Nothing Civil About This War: A Complete History of the Game Against Oregon’s True Rival

Joey Holland History

Oregon State fans

There is nothing quite like a college football rivalry game. Mobs of fans in clashing colors meet to fill the stadium regardless of which school is designated the home team for that day, and the only task at hand is to express a mutual and irrational hatred for each other. Some are so big they have to hold it as a neutral site, with the stands decidedly split half-half with no intermingling (Red River Rivalry, The World’s Biggest Cocktail Party, etc.)

The Red River Rivalry fully encourages segregation, between reds and burnt-oranges.

Oregon is in the rare circumstance of actually having TWO major rivals, with those despised Dawgs from up north, as well as the annual Civil War game at the end of the year vs. Oregon State being as bitter as any game in the country. While Washington-Oregon may be heated, it actually takes a backseat in terms of history and animosity to the in-state battle.

Oregon vs. Oregon State is one of the oldest and historically rich rivalries in all of college football. The game has been played 115 times since its foundation in 1894, making it the NCAA’s seventh oldest rivalry. The animosity surrounding the Civil War game is amplified by several factors that are somewhat rare in big college football games. The two teams are not only from the same state, but they also represent the same conference and, as of 2011, the same division. Therefore, winning the “Platypus Trophy” (recently re-discovered after it was lost for decades, though it has yet to be openly embraced the same as other trophies of rivalry games) is a valuable achievement that lately has often been accompanied by a conference title or an invitation to Pasadena.

It is hard to forget the recent clashes between Oregon and Oregon State, such as the 1994 and 2009 nail-biters that vaulted the Ducks into the Rose Bowl, but it is also all too easy to forget just how old and storied this annual matchup really is.

The following is a look back at this rivalry, complete with hard-fought battles, mud-soaked fisticuffs, shootouts, scoreless ties, and full-scale riots.

The Origins and History of the Game

Oregon’s 1893-1894 football team. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

It’s hard to even imagine the landscape of college football back in 1894 when the Civil War rivalry started. Touchdowns were worth only four points, a season consisted of a mere two-to-three games, deaths due to injuries sustained on the field occurred almost every year, and high school teams were often considered viable opponents.

In fact, when Oregon and Oregon State first squared off in 1894, the teams themselves were almost completely unrecognizable. What would eventually become Oregon State University was then called Oregon Agricultural College (OAC), and they were not the Beavers, but the Hay Miners. The Oregon football program itself had only originated that very spring, and the team, then known as the Webfoots, had only ever played two games.

The two underdeveloped squads squared off in Corvallis for the first time in the fall of 1894, OAC drawing first blood with a 16-0 victory.

In the early days of the rivalry, there was no trophy, no Rose Bowl (The “East-West Tournament Game”–precursor to the Rose Bowl, was first held in 1902), nor conference title on the line. The game was not yet even referred to as the Civil War, but the Oregon Classic. Just a year later in 1895, the Oregon football program had to fight to keep its head above water; many in-state organizations wanted the sport banned from all Oregon colleges, feeling that it was a violent and savage game played by barbarians.

“The game is little better than the sports of the amphitheater of old or the bullfights of Spain,” appeared in the Salem Daily Post. “A scientific game like baseball or cricket is alright. But football…White settlers learned this game from Native Americans on the east coast.”

That was, of course, a racist and misleading argument (as the origins of football can be traced all the way back to mid-19th century Britain) that never succeeded in eliminating the Oregon football program, and the teams squared off again in 1895. This time, the Webfoots would prevail 46-0, in what remains the rivalry’s biggest all-time margin of victory.

1896 UO football team. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

The 1896 game unfortunately ended up giving the Salem Daily Post more reason to fear the game of football, as the rivalry quickly grew unfriendly. Two years after they had first gone head-to-head, the teams decided to play each other twice per year, once at each school.

