The Civil War.
It’s a game that, more often than not through history, had been of little more than regional interest. Had there been a GameDay back then, it wouldn’t normally have come to Oregon. Some years the Ducks and Beavers put on their border skirmish with little on the line save for Willamette Valley bragging rights and the winner’s first or second conference win. That is, until this day.
Oregon’s season had gotten off to a rocky start. A predictable mauling of Portland State didn’t prepare the green clad faithful for what was to happen next. A 20 point drubbing at Hawaii was followed by an 18 point beating at home by Utah. A silent crowd watched the Utes wave their helmets in the air as they represented the WAC in Eugene.
Iowa came to town the next week for their first visit since Oregon had taken them down, hard, in Iowa City in 1989. Though expectations had been buried by the Utah game the week before, Oregon came to life against the Hawkeyes, winning 40-18.
The Ducks took their fans on an emotional roller coaster the next two weeks, taking down Troy in Los Angeles before getting pummeled by WSU in Pullman. Just who was this team? They were 3-3 and hadn’t played a game with less than a 14 point margin yet. Few of the most optimistic Duck fans would have guessed what was about to happen.
Oregon whipped Cal 23-7 and then came home to beat Washington in “the most improbable end to a football game.” The Quack Attack was in full stride! In short order, Arizona goes down in a defensive struggle, Arizona State tastes our wrath 34-10, Stanford quarterback Scott Frost (yes, that Scott Frost) throws an early pick and The Mighty Ducks and their traveling band own Palo Alto, rolling over the Cardinal 55-21. All that to set up:
The Civil War.
November 19, 1994. Parker Stadium, Campus of Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon.
42 degrees, occasional showers, wind from the South at 10 mph, gusting to 26 mph.
Oregon took the field knowing that beating Oregon State would guarantee them a New Year’s Day trip to Pasadena. Rich Brooks cautioned his team against taking the 4-6 Beavers lightly. For the umpteenth year in a row Oregon State’s season was going to end with the Civil War, and they relished nothing more than a chance to knock the high flying Ducks out of the glamorous New Year’s Day Granddaddy. Oregon State boasted a solid defense that would finish ranked 37th in the nation, and a three headed rushing attack led by J.J. Young, with his gaudy 6.0 yards per rush, and quarterback Don Shanklin who finished the year with 630 rushing yards of his own.
Early on, the wind was a problem for Oregon, who relied much more on throwing the ball than did the ground-bound Beavers. Quarterback Danny O’Neil saw his usually precision sideline throws to Cristin McLemore sail harmlessly out of bounds in the gusty conditions. A defensive struggle ensued. Rich Ruhl led Gang Green, but there were many defensive stars on the day.
In spite of the defensive heroics, the Oregon fans, seated mostly in the east end zone and southeast corner of Parker knew the real fear that comes from having the unbelievable in sight only to see it about to be taken away by an inferior opponent. Oregon trailed in the 4th.
Not to be denied his team’s destiny; O’Neil took advantage of the suddenly subsiding wind to connect with McLemore for 31 yards.
To complete the history making drive, O’Neil threw the prettiest screen that this Oregon fan has ever seen, to Dino Philyaw.
The final seconds fell off the clock with Oregon in Victory Formation. What had seemed the farthest thing from possibility in September was a reality in November.
There have been great days since. Doubtless there will be great days again, but Civil War 1994, though it may fade into history, will never lose its luster for the longtime fan.
Go Ducks! Batter the Beavs!