Legendary Oregon public address announcer Don Essig is still going strong after 47 years behind the mic
Similar to how former Oregon coach Chip Kelly is connected to the Ducks' iconic spread offense, Don Essig is associated around Eugene as the voice of Autzen Stadium.
Never was that more apparent for Megan Robertson when she approached SportsCenter anchor and popular Oregon alum Neil Everett when he was in town on Sept. 26 for the Ducks' game against Utah. Robertson, the director of promotions and game day experience, asked Everett if he'd be willing to announce the teams' starting lineups.
"Only if it's okay with Don," Everett replied.
For Robertson, who has worked with Essig for 11 years now, she then realized how much she takes the longtime public address announcer for granted.
"I don't realize how much fans adore him," Robertson said. "Neil put Don on a pedestal when a lot of people put Neil on a pedestal."
Everett's response was likely due to fear of altering standard procedure. Essig's voice blaring from the speakers of Autzen Stadium has been all he and Oregon fans have ever known for the past 47 years. Essig has only missed two games and one quarter since 1967—the quarter came when he left after the third quarter of a game to get to his daughter-in-law's sister's wedding—and when he has been absent, the lack of his signature voice is easily noticed.
For example, when Essig did not announce the Oregon-Cal game on Nov. 7 this year due to being ill, he received eight phone calls from friends wondering what was going on and several fans in attendance sent out tweets that read, "Where is Don Essig?"
Essig laughs at the utter confusion that ensued when his low and recognizable voice was missing during that game, especially since he walks past plenty of fans on game days only viewed as a regular attendant.
"Everyone knows the voice," Essig said while drinking coffee on a Wednesday morning at the Starbucks located right at the corner of campus. "But I can get off the elevator after the game and all these people, hardly any of them know me."
But Essig likes it that way. The veteran of the Ducks' press box never got into announcing for an "ego trip," and hasn't done it for money for over 30 years.
"It's the greatest hobby in the world," he said. "You can have a little voice inflection and effect the feelings of 60,000 people."
An integral part of his appeal is his signature catchphrase that is now stated in unison around the stadium before kickoff: "It never rains at Autzen Stadium."
It works as perfect irony in a city that averages over 46 inches of it per year. But, Essig said the phrase developed in the 80's when the athletic department outlawed umbrellas from the stadium and an 11-year streak of games without rain followed.
So, as Essig continued to remind fans that umbrellas could not be opened in the stands, he added a reason for why they wouldn't need one anyway. But when It finally did rain at an Oregon home game, Essig planned on putting the statement to bed.
But Dave Heeke, an Oregon assistant athletic director at the time, said "B.S."
"He said you're going to keep doing it because it doesn't have anything to do with the weather, when people walk into Autzen, it is sunshine and fun," Essig recalls. "I don't care if people are getting wet, because inside people are getting a great experience."
The statement has now become as much part of Oregon football as anything else. Even when a monsoon hit Eugene during an Oregon game in 2012, it did not deter Essig from giving the forecast.
"You know sometimes we have monsoons, sometimes it sprinkles, but it never rains at Autzen Stadium," Essig said while showers dumped on the stadium.
Essig, who also works as the PA announcer at Oregon men's basketball games, plans to remain the voice of Ducks football until "it's not fun anymore."
Despite the organized chaos between announcing on-field action and reading off scripts, Essig has never grown tired of what he calls a "unique hobby"—one that he's been doing for 54 years if you include his time spent announcing high school basketball games.
Both the fans and the people he works with are hoping he stays on for as long as possible too. And the reason behind why is simple.
"I can't imagine Oregon football at Autzen without him," Robertson said.
Justin Wise is SI's campus correspondent for the University of Oregon. Follow him on Twitter.