Column: OSU's perception of Civil War
Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 03:11
The first vivid memory of my entire life took place on Nov. 21, 1998, in Parker Stadium.
Oregon State was trailing Oregon 41-38 in the second overtime when Ken Simonton ran 15 yards for the winning score into the right corner of the eastern end zone.
The pandemonium that ensued is something I will always remember, and had at least a small part in shaping my life.
The fans were on the field before Simonton had even crossed the goal line. There was yelling, hugging and an immense amount of raw emotion.
Like so many other kids at that age, I had aspirations of playing football in the NFL someday, but more importantly, for the Beavers. Having two OSU alumni as parents, I was influenced from a young age, but the joy I felt running onto that field is what sold me on Oregon State University for good.
As I crossed the sideline and headed for the Benny logo in the middle of the field, my mom grabbed me and whispered something that I will never forget: “Run down that sideline and score a touchdown. Imagine what it’s going to be like when you do it for real someday.”
That was the fastest I’ve ever run as I took off down the right sideline — my mom holding onto the back of my sweatshirt so I didn’t get lost in the swarming crowd — as I headed toward the same end zone Simonton had just entered.
I was six years old.
A lot has changed in the 14 years since. My dream of crossing that goal line for the orange and black never happened; I’m certainly never going to play professional football and I no longer watch Oregon State home games sandwiched between my mom and dad.
But one thing that hasn’t changed, at least not from an Oregon State perspective, is the magnitude and significance of the Civil War.
Actually, it’s at an all-time high.
If you grew up in Oregon you know how big this annual game is. It’s bigger than the Super Bowl even, because everyone has something at stake.
Whether it’s a diehard alum, a common Oregonian without much interest in the game of football at all, or a player participating in the game, everyone is required to take a side.
The game means more than the outcome’s effect on the Pac-12 standings, or even the impact on which bowl game each team will go to — the game is about pride, bragging rights, and for some people, even more.
“Everyone I knew was a Duck fan,” said Oregon State offensive lineman Derek Nielsen, who played football at Sheldon High School in Eugene. “I always get trash talk from my friends back home. My brother’s going to be a Duck now. My family’s split.”
The competitive spirit and the implications that exist between the two programs have never disappeared, but the meaningfulness of the game has lessened for one of the two schools.
From 1997-2006, the home team won the coveted game, until OSU snapped the streak by winning at Autzen Stadium in 2007.
Ironically, the following year it would be the ’07 loser, Oregon, that would elevate its program to an elite level neither school had previously known.
When Chip Kelly arrived at the University of Oregon and turned the already-competitive Ducks into a national powerhouse, it seemed as though Oregon had turned a corner OSU was incapable of even approaching.
The Ducks suddenly had a never-ending combination of groundbreaking jerseys, national recognition as the conference alpha dog and the ability to recruit any player it wanted.
Though the intensity and passion between the two sides never died, something seemed different.
Suddenly, everyone who had been on the fence about which side to choose leaned toward the flashy, successful option in Oregon. The Beavers had a couple of down years, culminating in last year’s 3-9 disappointment, and no longer seemed like a worthy opponent.
The Ducks claimed to have the same respect for OSU they had always had before. But the fan base began calling the Beavers “Oregon’s little brother,” and more importantly, the Oregon State fans began to believe it to be true.
The last few years have been no fun for Oregon State. Injuries, inexperience and misfortune have resulted in the previous two losing seasons, as well as blowout losses to the team they so desperately want to beat over any other.
Going into the last two Civil Wars, it was a foregone conclusion that Oregon would trample OSU. Those Beaver teams weren’t ready from a mental or physical standpoint, and it showed on the field.
But the 2012 Beavers aren’t the same team from years past.
“Throughout the year you always think about the [Civil War],” said Oregon State senior Jordan Poyer. “We can play with these guys. We’ve seen them play on TV and they’re another football team and they lace on their shoes just like we do. We definitely feel like we have a chance to beat them.”
In that short period from 2008 until now, Oregonians seemingly forgot what made that game in 1998 so spectacular. They forgot about what happens every single week in this unpredictable league.
Anything can happen in college football, especially in a rivalry that has lasted 116 years.
That’s the reason Oregon State was triumphant when I first rushed the field 14 years ago, and it’s the reason fans just might get to do the same on Saturday.
This Civil War, more than any other I can remember, means something special for Oregon State.
Not only would a win give OSU a realistic shot at an at-large BCS bowl, but it would validate all this team has accomplished this year.