Perfect From Now On
Don’t fret about the fate of your Ducks
by Rick Levin
Built to Spill ended its pre-encore set at WOW Hall last week with an absolutely glorious version of “Carry the Zero,” one of the great rock songs of the past 30 years. “Count your blemishes, you can’t, they’re all gone,” singer/songwriter Doug Martsch wailed in his adenoidally arch voice, “I can’t see your response putting them back on, like they’re waiting for your guard to fall, so they can see it all.” I’ve seen Built to Spill play dozens of times over the years, and that Nov. 12 gig ranks among their finest — kick-ass set list, immaculate sound, the band tight and Martsch all smiles, working a happy synergy with a packed house that hung on every squelchy, squealing note. And “Carry the Zero,” from the Boise-based band’s album Keep It Like a Secret, was the high point of a night that left my ears ringing and my calves sore from hopping and popping up and down like an adrenalized teen.
So why exactly, in a sports column, am I talking about Built to Spill — beyond an out-of-place desire to replay once more the sheer jubilation of witnessing a veteran band firing on all cylinders? Well, I’ll tell you: The timing, texture and reference points provided by my memories of that show are just too rich to ignore. Because, not 15 hours after walking, exhausted and elated, out of WOW Hall, I was hunched over a converted pool table in a neighborhood bar watching the UO Ducks — the current darlings of our nattering national sports media — get their tail feathers severely scorched by smoky the Bears. Boy oh boy, Telegraph Avenue almost burned that night. Screw that stuff about “controlling your own destiny” — only good fortune can prevent some football fires. Berkeley’s pneumatic defensive line pounded the Ducks’ ground game into submission with an athleticism and spunk that belied their collective spare-tire stature and, despite being massively overmatched, Cal simply had more giddy-up in their gallop than the buckshot boys in Kelly’s green and white. The Golden Bears narrowly missed roasting the Ducks by a series of weird, goony mishaps that, contemplated in retrospect, get creepier and creepier.
That’s one way of looking at it.
My ears still ringing from the amplified assault of the night before, it took a while for me to realize how quickly the huddle patrons of that bar, turning green in the gills, were silenced. It was like a wake in there — but a wake held over a body whose heart was still beating, if a tad erratically. Even after the game was decided, the atmosphere inside was funereal. Duck fans, you are a loyal and loud and proud but wildly fatalistic species, and almost Shakespearean in your tragic disposition. So I’ll say it: Your half-full flask of optimism is built to spill at the slightest tremor. After a series of shellackings slapped on UO opponents this season, and the undue expectations it’s built, the Ducks’ 15-13 win over California is a sore spot you’re scratching into a scab that will scar if you’re not careful.
Yeah, that was a scary game, no fun to watch. But a pyrrhic victory is still a victory. Remember, every swinging dick in town guns for the best, from sharp-shooters to loose cannons, and “Wild Bill” Hickok — holding aces and eights with his back to the saloon door — was killed by a nobody named “Broken Nose Jack” McCall. Heavy is the head that wears the helmet of No. 1, and nobody said this was going to be a cakewalk. Do you even want it to be easy? If you do, you’re watching sports for all the wrong reasons. Try the Lifetime Network instead. Or rent Rocky. Classic movie. It’ll make you feel good. Because it’s scripted that way.
So buck up, Duck fans, and don’t forget to carry the zero: The team remains undefeated. And you can carry that zero, blemishes and all, for just about two weeks, because there isn’t another test of the Ducks’ mettle until they face Arizona the day after Thanksgiving. This break couldn’t come at a better time. In fact, it’s perfect: heal, regroup, get the guard back up. Because, if the chips fall just so, we might get a rematch with those bluegrass bozos from Idaho — a team that will pull no punches, below the belt or otherwise, to earn a national title and thereby hush the nay-sayers. Believe me, the best thing to come out of Boise is a bunch of guys who have learned to play together so well they are nearly flawless, a machine with one mind. But their name ain’t the Broncos.