Up Close and Personal: Greatest Civil War Games

By George Edmonston Jr.

In the beginning, the Civil War game was known by other names.

It was variously known as the "Oregon Classic" or the "State Championship Game." According to OSU Sports Information, the first reference to the name "Civil War" appears to have been in a few newspaper articles preceding the 1929 game. For several years, the term continued to be used only sparingly in newspaper stories. By 1937, the term had come into fairly common use. A 1933 column by The Oregonian's L.H. Gregory said that former Oregon coach Capt. John J. McEwan (1926-29) had often called the annual Beaver-Duck clash "the great Civil War." The 1938 Beaver yearbook, reporting on the '37 season, is the first OSU student publication to actually label the yearly dogfight between Oregon's two Division I schools the "Civil War."

Until the late 1930s, the UO served as Oregon State's annual homecoming opponent.

So anticipated is the Civil War game today ... some would say it's the game of any season ... it's hard to imagine that the very first one, played in Corvallis on Nov. 3, 1894, hardly caused a ripple.

The big news that fall was the arrival of an elixir called Shilo's Vitalizer, a medical panacea guaranteed to cure everything from the common cold to dyspepsia and every liver and kidney aliment known to man. Cost was one cent per dose. There was also much discussion on the streets about a stray horse Charles Heckart had picked up near his Corvallis home, an animal described as a "roan weighing 1,000 pounds, with saddle marks and broken to harness." Seventeen players calling themselves "The Hayseeds" suited up for Oregon Agricultural College that cold November day to play the boys from State University in Eugene. They were without shoulder pads, helmets, numbers sewn on jerseys, scholarships, football shoes, cheerleaders or support from the Benton County population at large.

For money, they had $135 to pay for everything but the cost of staging a game. The coach's salary was to be paid from this fund. The problem was, the team had no coach. OAC faculty member and school alumnus John Fulton had started the campaign in the position but, by the first game, had resigned and was now, at kickoff, set to serve as a referee. Seven of the 17 who had started football at OAC the year before were back for a go at the new season. Five were starters from the '93 team. As the game with State University progressed, they looked as if they had never seen a football. The boys from Eugene were not much better.

Both teams knew a combined total of five plays, and they ran them over and over and over again the entire game. By halftime, the crowd was bored silly. OAC found enough success around Eugene's right end to rack up a 16-0 victory.

Afterward, the players retired to Alpha Hall, OAC's women's dormitory, for a sit-down meal prepared by the president's wife and the school's head of Household Economy, Margaret Snell, who used the occasion to show off the culinary talents of her students. To both those who watched it and those who played it, that opening-season win in 1894, over what would one day become the University of Oregon Ducks, was just another football game, at a time and era when the sport was just another extracurricular activity at a school where the debate team enjoyed the most prestige in the community.

There was no way they could have known they were the opening spark in what has become one of college football's most storied rivalries and the oldest in the West.

Here's a look at what I consider to be the Top 10 OSU Civil War victories of all time.

10. OSU 16, UO 0 (1894)

9. OSU 21, UO 10 (1988): When Dave Kragthorpe's 3-6-1 Beavers met Rich Brooks' 6-5 Ducks on Nov. 19 before 40,597 fans at Parker Stadium, OSU had not beaten the UO in 13 seasons, a string of defeats with one tie going back to 1974. The series had become dull for most fans in the 1980s and it was this game that, for them, helped put the "war" back in Civil War.

8. OSU 20, UO 17 (1962): In a televised game before 28,447 Parker Stadium fans on Nov. 24, Tommy Prothro's historic 1962 squad entered the game sporting an 8-2 record and needing but one win to become one of the great teams in OSU history and qualify for a bowl. Both goals were achieved but had to be earned the hard way ... with sweat and muscle. OSU trailed 17-6 at halftime then pulled to within four late in the third quarter, 17-13. As the game wound to a close, Oregon State punter Rich Brooks booted a nice spiral that accidentally hit Duck Mel Renfro's leg and bounced into the arms of a Beaver. Renfro could only watch now as an old Jefferson High School teammate, Terry Baker, engineered OSU to pay dirt for the winning score. Baker found Danny Espalin in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass, giving the Beavs 20-17 victory and a trip to the Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia. Many feel Baker's performance in this game played a key role in his winning the Heisman.

7. OSU 30, UO 29 (1971): Before the Beavers' double overtime win over the Ducks in 1998, many long-time OSU fans considered this game to be the greatest "nail biter" in Civil War history. OSU had won seven in a row under Dee Andros, and the Ducks played this one as if they were ready for a change in their luck. Oregon entered the contest at 5-5, OSU at 4-6, so, with no post-season or conference honors on the line, the only thing at stake was pride. For this Nov. 20 game in Eugene, before 43,000 screaming fans, both teams showed plenty. The Beavers came from behind three times in the game to catch the Ducks and had to play stellar defense to keep things close. In the third quarter, Oregon coach Jerry Frei decided against going for a field goal and instead, went for a TD from fourth and goal inside the one. Duck tailback Jim Anderson met a stone wall in his attempt to plunge over left tackle, and some Duck fans still argue about Frei's call to this day. This was a real turning point in the second half, but a winner didn't emerge before the lead had changed hands four times in the fourth quarter. On the game-winning drive, OSU was third down from the UO six. Taking the snap, quarterback Steve Endicott pitched the ball to Bill Carlquist who raced into the end zone for the go-ahead points. In the last hundred minutes of the game, OSU's defense stiffened and didn't allow Oregon past midfield.

