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Landmark day.

Byline: MARK BAKER The Register-Guard

THE DAY has arrived.

Are you ready? Autzen is - almost.

Thirty-five years ago, Autzen Stadium opened its doors for the first time. Today, more people will watch a Duck home game in person than ever before - about 54,000 - as the University of Oregon officially unveils its $90 million renovation to the stadium's south side.

The expansion has added about 12,000 seats, and workers will still be cleaning up and making final adjustments before today's nationally televised 3 p.m. kickoff against Mississippi State.

Friday afternoon, workers could be found pressure-washing sidewalks and staircases, fixing wiring on outside light fixtures, installing some more metal bleachers and checking the upgraded sound system.

"OK, let's give this a go," said a man working the sound system controls in the new pressbox level, which sits higher than the old stadium's roof. Suddenly, the booming sound of rock music was shaking the stadium's bowl. Then came a tape of the familiar voice of Duck announcer Jerry Allen, echoing throughout the place.

"It's an interception! Kenny Wheaton's gonna score ... Kenny Wheaton's gonna score ... Kenny Wheaton's gonna score. ... '

It might be a new stadium, but some things never change in Duckville.

Still, fans attending today's game will find plenty of unfamiliar things on the expanded south side: Elevators, escalators, a new concourse and tunnels leading to the restructured south side seating. And plenty of new architecture to admire.

"We're really proud with the effort," said Bob Hart, construction manager for Hunt-Wildish Joint Venture, general contractor on the project. "The local subcontractors have done an outstanding job."

Workers have been rewarded with about 1,000 tickets to today's game, and they, their families and friends are expected to fill up Section 9.

At the project's peak, about 350 workers were on site. Friday, there were still 100 to 150 workers at the stadium, Hart said. They were testing and inspecting the escalator that will carry fans to the club-level section of the stadium; installing more guardrails; still laying carpet in the Club at Autzen; installing concession stands and doing final trimming work.

Athletic department officials say they've taken care of their biggest snafu to date with the project: relocating fans in some expensive club-level seats that had obstructed views of the playing field.

"We were surprised by some of the obstructed seats," said Mike Marlow, assistant athletic director for development. "But we've contacted every person."

Thirteen ticket holders who had bought a total of about 40 seats in the club seating and other preferred seating areas have been moved to seats with unobstructed views, Marlow said.

"They were moved to seats we had held in anticipation of game-day problems," he said. "So we consider it solved at this point."

The ticket holders are still in club or preferred seating, and their original seats with the obstructed views have all been sold at regular prices to fans on a waiting list for club seating, Marlow said.

People in some bottom-aisle seats must look through 42-inch guardrails with meshlike metal wiring required by national building codes, creating a chain-link fence effect. But some are willing to pay full price even for those seats. "In our mind, the amenities that the club will offer and what we will have in there, far outweigh the obstructed view," Marlow said.

While crews continued work inside the stadium, plenty of fans were milling about outside the stadium, packing the Duck Shop, trying to get tickets for future games and checking out the early invasion of some Mississippi State fans who were hovering about.

Mike and Gail Goldberg had just arrived in town from Greenwood, Miss.

They own a shoe store there and came to see their son, Scott, a wide receiver for the Bulldogs, play against the Ducks.

The Goldbergs glanced up at the glass and concrete of the south side's new entrance and found a bit of irony in the new palace, a good chunk of which was funded by a donation - believed to be in the $30 million to $40 million range - from Nike owner and UO alum Phil Knight.

"What's fascinating to us about this," Mike Goldberg said, "is we've been buying footwear from (Nike) for 25 years. And now look at this."

Game time: 3 p.m.

Expected crowd: At least 54,000, which will set a new school record.

The stakes: This tough nonleague test will be fans' first chance to see if the Ducks can measure up to last year's lofty ranking. Mississippi State typically has a strong defense.

When does the stadium open? The parking lot opens at 11 a.m., the Moshofsky Center, where food will be sold, opens at noon, and the stadium gates open at 1:30 p.m.

On the air: Fox Sports Net will telecast the game live, and, as always, the game will be on the radio on KUGN-AM (590).

Bus service: Buses leave 10 park-and-ride sites around the Eugene-Springfield area starting at 11 a.m.

Weather: Wear sunscreen. Temperatures will be in the mid-80s.

CAPTION(S):

Kevin Etchison (foreground) and Shawn Pack, both glazers for Eugene Mirror and Glass, clean caulk and dust from seats Friday at Autzen.
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Title Annotation:Construction crews file out, and a record 54,000 fans line up to file in; Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 31, 2002
Words:865
Previous Article:Teacher travels to soak up culture and history.
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