On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Oregon and Oregon State square off in the 118th edition of the Civil War game at Reser Stadium in Corvallis. With few exceptions, the Ducks and Beavers have faced one another annually since 1894 in the oldest college football rivalry west of the Rocky Mountains. We are pleased to offer an overview of the century-long duel between the Ducks and Beavers, which has featured many notable highlights throughout the decades.
The first years of the rivalry were marked by lopsided scores and growing animosities. Oregon Agricultural College, as Oregon State was known until 1927, won the inaugural meeting 16-0 in Corvallis in 1894. Two years later, violence between rival fans after a 12-8 Oregon road victory nearly led to the permanent cancellation of the series. Cooler heads prevailed until 1899, when deputy sheriffs patrolled the sidelines in Eugene during what the Eugene Guard called the “Hayseed Waterloo” – a second straight 38-0 shutout victory for the Webfoots.
The OAC regents issued a two-year hiatus for their football program, postponing the resumption of the series until 1902. By 1910, fan violence again threatened the continuation of the annual series. That year, fights between rival supporters broke out at the first Civil War held at newly-built Bell Field in Corvallis. UO fans heading to the railroad depot for the return to Eugene engaged with OAC supporters, and the skirmishes extended all the way into a few of the rail cars. Leaders of the two schools canceled the 1911 meeting as a result.
Though not scheduled to meet in 1912, a 30-14 Oregon loss at Washington prompted the Beavers to issue a challenge to their state rivals. The game, held on neutral ground in Albany, ended in a 3-0 Oregon victory. After two years in Albany, the series returned to campus with the 1914 game in Corvallis and in 1915 at Kincaid Field in Eugene.
Oregon shut out Oregon State in 1916 and 1919 to earn the school’s first two trips to the Rose Bowl. Throughout the 1920s the series resulted in four Oregon victories, four Oregon State wins, and two ties. In the 1932 game, Mark Temple broke a 6-6 tie with a late 65-yard punt return touchdown to give Oregon the victory; three days later, voters rejected a statewide ballot measure that would have merged the schools into one university located in Corvallis.
A year after the referendum failed, Oregon and Oregon State met for the first time when both teams were undefeated. In front of 32,000 fans at Multnomah Stadium in Portland, the 7-0 Ducks prevailed 13-3 over the 5-0-2 Beavers.
The 1937 game marked one of the most notable off-field episodes in the rivalry. With the game in a scoreless deadlock, the Beavers scored two late touchdowns at Bell Field to win its second straight Civil War. The following Monday, nearly 1800 Oregon State students caravanned to Eugene in 200 automobiles to celebrate the victory on rival turf. UO students, confronting the throng from Corvallis, captured at least 250 of the Beaver fans. Some were dunked in the Millrace before being sent out of town; around 50 others were stripped to their shorts and forced to repaint the “O” on Skinner’s Butte. “Today’s outcome is what our visitors could expect after coming over here to crow over us,” UO president Valentine Boyer told the Oregon Daily Emerald after the riots dissipated.
Both Oregon and Oregon State took a break from varsity football in 1943 and 1944 as World War II depleted enrollments. When play resumed in 1945, the two rivals met twice in the same season for the second time in history. Oregon State swept both games, continuing a streak of dominance that extended to 1946 with the Beavers’ ninth victory in the previous ten encounters.
1947 marked a reversal of Oregon’s fortunes against the Beavers in a game that was dedicated to longtime UO athletic trainer Bill Hayward. A low-flying plane papered Hayward Field with orange “Beat Oregon” pamphlets before the game, but the Ducks survived to win 14-6 and finish second in the Pacific Coast Conference standings. The following season, Oregon won the last Civil War game played at Bell Field in Corvallis, preventing the Beavers from closing down their old stadium with a victory. It would be Oregon’s last Civil War win for the next half-decade.
The rivalry made its final appearance in Portland in 1952. The crowd at Multnomah Stadium watched as the Ducks took a 12-9 lead, only to allow Oregon State to come back for a 22-19 triumph. After a pair of Oregon victories in 1954 and 1955, a 14-14 tie in 1956 proved enough to send the Beavers to their second Rose Bowl (and first in Pasadena, after their 1942 game against Duke was moved to North Carolina following Pearl Harbor).
Oregon earned a trip to Pasadena the following season, but they failed to beat the Beavers. In front of a new record crowd of 23,150 at Hayward Field, Jim Shanley was on his way to the endzone for the go-ahead score when Oregon State stripped the ball to preserve a 10-7 victory. “I thought I had crossed the goal line,” Shanley later recalled about the play. “I had sidestepped Nub Beamer, but he swiped at the ball as I went down. It was a pretty serious mistake near the end of the game.”