This was the first year that the so-called Oregon Classic was more than just an in-state contest for pride and bragging rights, both schools having joined the Oregon College Foot Ball Association, along with Forest Grove, and several schools from the Portland area. The Hay Miners and Webfoots were now league rivals, the stakes were raised.

Oregon won both games against OAC in 1896, but the second contest in Corvallis saw tempers flare for the first time in their matchup. OAC fans violently attacked Oregon fans, and even the game’s referees. Afterward, Oregon coach J.F. Frick attempted to make the case that the Hay Miners had recruited what he called “bruisers” and “prizefighters” to play in the games who weren’t technically enrolled at the university.

The 1899 UO football team. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

Oregon halfback Johnny Parsons, who played in the 1917 East-West Tournament game for Oregon, remembered the violence and hostility surrounding the Civil War game in its early days this way, “Once a year,” Parsons explained, “we had a fight, and it broke into a free-for-all right on the field.” After considering an end to the rivalry after only four contests, the schools decided instead to limit the game to once each year, and provided additional police to ensure a lack of fisticuffs.

By the turn of the century, it was the Hay Miners that had to fight to keep their program alive. OAC discontinued its football team for the 1900 and 1901 seasons, which remain two of only four years since 1894 that the two schools didn’t meet on the gridiron. OAC resumed the program in 1902, and the Civil War tradition rolled on. By 1905, the Webfoots had dominated the rivalry series with a record of 8-2-1 despite rapid coaching turnover.

1906 brought OAC’s first series win since 1897 in front of a record-setting crowd of around 4,000, beating Oregon 4-0 and erasing their hopes for a perfect season. That success wouldn’t last long for the Hay Miners, however, as the Webfoots won the next three games until the series was suspended in 1911 after a large riot ensued between fans following the 1910 matchup (it should be noted that the chaos was once again initiated by OAC fans).


©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

While the series returned in 1912, the schools decided to hold the game at a neutral location in Albany, Oregon, where the Webfoots continued their dominance over their Corvallis counterparts with a 3-0 victory.

The 1914 Civil War game, played in Albany, a 3-3 tie. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

Both teams joined the Pacific Coast Conference along with Cal and Washington in 1915, and Oregon had a nice run of successful seasons. By the end of the 1923 campaign, the Ducks had earned two trips to the East-West Tournament Game (Rose Bowl), including a victory over Penn in 1917, and had established themselves as the team to beat in the state of Oregon, if not the west coast. From the Civil War’s inception in 1894 through the 1923 season, the Webfoots held a series record of 17-4-6.

Even though Oregon’s program continued its general success throughout the 1920s and 30s, the tide of the Civil War series began to turn, as the Oregon program itself began to slide from its glory days under Coach Hugo Bezdek, who had left for a job at Penn State despite numerous attempts by the UO administration to coax him back to Eugene. OAC enjoyed three straight victories from 1925-1927, the school’s first winning streak in the rivalry’s history.

A Civil War game played in the 1920s in Corvallis. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

After a scoreless tie in 1931, Oregon fought back to win four straight over the now renamed Oregon State College of Agriculture, including a big 13-3 victory in 1933, both teams coming into the game undefeated. Unfortunately, that was the last streak of success the Webfoots would have for some time against their Corvallis opponent, with OSCA (which again renamed itself Oregon State College in 1937) going 9-1 from 1936 to 1946.

The program from the 1941 Civil War game. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

The annual game, which was by this point regularly referred to as the Civil War rather than the Oregon Classic, was not played in 1943 or 1944 as neither school fielded a team with so many students overseas fighting in WWII. Following the war, the Civil War was again played twice during the 1945 season with the return of the teams’ respective servicemen, but this time there were no fistfights or brawls, only well played football games.

