While everyone is cooped up in their respective dwellings and wondering if the University of Oregon football team will play this fall, it seems like a good opportunity to take a look into the ugly, not-too-distant past of one the most memorable games ever played — The Toilet Bowl.
On November 19, 1983, the Ducks hosted their in-state rival Oregon State Beavers for what was expected to be another bruising Civil War match-up at Autzen Stadium. Instead, the scoreless tie would be one of the worst football games in conference history.
There were roughly 33,000 fans in attendance for the game, standing in yellow and green plastic parkas amidst a torrential downpour in Eugene. The endless rain flooded down the concrete stadium stairs and onto the AstroTurf field. Several inches of standing water and whipping gusts of sideways rain made moving the ball past the line of scrimmage difficult for both teams.
Oregon head coach Rich Brooks was several years into his coaching tenure with the Ducks, and he was in a difficult position. Starting quarterback Mike Jorgensen (Radio color commentator for Oregon game-days currently) had broken his leg and second-string quarterback Mike Owens, well, he wasn’t exactly deft of hand or fleet of foot.
Owens finished his career at Oregon with just a single passing touchdown, seven interceptions and -33 total rushing yards.
Enter Oregon freshman Chris Miller. Although Miller (No. 12) blossomed into a first-round draft pick for the Atlanta Falcons and went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL, this would not be his “breakout” game. Miller went 1-for-7 in passing during the first half and fumbled the ball on the Oregon 31-yard line. Miller was eventually pulled from the game and replaced with Owens.
However, Oregon State wasn’t able to capitalize on Oregon’s dismal first-half performance, missing two field goals from 26-yards and 48-yards, respectively, to keep the game scoreless heading into the half.
In the second half, Oregon running back Kevin McCall led the Ducks’ rushing game, finishing with a 100-yards on the ground. Despite a more robust effort on offense, Oregon couldn’t get on the scoreboard despite driving down to the Beavers’ 3-yard line. But Oregon kicker Paul Schwabe missed a 20-yard field goal to keep the game deadlocked at 0-0. Schwabe later missed a 50-yard field goal attempt.
Both teams finished the game with a combined 11 fumbles and five interceptions. Oregon fumbled the ball seven times, four of which resulted in turnovers and twice within the Beavers’ 10-yard line.
For folks that were there on that miserable day in Eugene, they witnessed history. After the NCAA introduced overtime in 1996, the scoreless Toilet Bowl affair was the last of its kind. The Ducks went on to finish the season 4-6-1.
The Beavers finished 2-8-1 — a record that nearly cost Oregon State head coach Joe Avezzano his job. Avezzano, who spent five years with the Beavers and won just six games, was fired the following season in 1984.
However, Brooks’ fortunes were just beginning with the Ducks. While he was not the most successful coach in Oregon football history (Brooks finished with a 91-109 career record, but his successor, Mike Belotti, is currently Oregon’s most winningest coach with a 116-55 career record), Brooks was credited for ushering in a new era of Oregon football.
In 1994, Brooks was named both Pac-10 Coach of the Year and Paul “Bear” Bryant National Coach of the Year (national award) after leading the Ducks to a nine-win season and a Rose Bowl appearance.
And Brooks held an impressive 14-3-1 career record against the Beavers, which by most die-hard fans’ standards is the prettiest feather in his cap.
These days, Ducks fans have a lot to look forward to, but we shouldn’t flush the infamous Toilet Bowl from our Oregon sports memory. Sometimes, the worst games are the most fun to remember.
Here’s a short recap of the game:
There a number of notable players on the Duck squad to watch for in the video above such as No. 2, Doug Judge who went on to become an all Pac-8 Safety and later won Best Supporting Actor for the long-running television series Stargate SG-1. Lew Barnes was an electric wide receiver on this team along with a future 8-time All-Pro offensive lineman in Gary Zimmerman. Next to him in the trenches was Ryan Zinke, who went on to be a U.S. Navy Seal, U.S. Congressman for Montana and later served as Secretary of the Interior.
On the other side of the ball was Steve Baack, (No. 99) a defensive lineman of which a superb interview by this website can be viewed here with two videos of his NFL sacks! The Oregon offensive coordinator was Bob Toledo, who went onto become the head coach at UCLA and would have some huge games against the Ducks over a decade later. The offensive line coach was in his second year of coaching, as Steve Greatwood just retired from Cal this year to end a very long football career.
What an impressive group that normally would have deserved a wonderful bowl game, but a tough day in 1983 launched them into a different lore of Duck football history. Regardless … they will be remembered!
San Diego, California
Top Photo Credit: John Giustina
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