A loss in 1962 ended Oregon’s hopes of reaching another bowl game, this time the Bluebonnet Bowl in Texas. Despite building a 17-6 lead in the first half, the Ducks were unable to prevent Oregon State’s Heisman winner Terry Baker from leading the Beavers to a come-from-behind victory. Oregon State ultimately won after Rich Brooks – who 14 years later began a two-decade tenure as Oregon’s head coach – kicked a pooch punt that caromed off Mel Renfro’s leg and was recovered by the Beavers at the Oregon 15-yard line. “The blame for the Oregon State loss was squarely on my shoulders,” Renfro declared years later. “That was very disappointing. That stayed with me.”
In 1964, a Rose Bowl berth was on the line as the two teams met in Corvallis. The Beavers blocked Herm Meister’s PAT attempt following an Oregon touchdown in the second quarter, surviving a close encounter 7-6 to return to Pasadena. Oregon State won again the following season, thwarting a UO comeback attempt in the final Civil War game at Hayward Field.
Oregon State emerged victorious in the first Civil War game played at the new Autzen Stadium in 1967. Ducks fans had to wait until 1975 for the first home victory in the new stadium against the Beavers; a 15-yard Chuck Wills interception return proved to be the difference in Oregon’s 14-7 win. The win marked the start of a 13-year unbeaten streak for the Ducks.
The only tie during the streak came in 1983. With freezing temperatures turning the Autzen field to ice, the Ducks and Beavers combined to turn the ball over 11 times and miss four field goals in the first scoreless Civil War game since 1931. The “Toilet Bowl” game, as the 1983 Civil War was coined, marks the last tie in the series between the Oregon schools.
Oregon State finally broke the streak of Duck dominance in 1988, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns to erase a 10-7 deficit for a 21-10 victory in Corvallis. Beaver cornerback Billy Hughely sealed the victory, intercepting the ball and returning it 26 yards into Oregon territory with less than five minutes remaining.
After the Ducks defeated Oregon State 17-13 in 1994 to shore up Oregon’s first Rose Bowl bid since 1957, longtime head coach Rich Brooks moved on to the NFL. Mike Bellotti, Brooks’ offensive coordinator, was named as the new head coach for the 1995 season. Oregon won four of the last five Civil Wars of the 1990s, the only loss coming in Corvallis on Ken Simonton’s 16-yard touchdown run in overtime in 1998.
The 2000 contest witnessed the first Civil War pitting top-10 Oregon schools against one another, and Oregon’s 2001 victory yielded the first outright Pac-10 title for the Ducks since the 1994 Rose Bowl season. From 1997 through 2006, the home team won every Civil War. That streak fell in 2007 as Oregon, without injured starting quarterback Dennis Dixon, fell 38-31 in Autzen Stadium to a Beavers team that finished with nine wins. The Ducks returned the favor the following year at Reser Stadium, scoring the most points either team had up to that point in the series. The two teams combined for more than 100 points in the 65-38 Duck win.
The 2008 victory turned fortunes back into Oregon’s favor. Since that game, the Ducks have won six straight Civil Wars through 2013. The 2009 game determined the Pac-10 title and the league’s berth in the Rose Bowl, and the 37-33 Oregon victory sent the Ducks back to Pasadena for the first time in 15 years. The 2010 victory in Corvallis held even higher stakes, claiming one of the spots in the BCS National Championship for UO.
Oregon holds the edge all-time in the series, with 61 wins for the Ducks against 46 for the Beavers. The Civil War has ended 10 times in a tie, the last coming in 1983. Since the expansion of the conference into the Pac-12 in 2011, the rivalry between Oregon and Oregon State has become a fixture of Thanksgiving weekend. 120 years old and going strong, the Civil War remains one of the biggest games of the season for both Oregon schools.
See these sources for further information about the history of the Civil War and the football program at the University of Oregon:
- Libby, Brian, University of Oregon Football Vault : The History of the Ducks (Atlanta, GA: Whitman Publishing, 2008)
- McCann, Michael C., Oregon Ducks Football: 100 Years of Glory, 1894-1995 (Eugene, OR: McCann Communications Corp., 1995)
- University Archives Sports Information and Media Guides, UA Ref 5, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.
- These and more football photographs can be found in the UO Photograph Archives and the UO Athletics Digital Collections
- See other Civil War history highlights by The Oregonian here and here.
- See a history of the Civil War platypus trophy here by The New York Times.
Student Research Assistant