by UO student Sulley Schuster
Standing at the edge of the University of Oregon football field in the fall of 1987, Ty Burrell unknowingly made a decision that would set him on the path to his future career—he walked away instead of walking on.
A former lineman for the Hidden Valley High School Mustangs in Grants Pass, Burrell elected not to continue playing in college, and elected to study theater instead. Now an award winning actor best known for his role on ABC’s Modern Family, Ty Burrell is a loyal Duck fan—and has been since birth. Growing up in southern Oregon, Burrell made the trip to Eugene with his family to cheer on the Ducks starting from a young age.
“Mom had season tickets at one point, which was kind of a bad thing because she ended up losing her voice from yelling so much,” he said.
Following in the footsteps of his father and siblings, Burrell first enrolled at the University of Oregon in 1987. He and his friends roamed the streets of Eugene late at night in a synchronized scooter drill team, went ice sledding down the slopes of the golf course, and, of course, stood screaming in the student section of Autzen Stadium.
“It was incredibly fun—maybe not as full as it is today—before we were any good," he said. "The diehard fans were there no matter what. It’s always an amazing place to watch a game.”
However, Burrell was unsure where he was going in life and ended up dropping out of school in 1988.
In 1989, his father passed away—which was nothing short of a wake-up call. Burrell re-enrolled at the University of Oregon that fall to pursue a degree in theater, something his father had been encouraging him to do prior to his passing.
His first (and favorite) role was in a production of Lysistra.
“I think it fell under the “ignorance is bliss” department," Burrell said. "I didn’t even know to be scared. I was out there wearing way too much makeup—I didn’t know anything about stage makeup. I had enough makeup on to be seen in Autzen Stadium.”
Going back to school was the right decision for a young Burrell, who felt as if his universe had finally aligned.
“I can remember the rush of going out on stage and feeling like I had a purpose," he said. "It’s literally where I discovered I wanted to be an actor, and I’ll always be grateful to the University of Oregon for that.”
Despite his positive experience within the theater department, Burrell followed the somewhat comedic family trend and, like his father, sister, and two brothers, didn’t actually graduate from the UO. Instead, he transferred to Southern Oregon University, where he graduated in 1993. He then attended Pennsylvania State University, where he graduated with a master's degree in fine arts before beginning his acting career. Since then, he has appeared in a number of movies, television series, and plays including Skeleton Twins, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Butter, Muppets Most Wanted, Morning Glory, The Incredible Hulk, and a Broadway production of Macbeth. Burrell will next lend his voice to the Disney/Pixar Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory, as a whale named Bailey. The film is slated to be released on June 17, 2016.
Most recently, Burrell has excelled in the role of the awkward dad Phil Dunphy on Modern Family, receiving an Emmy for ‘Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series’ in 2011 and 2014 and a Screen Actors Guild Award for ‘Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series’ in 2014, with additional nominations for both awards.
While on set filming a scene that consisted of Burrell shirtless in the bathtub with several feathered ducks recently, he and Modern Family producer Chris Lloyd couldn’t resist the opportunity to come up with a little something in support of the Ducks.
“No pun-intended—we just winged it," Burrell said. "We made it up in a few minutes. I’m always looking for a chance to support the Ducks.”
In addition to endorsing the Ducks from the tub, Burrell also recently appeared in the new Shout video alongside Marcus Mariota, BS '14, Neil Everett, BS '84, and Otis Day and the Knights.
“I was so thrilled to be a part of that," he said. "Animal House has always been such a proud part of being a Duck. It was really fun to do, I love all these guys. Watching everyone’s dance moves was great—Neil Everett was killin’ it.”
All jokes aside, Burrell truly is a diehard Duck fan. Of the Ducks this season, Burrell has nothing but high praise.
“I love this team so much this year," said Burrell. "It’s maybe some of the best coaching yet. It feels like perfection means the best, but what they did this season (overcoming an injured quarterback, playing with a second-string freshman) is a huge accomplishment. You get spoiled as an Oregon fan, we’re all guilty of that. But being an Oregon fan has never been about perfection, but about the effort—and the effort has always been there. That’s where you fall in love with an Oregon team.”
Over the last few years, Burrell has been back to Eugene for the occasional Civil War game and this past summer to see the new football facilities.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Burrell says of the new digs.
Burrell has also been in the stands cheering on the Ducks at several bowl games in past years, courtesy of the UOAA. This year, Burrell looks forward to cheering on the Ducks as they take on TCU in the Alamo Bowl.
Regardless of his fragmented journey here at the UO, Ty Burrell is, without a doubt, a Duck at heart.