The emergence of Norm Van Brocklin, Oregon’s’ first all-American quarterback, led the team to wins in back-to-back games in 1947 and 1948, ending the Beavers’ decade of dominance. Despite Van Brocklin’s stint of victory, the Beavers went right back to their winning ways after his departure. But following five straight losses from 1949-1953, Oregon’s next all-American quarterback, George Shaw, put on an impressive performance in 1954 at Oregon State’s brand new Parker Stadium, leading the Ducks to a 33-14 win.

Oregon won again the next season, thanks in large part to running back Jim Shanley’s exploitation of a weak Oregon State defensive front seven. After the Ducks’ 28-0 win in 1955, the series remained relatively even through 1963, with the teams exchanging wins and tying several times (overtime rules were not established until 1996).

OSU fans celebrate their 10-7 win over Oregon in 1957.

The 1964 season marked the beginning of Oregon State’s most successful run in Civil War history. After both squads rejoined the Pac-8 that year, the Beavers beat the Ducks in eight straight seasons, including a 1964 victory that propelled them into the Rose Bowl (which would be their last bowl appearance for 35 years). However, five of those eight wins were by one score or less, showing the continued intensity and competitiveness between the two schools.

The 1963 Civil War win was turned into a Christmas card. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

In 1972, Dan Fouts and the Ducks obliterated the Beavers 30-3 in Corvallis for the first time since 1958. Fouts was outstanding in his last college outing, bringing Oregon out of almost a decade of frustrating losses to their in-state rival.

From 1975 on, the Ducks absolutely dominated the Beavers. Since that year, Oregon holds a series record of 27-9-1, including eight straight wins from 1975 through 1982. Despite the success, some of the games during this era were almost comical, with both teams consistently at the bottom of the conference standings. The 1983 game, for example, became infamously known as the Toilet Bowl, the last 0-0 scoreless tie in NCAA history.

The quality of play rose significantly in the late 1980s, at least on the Oregon side, thanks in large part to the emergence of Oregon’s reliable quarterback Bill Musgrave. As a freshman in 1987, Musgrave led the Ducks to a huge 44-0 blowout of the Beavers, the second biggest blowout in Civil War history.

As the teams rolled into the 1990s, the stakes of the rivalry rose. Heading into the 1994 matchup, for instance, OSU was prepared to try and stop the Ducks from clinching their first Rose Bowl berth in 37 years. Nonetheless, despite the motivation to end the dream season for the Ducks, Oregon prevailed 17-13 and headed to Pasadena to take on Penn State.

From 1998 through 2006, it was the home team that won the game each year. By the 2000 season, the squads had improved since the dark days of the 1970s and early 80s, both teams often ranked in the top-25 polls. The No. 5 Ducks were upset by the No. 8 Beavers 23-13 in 2000 in a game with major Pac-10 title implications; but Oregon still finished with a 9-2 record, a share of the conference title, and a Holiday Bowl invitation.

LeGarrette Blount running for a touchdown in the 2009 Civil War

A 38-31 Oregon State win in double overtime against a loaded albeit hobbled 2007 Oregon squad was the last time the Beavers have taken home the Platypus Trophy, after it was found in a locker in the basement of McArthur Court and brought back out in public, to almost no fanfare or acclaim, the consensus being that the game’s victory means far more than any trophy could represent. Since then, Oregon has won every year, including a 2009 victory in the so-called ‘War for the Roses’ that guaranteed the winner a spot in the Rose Bowl (first and only time such a game has occurred in the history of the rivalry), and a 2010 win in Corvallis that gave the Ducks a perfect regular season and national championship game berth.

The Civil War game has been played 115 times since its establishment in 1894. Over that time, Oregon has largely dominated, with a career record of 59-46-10. Though there have been plenty of streaks and blowouts, there has been a consistently high level of competitiveness, intensity, and entertainment every time the two squads have squared off, fueled by mutual hate and bitterness instilled in every Oregon citizen from birth.

