2008 Civil War Oregon at Oregon State, Part I: Culture & Heritage

Larry SigurdsonCorrespondent INovember 17, 2008

The Civil War is upon us.

No, the United States isn't about to repeat the terrible carnage of 1861-1865. This is the University of Oregon-Oregon State University Civil War that separates Ducks from Beavers, Journalists from engineers, chemists from oceanographers, attorneys from accountants, and geologists from foresters. Thanksgiving is the great prelude to this annual ritual where green & yellow meets black & orange.

On Thursday, Nov. 27th, extended families from across Oregon will sit down to a bountiful Thanksgiving dinner and discuss the prospects of which Oregon team is the better.

Will it be Ducks or Beavers in the Rose Bowl? The typical Oregon family is comprised of one-half Oregon alums and the other half Oregon State grads. It is a fierce loyalty that only siblings can fully appreciate.

A few Oregon families have sons and daughters that claim those other universities: Eastern Oregon, Western Oregon, Southern Oregon and Portland State, but to participate in the intellectually challenging finer details of the Civil War, they must adopt Oregon or Oregon State as their honorary football Alma Mater. There is no such thing as neutral ground in the Civil War. 

(My older brother is an Oregon State graduate and a CPA. It only took me two years to forgive him for the error of his ways in choosing the black and orange over the green and yellow. Unfortunately, we're still waiting for him to recognize that he made a foolish choice).

Saturday, November 29th will mark the 112th meeting of the Ducks and Beavers. This makes the Oregon-Oregon State annual battle the seventh longest running continuous football rivalry in the nation. Oregon leads the series, 55-46-10. It is the 112th meeting, but then, like almost everything in sports history, it isn't as simple as it would first appear. 

In the beginning, Oregon State University was a private college run by a Corvallis and taken over by the State of Oregon in 1868. Four years later the University of Oregon was authorized by the legislature, but without funding. The people of Eugene and Lane County held many fundraisers to build the initial UO campus and it opened in October 1876.

By 1893, Oregon State was known as the State Agriculture College, and that year William H. Bloss, the son of SAC's school president put together the first team. Bloss was both quarterback and coach.

The first team took shape in October and numbered 17 young men from around Corvallis. Four weren't even SAC students, while one was a high school junior and another was a faculty member.

The following year, just 45 miles to the south, Cal Young and J.A. Church shared head coaching duties as Oregon played it's first season of football. The schedule had four opponents, Albany College, State Agriculture College, Portland and Pacific. Oregon defeated Albany 44-2, lost to SAC 0-16, Portland 0-12, and tied with Pacific 0-0.

In the early days, neither the University of Oregon nor State Agriculture College had the familiar nicknames or mascots that are recognized around the world today as Pacific Northwest icons. Oregon was originally known as the webfoots, a name that originated among Massachusetts coastal fisherman, whose descendants settled in Oregon's Willamette Valley.

The first documented use of a Beaver as an Oregon State mascot is found in a 1942 yearbook photo. While the photo of the students posing next to the statue is the first recorded example of Benny the Beaver, early alumni dating from 1900 claim the school used the Beaver as early as 1910. Because of the lack of documents, we may never know for sure.

Early Oregon State records show that from 1892-1893 the first mascot was "Jimmie" the Coyote, followed by the "Bulldog" from 1906 to 1910. 

From 1893 through 1896 Oregon State was known as the State Agriculture College. In 1897, by an act of the Oregon Legislature it was named the Oregon Agriculture College. In 1927, the legislature changed the name of the Corvallis school to Oregon State Agriculture College. Ten years later, the name was shortened to Oregon State College.

Finally in 1961, the legislature granted the name Oregon State University and in doing so, created Oregon's second public University almost 100 years after it began its first consideration for a publicly funded university in the former Oregon Territory.

While Oregon and State Agriculture College first met on the field of play in 1894, Oregon Agriculture College failed to raise a football team in the years 1900 and 1901. In 1896 however, they played each other twice and it is through this combination of events that we arrive at the 112th meeting in 2008, rather than the 114th as simple arithmetic might suggest.

Sports reporters had a difficult time with the term "webfoots," and gradually changed it to "Ducks." By the 1930's, a small white duck named "Puddles" was appearing regularly at University of Oregon sports events. As early as 1940, Puddles was appearing in student publications as a cartoon character with strong resemblance to Walt Disney's Donald Duck. By 1947, Walt Disney was aware of the issue. 

Oregon Athletic Director Leo Harris was friends with a Disney cartoonist, and through his friend arranged to meet Walt Disney. In the course of the meeting they reached an informal handshake agreement granting the University of Oregon permission to use Donald as its sports mascot.

In the 1970s, Disney lawyers questioned the existence of an agreement between the University and Disney. The university produced a photo showing Harris and Disney wearing matching jackets with an Oregon Donald logo. In 1973, a formal agreement granting Oregon the right to use Donald's likeness for Oregon Sports was signed by the two parties.

The tradition of the Oregon-Oregon State game being the last game of the regular season between the two colleges developed over time. It wasn't until the fourth year, 1897, that it was the last regular season game played by the two schools. 

From 1895 through 1938, scheduling of the Oregon-Oregon State game was generally slated for sometime in November, but there were several instances of it happening as early as October and as late as the first Saturday in December.

It was common during these early years for the two Oregon colleges to play one or both of the Washington schools as well as a California college after playing each other. Oregon State often scheduled Hawaii during this period as their last regular season game.

In 1915, the Pacific Coast Conference was formed and membership included Oregon and Oregon State. Membership in the conference included various Pacific Coast colleges including Idaho for a number of years.  It was with the conference affiliation that caused scheduling between Oregon and the eventual Oregon State to settle into a routine November slot.

While the PCC eventually disappeared, and was replaced first by the Athletic Association of Western Universities and finally by what we know as the PAC-10 in 1978, the tradition of the Oregon-Oregon State Civil War happening around Thanksgiving is a direct result of the conference.

The first use of the term, "Civil War," in referring to the annual Oregon schools football rivalry was in 1929 and was commonly used from 1937 on. Prior to 1929, the game was called the Oregon Classic or the State Championship Game.

The 1983 Civil War, played in pouring down rain at Autzen Stadium between two mediocre teams resulted in the 0-0 tie. To this day, players from those teams, Ducks and Beavers, freely admit that they were, "terrible." Recognizing the truth of just how bad everything was on that gray day in November, the fans quickly dubbed the game the "Toilet Bowl." Oregon finished the season tied for sixth at 4-6-1, while OSU ended up tied for ninth in the PAC-10 at 2-8-1.

An interesting historical foot note is that the Toilet Bowl may be the last 0-0 tie in the NCAA Division I history, because of the new Overtime Rules prevent a tie outcome.


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