In 1948, 17-year-old Joe Tyler attended the Civil War with his high school teammates. He sat in the stands at Bell Field in Corvallis, Ore., and watched Oregon beat rival Oregon State, 10-0.
Tyler was so impressed with quarterback Norm Van Brocklin that he became an instant fan of the Ducks.
“His uniform was clean,” Tyler told the (Salem, Ore.) Statesman Journal. “Everybody else had mud all over their uniform. His didn’t have any at all, because they didn’t touch him.”
Now, more than 62 years later, the 79-year-old Tyler still pulls for his Ducks. He’ll be in the stands again tonight when second-ranked Oregon plays No. 1 Auburn in Glendale, Ariz., hoping his Ducks win their first national title.
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“It’s going to be a close game,” Tyler said. “Whoever doesn’t fumble or make mistakes is going to win.”
Tyler, a retired dentist who lives in Salem, traveled out of Seattle to the game with his daughter, Liz Norton, an Olympia-based nurse.
“My dad is the ultimate Ducks fan,” Norton said. “We’re all so excited for my dad. He’s going to be the biggest, oldest fan there.”
A season-ticket holder since 1984, Tyler missed just one game this season – to attend his aunt’s funeral. It’s the only Oregon home game he’s missed in a quarter century. But Tyler caught part of the Ducks’ comeback win against Stanford on TV.
“I gave my tickets for that game to my son,” Tyler said.
Tyler suffers from Parkinson’s disease, but there was no was he was going to miss tonight’s game.
“If he dies on the field, he’ll be in heaven,” kidded Norton, one of five children and the oldest daughter. “I was chosen to go with him because I’m a nurse. He’ll be fine. He wasn’t going to miss this game.”
Tyler is a fifth-generation Oregonian. His great-great grandparents came by wagon over the Oregon Trail.
“Not much excites my dad these days,” Norton said. “But he chuckles and gets a twinkle in his eye when he speaks about getting to make this trip from Seattle to Arizona.”
His favorite Ducks moment? Kenny Wheaton picking off Damon Huard’s pass and returning it 97 yards for a touchdown to beat Washington in 1994, helping Oregon claim its first trip to the Rose Bowl in 37 years.
Tyler doesn’t usually attend bowl games, though he did attend Oregon’s past two Rose Bowls, losses against Penn State in 1995 and against Ohio State in 2010.
There are split loyalties in Tyler’s family. Norton is an Oregon State grad. Her son graduated from Washington.
“Things are a little conflicted,” Norton said. “But we are all Oregon fans this week.”
Gail Wood: 360-754-5443 firstname.lastname@example.org