Pick your side, Duck green or Beaver orange, in this state there is no gray area. That hatred is what makes the beauty of a good rivalry, the passion and emotion that is wrapped up every time the Ducks (Webfoots) and Beavers (Hay Miners) go to war, but there’s nothing civil about it.

Memorable Games for Duck Fans

1933: Both teams entered the 1933 Civil War game with undefeated records (Oregon at 8-0 and OSU at 5-0-2). The game was played at Multnomah Stadium, a neutral site in Portland, in front of a crowd of 32,183 spectators. The Ducks eventually emerged victorious over the Beavers, thanks in large part to fullback Mike Mikulak, who pounded out a tough 89 yards on the ground. Oregon’s 13-3 win put them at 9-0, but they fell to USC the very next week.

Despite the loss at USC, Oregon still finished the regular season with a 9-1 record, one of the best years in the program’s history. However, the Ducks were snubbed for a Rose Bowl berth, as Stanford was voted to travel to Pasadena despite holding only a share of the PCC title, in large part because travel costs were less expensive to come from the bay area to Pasadena rather than Oregon.

Bill Musgrave

1972: After a decade of OSU dominance over the Ducks, Dan Fouts led Oregon to a big 30-3 win over the Beavers in his last career game. Oregon’s Donnie Reynolds slipped through the Oregon State defense for a 60-yard touchdown run on the game’s first play from scrimmage to spark the offense. Later on, Fouts continued the rout by hitting Greg Lindsey with a beautiful 65-yard touchdown pass. The Ducks left Corvallis having shifted the momentum of the Civil War series back in their favor, as Oregon has dominated Oregon State ever since this blowout.

1983: The 1983 game was memorable for a unique reason. While many Civil War matchups have been well played, hard-fought games, the so-called “Toilet Bowl” of 1983 was an ugly scoreless tie on a rainy day in Eugene. With both teams in the Pac-10 cellar, the Ducks and Beavers combined for eleven fumbles, five interceptions, and four missed field goals. Those turnovers do not indicate a defensive showcase, but rather a sloppy showing by both squads. The game ended in a scoreless tie, the last scoreless tie in NCAA football history. The 1983 game, while memorable, really marks the lowest point for the Civil War rivalry.

1987: The Ducks offense absolutely exploded with 44 points on Oregon State. Bill Musgrave led his team to touchdowns on five consecutive possessions at one point during the game. The 44-0 win was the biggest Civil War blowout in the modern era, and the second biggest win in the rivalry’s history. The 1987 game marked the widening success gap between the two football programs, Oregon clearly on the ascent while OSU was considered one of the worst programs in the entire country.

1994: After losing only one conference game during the 1994 season, the Ducks needed a victory over Oregon State in order to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1958. Heading into the game, the Ducks were heavily favored, with Oregon State sitting at the bottom of the Pac-10 standings. However, the Beavers led 13-10 midway through the fourth quarter. With 3:21 left to play, Oregon quarterback Danny O’Neil tossed a screen pass to Dino Philyaw, who dashed 21 yards for a touchdown to put the Ducks up 17-13. While Philyaw scored the game-winning touchdown, it was Cristin McLemore that was the real hero of the game. After crushing his hand in the third quarter, McLemore had to leave the game for X-rays. Playing through the pain, McLemore came back out of the locker room to make two huge 21 and 31-yard catches on the team’s final drive to set up Philyaw’s touchdown.

Winning the ’09 Civil War For The Roses? Done.

2009: The so-called “War for the Roses” was the first Civil War game that guaranteed the winner a spot in the Rose Bowl. In perhaps the most highly-anticipated matchup in the rivalry’s history, the No. 16 Beavers took on the No. 7 Ducks in Eugene. An extremely exciting back-and-forth game ultimately resulted in a 37-33 victory for Oregon. Notable Oregon State players were brothers Jacquizz and James Rodgers, who gave the Duck defense fits all night with their athleticism.

