must win by more than 4 points for a bet on the Ducks to pay off.

Another bet you can place is the “over/under,” which is somewhere between 51 and 52 for this year’s Rose Bowl. The number represents the total points scored by both teams by game’s end. If you bet over, for instance, and the Ducks win by a score of 21-14, you lose. What makes this particular “over/under” tricky is that the Ducks’ high-scoring offense is pitted against a notoriously stubborn Buckeye defense — the immovable force meeting the irresistible object.

Finally, there is the total moneyline, which right now is -110. This means that in order to receive a straight $100 on a winning bet, you’d have to put down $110 (and, yes, you’d also get your $110 back). If the moneyline jumps to -120, that means you’ll have to cough up $120 for every $100 you expect to win. Basically, the moneyline is the “odds” in odds making.

Any Sopranos fan is familiar with the term “vig,” as in: “Yo, Vito, whaddaya want? That barely covers my vig!” This is the vigorish, or the percentage a bookmaker figures into the moneyline in order to make money on losing bets. Typically, the vigorish is a 20-cent “dime line,” which bumps the moneyline up or down by 20 accordingly. — Rick Levin