6. OAC 6, UO 0 (1923): When this Civil War was played at Hayward Field before 12,000 fans on Nov. 25, it had been 15 years since Oregon State had beaten the Lemon-Yellow in Eugene. In fact, in the 29 years the rivalry had been contested, Oregon Agricultural College had only beaten Oregon on the road on two other occasions, making this an era when most Beaver fans took it as a given that a trip "south to Lane County" was as good as a loss. In 1923, OAC coach R.B. Rutherford and team captain Percy Locey felt otherwise. So did quarterback Roy Price. In the second quarter, Price took a Webfoot punt on his own 23-yard line and didn't stop until he had reached the Oregon end zone for the game's only score. Price missed the extra point but it didn't matter. Besides the excellent play of Locey, OSU's punter, Luke Gill, brother of legendary Beaver basketball coach Slats Gill, turned in a great day with his booming kicks.

5. OSU 7, UO 6 (1964): This game, played in Corvallis on Nov. 21, was against a 17th-ranked, 7-1-1 Duck team needing a victory to have one of its best teams ever. Each school had one conference loss, and the Beavers were a single victory away from an invitation to the Rose Bowl.

The Ducks led 6-0 for an elapsed time of 59 minutes and six seconds, but games are only won when time has completely expired. Thank goodness for that because with 54 seconds remaining, OSU's Booker Washington scored from one-yard out to give the Beavers a tie. Steve Clark's all-important extra point was good enough for a trip to Pasadena.

4. OSC 12, UO 7 (1941): For the generations of Beaver fans, this was the greatest Civil War game played up to and including the 1960s. The reason is that OSU's win sent the school to its first-ever Rose Bowl, this one played in Durham, N.C., against the Duke Blue Devils, who were led by future OSU Head Football Coach Tommy Prothro. Like so many Civil War games before or since, Oregon State College had to come from behind, the winning tally resulting from a 29-yard run to pay dirt by fullback Joe Day. Oregon's Curt Mecham's 53-yard run for six was the highlight of the low-scoring affair, but it was not enough to give his Webfooters the victory.

3. OSU 10, UO 7 (1957): If the Civil War is really all about playing for pride, plus the honor that comes with being the best college football team in the state, few Civil War games match this one, played in Eugene on Nov. 23, before a crowd of 23,150. At kickoff, the situation for the Beavers was unprecedented in both school and Pacific Coast Conference history. OSU was second in the conference with a 5-2 record, the Ducks on top at 6-1. A Beaver win would put both schools at 6-2 in the PCC. But the conference had a no-repeat rule, which meant that because the Beavers had gone to the Rose Bowl in 1956, they could not go again if they finished the season in a tie for the conference championship. For OSU, the message was simple: win the Civil War game and go home ...lose the game and go home. OSU put all this aside and played the Ducks to win, if for no other reason than to prove who was best. OSU prevailed and packed it in. The Ducks lost and packed their bags for California.

2. OSU 23, UO 13 (2000): With Oregon entering this Nov. 18 contest in Corvallis ranked No. 5, and OSU No. 8, no Civil War had ever featured the two schools at kickoff so high in the polls. Nationally, fans had been waiting for this game for weeks. In Oregon, fans of the two schools had been waiting for generations. With a victory, OSU would have a 10-win season for its first time in school history. Oregon was undefeated in conference play, and OSU had lost only to Washington earlier in the season, 33-30. Bowl bids were on the line, a Pac-10 championship was on the line, and a chance was there for each school to have its highest ranking of all time. With a nationwide TV audience looking on, OSU's Jonathan Smith threw for two first-quarter touchdowns, and the Beavers never looked back. One game remained to play, a game made possible by this historic Civil War win ... the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl! In losing, the Ducks were knocked out of the Rose Bowl and had to settle for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

1. OSU 44, UO 41 (1998): Few Beaver or Duck fans today will disagree that,
for sheer sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting excitement, this is the greatest game ever played by the two schools. The Ducks were ranked No.15, with a 5-2 conference record, 8-2 overall. The Beavers had played well during the season but still entered the game 1-6 and 4-6. But this was the Civil War. Throw the records out and play ball. Which is what they did, with an intensity few had ever seen in the annual rivalry. At the end of regulation time, the game was tied, and at the end of the first overtime, a Duck pass fell incomplete on fourth down with the Beavers ahead by a touchdown. Game over, right? The Parker Stadium crowd of 37,777 thought so and stormed the field, not noticing a yellow flag the officials had thrown during the last play, a pass interference call against OSU. After the nearly 15 minutes it took to clear the crowd from the field, the game resumed and the Ducks scored to deadlock things once again. During the second overtime period, Oregon put up three points on the first possession and this set the stage for Beaver freshman running back Ken Simonton to score on a sweep to give his team the big upset and a new level of respectability around the Pac-10. Fans also remember the game for what it did to help in the amazing turnaround Beaver football enjoyed in the late 1990s. This was the game that returned pride to thousands of Beaver Believers who had all but turned in their school colors, and brought thousands of new Believers into the football family. After the nearly 15 minutes it took to clear the crowd from the field, the game resumed and the Ducks scored to deadlock things once again. During the second overtime period, Oregon failed to put up points on its first possession and this set the stage for Beaver freshman running back Ken Simonton to score on a sweep to give his team the big upset and a new level of respectability around the Pac-10. Fans also remember the game for what it did to help in the amazing turnaround Beaver football enjoyed in the late 1990s. This was the game that returned pride to thousands of Beaver Believers who had all but turned in their school colors, and brought thousands of new Believers into the football family.

Other games we should remember as "honorable mention" include: the 1965 game, won by OSU 19-14. The 1967 game, in which OSU followed its 3-0 stunning upset of USC in the immortal "Giant Killer" game with a sweet 14-10 victory; and the most unforgettably forgettable Civil War game ever contested ... the 1983 "Toilet Bowl," which ended in a 0-0 tie.