However, speedy back LaMichael James and reliable receiver Jeff Maehl were simply too much for OSU to handle. On top of that, Legarrette Blount, who had been suspended for the majority of the year after he introduced his fist to a Boise State player’s face following the first game of the season, received his first real significant playing time since the incident. Blount can be credited with perhaps the biggest momentum swing in the game, punching in a bulldozing 12-yard touchdown run to lessen OSU’s nine-point lead midway through the third quarter.

Game-Related Incidents: The Rivalry Off the Field

1910: Following a 12-0 Oregon victory over the Hay Miners in Corvallis, a riot broke out between fans. Upset at the loss, several OAC fans proceeded to follow Oregon fans onto the train back to Eugene, where the rowdy behavior continued. This poor conduct resulted in the suspension of the game in 1911, though the rivalry resumed again in 1912.

1937: After Oregon State had defeated the Ducks 14-0 in Corvallis, the OSU student body held an extensive rally (as if their team had never won a game before) and eventually decided to take their celebration down to Eugene to bask in the victory in the face of their enemy. The mob of 2,000 OSU faithful was met by a host of water balloons and tomatoes hurled by Oregon students, and was eventually forced to paint a yellow “O” on the side of Skinner’s Butte.

The 1963 Civil War win was turned into a Christmas card. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

1954: Before the Civil War game in 1954, about 50 Oregon students snuck into Corvallis and lit OSU’s ceremonial pregame bonfire before the student body had arrived to begin the ceremony. Beaver fans responded by capturing 25 Oregon students, shaving their heads, painting them orange and black, and famously forcing one to march through campus wearing a sign that read, “I’m a dumb Duck.” It was Oregon, however, that had the last laugh that year, cruising to a 33-14 victory.

1960: The prank stakes were raised in 1960 when a handful of Oregon fans traveled up to Corvallis and kidnapped OSU’s homecoming queen, Ardis Henry. While it may sound like a pretty serious offense, it was ultimately harmless as she was returned less than an hour later completely unharmed. During her time in captivity, the OSU student body president had received a ransom note requesting that he ride a scooter through the center of the U of O campus and beg for Henry’s release. That year, the game ended in a 14-14 tie.

1972: Things got rowdy once more after the 1972 Civil War game, as Duck fans were quite pleased with their team’s 30-3 victory over OSU in Corvallis. After all, it was the team’s first Civil war win in nine years, and their first win in Corvallis since 1958. Oregon students stormed the field as the clock wound down and knocked over one of the goal posts. When they turned to knock down the other, they were met with a mob of Beaver fans. An all-out brawl ensued on the field in what was perhaps the ugliest of all the game-related incidents.

2010: In 2010, the Ducks beat the Beavers in Corvallis to clinch their spot in the national championship game against the Auburn Tigers. A group of Duck fans lit a T-shirt on fire that read “I hate your Ducks” on the field after the win, which unfortunately resulted in some pretty serious damage to the field’s turf. The Oregon student who was captured on photo lighting the shirt was arrested after the incident.

Interesting Civil War Facts

The Civil War game has not been played in only five seasons since its inception in 1894: 1900, 1901, 1911, 1943, and 1944.

– In 1894, Oregon still regularly played against high school teams.

– Price of admission for the 1895 game, which was considered a friendly practice and was officiated by the coaches, was 50 cents.

– The 1897 game was called due to darkness, with 17 minutes left to play.

– OAC banned its football program in 1900 and 1901, forcing Oregon to create another rivalry with the University of Washington, a rivalry that remains heated to this day.

– OAC was penalized at one point during the 1902 game because, as the officials put it, “the grandstand did a little coaching.”

The 1914 Civil War game, played in Albany, a 3-3 tie. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

– In 1908, the game was played at Multnomah Stadium in Portland and received a significant boost in exposure. Before 1908, the largest crowd was 3,500, but over 10,000 spectators traveled to Portland that year.

