Call it anything, Beavers vs. Ducks is a tradition to celebrate
Here we are again.
For the 125th time, the football teams representing Oregon and Oregon State will lace up their shoes, buckle their chinstraps, and battle in the Civil … oops, the Game that Shall Not Be Named.
The stakes, as has often been the case for the last quarter century, are significant. The Pac-12 North title could turn on the outcome of the Saturday, Nov. 27 contest at Autzen Stadium.
If Oregon wins the game, slated for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff on ESPN, the Ducks are North champs and get a shot at revenge against Utah after the Utes 38-7 beatdown on Saturday.
Oregon State will know before the game if it can win the North by beating Oregon. The Beavers need woeful Washington to upset Washington State on Friday for that to happen.
Close games between the Beavers and Ducks have been rare in recent years, but this one has the feel of a tense, tight contest. Last season's dramatic 41-38 comeback win for the Beavers was only the second OSU-UO football game since 2010 decided by one possession. That happened without fans at Reser Stadium, which for the biggest sports event in our state every year was a shame.
But, maybe, just maybe, we are entering an era of competitive balance foreign to this series. Sure, Oregon has flashy recruiting classes and a national brand. But Oregon State has future NFL studs, too, and a steady-as-she-goes leader in Jonathan Smith who is as competitive as they come.
Both Oregon State and Oregon have built programs to be proud of —Â a circumstance that has been rare in this rivalry, which the Ducks lead 66-48 with 10 ties.
Consider: For most of the first 125 years of this rivalry, one school or the other has played big brother. It started with a win for Oregon Agricultural College in 1894. But the team from Corvallis didn't win consecutive games against the team from Eugene until 1925-26. In between, Oregon won 18 times, OAC won five times and there were six ties.
From 1936 through 1953, the Beavers won 14 times to the Ducks five. Extend that through 1974 and there was an atmospheric river from Corvallis to Eugene, the Beavers winning 28 of the 37 games, the Ducks eight (there was one tie).
Then, the rivalry flipped, the deluge of disappointment falling upon Corvallis as Oregon won 12 of the next 13 — the only exception the infamous scoreless draw in 1983. That is the longest unbeaten stretch for either team in the series; each team's best winning streak is eight games.
Sure, there is plenty of back-and-forth off the field. But there has been very little back-and-forth in the win-loss column. The exception is a 10-year stretch from 1997 through 2006 when the home team won each year. The Beavers won at Eugene in 2007 to end that run of home-team wins, then the Ducks won the next eight.
Perhaps we were entering another period of trading wins. The Beavers have won two of the last three rivalry games played at Corvallis. The Ducks have won the last six games with Oregon State played in Eugene, 12 of the last 13, which bodes well for the Webfoots this week. But it hasn't always been easy for Oregon, which can count a couple of dramatic comebacks in that home winning streak.
The Ducks will have an advantage the Beavers didn't last season: a full stadium of fans thirsty to see their team cap the regular season by punishing their rival.
That's a big deal. In what is shaping up as a battle that might come down to which of two established and effective offensive lines better executes. The noise from the Autzen crowd might make a difference in the outcome.
That said, the return of fans means much more than home-field advantage. I'm betting that, regardless of allegiance, the brightest memories from this annual get-together are not of quirky finishes, overtime drama, goalpost-endangering upsets or embarrassing displays of inept football (looking at you 1983 scoreless draw).
For those of my generation (i.e. older), the memories that endure are of rain-soaked Saturdays under canopies buffeted by wind, of pregame wagers and postgame bravado — of time with friends to commiserate, and, yes, to bluster. But, most significantly, to connect and to reconnect.
In that respect, our football rivalry game is like so many others across the land. It is a tradition built upon connection as much as it is on contention.
That the rivalry is alive and well on the field makes the experience all the more intense and memorable.
Read Paul Danzer's On College Football column online at portlandtribune.com, where he evaluates and picks the Oregon-Oregon State game winner.
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