Buff Stadium was burned down Monday, but it wont go away that easily.
That old stadium had seen heart-pounding victories and heartbreaking losses, had birthed hopes and fears, inspired sweat and tears, and cradled bloody, bruised bodies. It was a place where dreams were both realized and shattered, and served as a place-keeper for a treasure-trove of memories.
We all have our favorite smells: hay, the ocean, maybe some perfume. Mine is the aroma of freshly cut grass and popcorn cooking mixed with (and heres the weird part) distant cigarette smoke. Man, it just smells like sports. That smell vanishing with the criminalization of cigarettes in public venues meant being a kid, meant Friday night at Buff stadium.
I was too young to see the first really good Madras team in my lifetime. I was 4 when the 67 team hosted a district playoff game at the stadium. They lost to Vale 13-0. Allen Kollen was the Buffs do-everything leader. That team finished 6-2-1.
My first memories of the stadium and watching the Buffs was in the early 70s. Coach Mert Barths teams were very Big 10 lots of up the middle, though theyd sometimes go crazy and run a sweep around the end.
The teams werent great; a .500 season was pretty successful. But there were some good players: Joe Thornton, Derl Stovall, Craig Fleshman (the first MHS running back to reach 1,000 yards rushing, back in 76) among them.
The football games were only part of the magic of that stadium. I remember being a grade-school kid, hanging over the north end of the stands, watching epic cross-country races great battles in the 70s between outstanding Crook County teams and Bob Nelsons Madras High runners.
Some of my best memories are playing on that field not in pads and Buffalo blue, but in jeans and a T-shirt. As young kids, on Saturdays mornings after those Friday nights, my buddies and I would make our way down the stadium, climb that tall red fence, and get on that grass. Maybe there would still be yardline chalk that we could stamp on, go face-first into while tackling. Wed throw and catch, pretending those stands were full, sure wed be the next Staubach and Pearson.
Before wed leave, wed run around the stadium, to check the concession stand maybe theyd left the plywood cover off and wed have a goldmine of red rope licorice. Never.
As junior high kids, we got to play one game a season on that field, under the lights. But we played intramural in junior high back then. Freshman year was our first to play against other teams. We had a good frosh team, lost only to one squad, Crook County, but they beat us twice.
To this day, the most people Id ever seen in that stadium was in September of 1980, when I was a senior, season opener against Crook County. Our rivals, the Cowboys, were a beastly good team, and in todays parlance, they traveled well. From end line to end line on that visitors east side, there were cowboy hats and mill caps lined up three deep. The home side was packed too, more people than Id ever seen at the field even more than later playoff games.
Our team was also good. We didnt really know it at the time, but we thought we could be: lots of varsity-experienced seniors, and some real good underclassmen. Our coach, Rod Chester, had us ready. But the Cowboys ace running back, Jim Bachman, ran two kickoffs back for touchdowns in the first quarter. Crook County eventually won 26-9, though we outgained them and had more first downs.
The Cowboys would lose only one game that year heading into AAA state playoffs, and then wouldnt lose until a controversial call in the semis. They were one of the best high school teams in the state that year, at any level, and we werent that far from them.
We went on to win three straight after letting the Cowboys escape, but then lost heartbreakers to Mac-Hi on the road and Burns at home. We changed gears and dominated our final three to finish 6-3, best record at MHS since that 67 team, but only good enough to tie Mac-Hi for second. Having beat us, they went to state.
That team had two seniors who were among the best football players in the schools history: tailback Steve Rogers (who broke Fleshmans rushing record as a junior, then his own as a senior, and would get a scholarship to Portland State), and Tony Torres, an excellent offensive lineman and a murderous middle linebacker. When this new stadium is torn down in 75 years, my guess is that Rogers and Torres will still be among the best to ever play here.
But the underclassmen on the 1980 team excellent players like Brock Brooks, Michael Lofting, Brad Blackman helped break the playoff barrier for MHS the next year. A new era in MHS football was born. Winning prompted more winning and more outstanding players: Troy and Jason Smith, Pat Randle, Mike McClelland, Phil Fine, Spud Smith, Ken Hausinger ...
The 1986 team started slowly but came on strong, won the Greater Oregon League hosted, and won, a state playoff game on the Madras field. That team included Chris Lytle, Todd Beamer, Tony Stacona, Todd McGuire ... plenty of other key pieces. Surely that 26-20 victory against Gladstone, on that chilly, football-perfect high desert Saturday afternoon, was the stadiums apex.
There has been a ton of real good high school players since that 86 team Ryan Boyle, Tommy Norton, Brian Miller, Keller Christiansen (maybe the only MHS prep better than Rogers), Gavin Romanick, Aaron Marshall, to this years standout, Devin Cecilianni tons of others.
Last fall, I watched the last football game at the stadium. Fittingly, it was against Crook County, with a shot at the state playoffs on the line. Madras dominated, won 33-21. All in all, a fine final game for the ol stadium the Buffs earning their way to state, beating the Cowboys.
This past Monday, when I drove in to work, I saw the black smoke rising. I had no desire to go down and watch. Unless that smoke smelled like a couple of dads puffing Marlboros, and someone else was making a mountain of popcorn, and yet another had mowed the field the night before, I didnt want to be there.
Mondays burndown not withstanding, that field and that stadium will long live in the hearts, minds and dreams of thousands who ran its track and played on its grass. May the new stadium be even more blessed with Buffalo victories.