– In 1912, the teams were forced to play on a neutral field in Albany after a riot took place following the 1910 game. 20 armed police officers were requested in Albany to keep control over the crowds.

– In 1913, OAC was so happy with a 10-10 tie that they canceled classes to have a parade.

– Oregon’s 9-0 victory in 1915 involved an astounding 47 total punts.

– In 1916, a new telegraph system at OAC’s field allowed announcers to deliver up-to-date results from eastern games.

– In 1919, the game was played at the newly built Hayward Field for the first time, replacing Kincaid Field, though that facility remained in use for other sports until 1921.

– While Oregon students successfully took down a field goal post in Corvallis in 1972, OSU students tried to do the same in 1927 but failed and were assaulted by Duck fans.

– 1933 was the first year where both teams came into the Civil War undefeated, and played in front of a crowd of 32,000.

– 1934 saw fistfights between actual players on the field during the second quarter, rather than between rowdy fans after the game, as had been the norm.

Dan Fouts

– After the 1940 game, four Oregon students were arrested in the middle of the night for disturbing the peace on the OSU field. They had four axes in their possession, and must have had their eyes on the goal posts.

– OSU’s 1941 victory took them to their first ever Rose Bowl. However, since Pearl Harbor was attacked only eight days later, the Beavers were forced to play the game in the only ever transplanted Rose Bowl in Durham, North Carolina, where they beat Duke. The move in location occurred because it was feared that the Japanese might be able to launch aircraft from an undetected aircraft carrier off the California coast to bomb the Rose Bowl, a prime target with thousands of American citizens in a confined space.

– During the 1954 showdown, Oregon’s all-American quarterback and standout defensive back George Shaw secured himself as the nation’s leader in total offense. He also returned an interception and a kick for touchdowns, and would become the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

– After coming out of the game early in the fourth quarter of the Ducks’ 1972 30-3 blowout of OSU, Oregon quarterback Dan Fouts could be seen smoking a cigar on the sideline.

– Before 1988, the Ducks’ head coach Rich Brooks was undefeated in the Civil war with a career record of 18-0-3. Only 13 of those games came as Oregon’s coach, as he had also played and coached at Oregon State.

– Over the course of the rivalry, there have been six scoreless ties. Five of them were before 1932, but the sixth in 1983 was the NCAA’s last ever scoreless tie.

– At least one team has scored zero points in 39 of the 115 Civil Wars played (34 percent).

– The Platypus Trophy, which is the current unofficial Civil War trophy, was lost for more than 40 years after it was stolen in 1961. However, it was rediscovered in a MacArthur Court closet in 2005.

The Civil War: A Historic Tradition

There is something about traditional college football rivalries that can make a town, or even an entire state or region, come to life for a weekend. The sense of pride and loyalty that Duck fans feel for their team is amplified every time Oregon squares off against its in-state adversary. And why not? After all, the winner of the game is awarded the Platypus trophy, state bragging rights, and sometimes division and conference championships.

The program from the 1941 Civil War game. ©University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives

East coast bias has persisted throughout the history of college football, and remains relevant when talking about the Civil War. Numerous eastern teams see their own rivalry games as the most traditional and important of them all. The Michigan vs. Ohio State rivalry, for example, is literally referred to as ‘The Game.’ Unlike Michigan and Ohio State, however, Oregon and OSU happen to reside in the same state, conference, and now division, making for exceptionally high stakes. The Civil War is a rivalry game with as much tradition, history, passion, and significance as any in the world of college football.

Heading into this season, it seemed like the Ducks would continue their recent dominance over their long-time rivals, as the Beavers finished 3-9 in 2011. However, Oregon State has opened the 2012 season with three straight victories, two of which have been over ranked teams, giving them a No. 14 ranking heading into week 5 of the season.

The 2012 Civil War game is going to be a true test for Oregon, and for Duck fans. If you make the trip up to Corvallis this year, just remember - there is nothing civil about this war.

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