DEPOE BAY, Ore. – An unlikely sight greets Boiseans in this picturesque seaside community.
Deep in Oregon Ducks and Beavers country, a blue and orange banner graces an upstairs window of a restaurant overlooking a popular stretch of Oregon’s famous coast.
Two things about this struck me as being about as probable as seeing an Oregon Beavers logo in my front window. One was that, some 400 miles from Idaho, one of the last things I expected to see was a Boise State banner. The other was that it was that, of all the restaurants where it could have happened, it was this one.
Depoe Bay is the sort of place people have in mind when they think of idyllic coastal villages. It’s on one of the prettiest parts of the coast, whales frequent its bay and it has a varied and interesting mix of shops and restaurants. One of them, the Spouting Horn Restaurant, has been a revered haunt of the Woodward clan forever. We’ve been going there since our kids were small. It isn’t much to look at, just a weathered-gray building with lots of windows, a blue and white restaurant sign and a row of newspaper boxes out front. But the food brings us back again and again.
“It’s comfort food,” Phil Taunton said. “Fish and chips, pie … Some restaurants are known for being trendy. We’re known for the consistency of staying the same.”
A lifelong Oregonian, Taunton is an unabashed BSU fan. He’s also the cook at the Spouting Horn, which has stayed more or less the same since the 1930s.
“We’re starting to see our fourth generation of customers,” he said. “We have people come in with their kids and tell us their grandparents used to come here.”
Named for a saltwater blowhole in the heart of Depoe Bay, the Spouting Horn is a family restaurant in the truest sense. Taunton’s grandfather, Pearl Taunton, bought it in 1944. His parents, Betty Taunton and her late husband, Vaughn, owned it after him. Betty is locally famous for her pies. An Oregon newspaper proclaimed her “the perfecter of the peach melba, the master of the marionberry, the wizard of the walnut cream.”
Her son is no slouch in the kitchen, either. It had been several years since we’d been there, and we were worried that it might have changed hands or gone downhill. The first bite confirmed that it hadn’t. A relative drives there from the Seattle area for the prawns. The fish and chips are arguably the best I’ve ever had. And we won’t even talk about Betty’s marionberry pie.
It’s no accident that the restaurant flying the BSU colors is wall-to-wall windows on both the main floor and the upstairs banquet room, which through the years has functioned both as an inn and Depoe Bay’s Coast Guard headquarters. The building overlooks what signs and tourism brochures proclaim to be “the world’s smallest harbor.”
It’s as picturesque as harbors get. Fishing boats ply a small channel to the sea beneath the restaurant’s windows. One famously navigated it with actor Jack Nicholson at the helm during the 1975 filming of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which won him his first Academy Award and still makes lists of the best American movies ever made. Taunton was in fifth grade when it was being filmed and worked as an extra.
“I’m one of the people waiting on the dock when Jack Nicholson brings the boat back,” he said. “I got to take the day off from school, and I got paid $25. I didn’t get to meet Jack Nicholson, but I did meet Michael Douglas (the film’s producer).”
Framed photographs of Nicholson, Douglas and other actors who were in the movie decorate the restaurant.
In addition to BSU paraphernalia. On game days, Taunton’s BSU banner has a place of honor in a second-floor window above the blue and white Spouting Horn sign. A parking place sports a “Reserved for BSU Fans” sign. A Bronco pennant adorns the pie case.
“I grew up in Oregon and had no interest at all in Boise State football until that great Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma,” he said. “We had some customers who wanted to watch it. I didn’t pay much attention until the third quarter, when it really got interesting. And the ending! That Statue of Liberty play and winning the game by going for two as the clock ran out? I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Taunton, 47, was born just down the coast, in Newport, Ore., and has spent his entire life in Oregon. I asked him how fans of the local teams, the Beavers 60 miles away in Corvallis and the Ducks 100 miles away in Eugene, react to his unlikely allegiance to a team from Idaho.
“They ask if I grew up there or went to school there,” he said. “When I tell them I just like the team and the coach, they give me a hard time. We hear all kinds of names in here. I’ve been called a traitor more times than I remember. When they find out I’m a Boise State fan, the Oregon fans always complain about BSU’s schedule. That’s when I remind them that more often than not Boise State has beaten them.”
Depoe Bay has become something of a Bronco outpost in Pac-12 country. We saw almost as many BSU T-shirts, caps and sweatshirts there as we did those of the Oregon schools. And BSU fans are quick to show their appreciation for Taunton’s public – you could even say courageous – show of support.
“We had one who came in and asked my wife what was up with the pennant on the pie case,” he said. “When she told him the cook was a Boise State fan, he said he had season tickets and offered up four of them.”
Not just any tickets. Taunton, his wife, Renee, and two of their children will get the V.I.P. treatment in the Stueckle Sky Box for the San Diego State game on Nov. 3.
“Some other people from Boise offered to put us up, so we’ll be staying with them,” he said. “Actually, we’ve had several customers from Boise offer to put us up. We see a lot of BSU fans here.”
He said one of the main reasons he’s a fan is Coach Chris Peterson.
“If Oregon wins something, good for them. But when I see the Oregon kids get in trouble and they’re playing the next weekend, that’s disheartening. There are rules that need to be followed – in football and in life – and our coaches and our programs should have a higher standard. I think Coach Pete could be a model for programs across the country. If you screw up at Boise State, you’re gone.”
While this season’s rocky start has had some fans complaining in Boise, Taunton proudly continues to fly the blue and orange in hostile territory – for more reasons than football:
“It shouldn’t just be about wins and losses. Until the other schools show that they’re serious about life as well as football, I’ll be a Boise State fan.”