The morning was still young Saturday when I saw the back of Jerry Allen at his familiar post in Autzen Stadium. He was in the radio booth, overlooking the Coburg Hills, and knowing the voice of the Ducks, I figured he was giving play-by-play of the sun’s convincing victory over the low-laying clouds.
But as I approached, he was silent, soaking in the view, until he spread his arms to frame the panorama before him.
“You know, sometimes I come up here and just take it all in,” Allen said. “In a couple of weeks, the trees will start to change colors, and it’s really something.”
For the past 29 years of autumn Saturdays, Allen has stood here in this booth, the last 27 next to Mike Jorgensen, the former Ducks quarterback turned analyst. They are the longest-tenured radio tandem in the Pac-12, becoming as much of Oregon football as those Coburg Hills have become part of the Willamette Valley.
As Saturday developed, the storylines in Oregon’s 61-28 victory became Jeff Lockie’s first career start at quarterback, some continuing concerns about the Ducks’ defense, and really, the dawn of the conference schedule arriving next week against Utah.
But I was more interested in what was going on off the field, in that radio booth. What was it about these two men that has allowed them to maintain such continuity? What was it that made them work?
What I found is faith, pranks and small-town ideals can form an unbreakable and unbridled bond … and the ability to provide keepsakes like this during Saturday’s fourth quarter:
Allen: “And Alie on 3rd down and 7, gonna give it off again, no he kept it right up the middle and oh my gosh he is gone … he’s at the 40, got a man to beat, as he cuts inside … now outside at the 30 … he’s at the 15 … the 5 … TOUCHDOWN! TAYLOR ALIE!
Jorgensen: “OHHHHH. WHOOOOOO!”
Allen: “TOUCHDOWN DUCKS! And the Red Sea opened and he saw the Promised Land!”
Before Allen was inhaling the morning scenery, he had stolen the breath of Jorgensen.
Knowing the route Jorgensen takes into the stadium, Allen awaited in hiding. As Jorgensen entered the gates, Allen sprung from behind a wall, the combination of his “HAAA!” and the 7:45 a.m. timing nearly sending Jorgensen to the emergency room.
“Scared the heck out of me,” Jorgensen said later. “He’s 69 going on 18.”
You could say it was payback for the time the crew played to Allen’s biggest fear by putting a rubber snake in his briefcase at Arizona, but there have been so many back-and-forth pranks that they’ve lost count who’s paying back for what.
Their penchant for pranks comes through on broadcasts with an easy and playful banter. When Allen noted on air that the rare 11 a.m. kickoff will allow them to be home before dark, Jorgensen noted he already had plans to be on the river, fishing.
“There are some,” Allen needled, “who say you should be up a river.”
Allen is the play-by-play man — there to tell you what happened and when — adhering to advice a professor once gave him: Act like you are taking your best friend to a game and he is blind. He can hear the pads and the band, but you need to tell him what happened.
Jorgensen is the analyst, there to break down the why and how by using his background as an Oregon quarterback from 1981-84 under Rich Brooks.
But what they say might set them apart from other radio tandems is how their roles go much deeper than the X’s and O’s.
Jorgensen, 52, compares Allen to a father figure. Allen, a former disc jockey and television sports anchor in Medford, says Jorgensen is like a brother.
“It was like that from Day One,” Allen said.
On the road, they are roommates, and at home they are like family. They found they were both devout Christians, and that their faith was an easy, and important, subject. And their backgrounds as small-town Oregonians — Allen is from Grants Pass, Jorgensen from Ontario — gave birth to understated and grounded ideals, and love for the outdoors.
Individually, they were each well-intentioned, good guys, the kind who have many friends and few enemies. Together, they just fit.
“In radio, if you have good chemistry off air, you are 99 percent guaranteed to have good chemistry on air,” said Jay Allen, a host on Rip City Radio 620 AM who worked on Ducks broadcasts for four seasons. “And those two have great chemistry off the air.”
On Saturday, as they welcomed listeners to the broadcast two hours before kickoff, Allen waxed about the beauty before him, noting the chill in the air and the speckle of trees starting to turn.
“I thought I was going hunting this morning,” Jorgensen said into his headset. “It was like good Ontario hunting weather.”
The broadcast intro was both poetic and folksy, layered enough in Oregonian subtlety to remind listeners why around these parts we tend to love life outside of football as well.
“Jerry is such a soothing voice to Oregonians, just from his positivity through the tough times which made him popular with Ducks fans,” said Mike Barrett, the Blazers’ television play-by-play announcer who worked eight seasons with Allen and Jorgensen. “And Jorgy’s knowledge of the game as an analyst can just blow you away. Together, their chemistry is just fantastic.”
Their biggest struggle, they say, is to provide an accurate account of the game, without letting their Oregon bias muddle the picture.
“The hardest part for Jorgy and I both is not to go over the top and make excuses for a bad play or a team that is not very good,” Allen said.
Early in Saturday’s game, they told it straight.
“Right now Georgia State is outplaying Oregon,” Allen said. “I’m just being honest.”
Jorgensen didn’t back down: “Oregon needs to wake up and get into rhythm and play tougher defense. They are picking apart the secondary.”
Despite his efforts to tell it how it is, Allen doesn’t mind hearing criticisms that he is a homer. He deflects it by remembering the words of athletic director Bill Byrne, who hired him in 1987.
“He told me: ‘You are us,’ ” Allen said.
And so Allen became the University of Oregon, and two years later, he welcomed the former quarterback who already bled yellow and green.
Their devotion and love for the school have often led to tears in the booth, and cracked voices on the air. Notably, it happened in the 1995 Rose Bowl.
They had done the pregame show, which included several taped interviews, and when it came time to re-enter the booth for the live return to the field, there was a bit of a problem.
“It was our time to say ‘Welcome to the Rose Bowl …’ but I couldn’t talk,” Allen said. “Just the emotion. It was one of those moments when I look over and give a help-me-Jorgy … but I look over at Jorgy and he’s got tears welling up, and it’s the same thing. The emotion of, we are at the Rose Bowl. The Oregon Ducks. And we’re in the Rose Bowl … Whew.”
There were no tears Saturday, no moments when voices cracked, a nonconference game against Georgia State hardly the fodder for such emotion.
But for the 322nd time, Jerry and Jorgy brought the Ducks into your living room, your car or maybe your headphones in the stands. There were some blunders (Allen gave the wrong score in the first quarter) and there was some frustration (Jorgensen slammed his notes near the end of the first half after a botched Ducks play), but it went off without any major hitches … barely.
After the coin flip, Allen sent the broadcast into commercial and tore off his headset. He reached for his phone and continued a streak that outdates his run with Jorgensen: He called his father.
He hangs up right before he is cued to return live.
“I almost forgot to call my dad!” Allen says, exasperated.
Soon, the two would engage in a three-hour dance. Five feet apart, they both stand, each accentuating their calls with their hands, each mimicking their descriptions with hip movements or torso twists. It used to be that they would look at each other to gauge when the other was done talking, but now, all these years later, it’s second nature and their eyes stay mostly on the field.
“We know each other,” Allen said. “We just know each other.”
It’s why later in the game, Jorgensen didn’t have to answer when Allen asked a question playing off his reading of a quick advertisement for the Oregon Lottery.
“If I win the lottery,” Allen asked, “would I be here next week?”
Credit to The Oregonian who originally published this article