Up Close and Personal: A History of Season Openers

Aug. 23, 2002

Corvallis, Ore. -

With OSU's 2002 football opener against Eastern Kentucky just a few days away, and another record-setting summer for ticket sales indicating fans are pumped for action, let's glance back at the history of Beaver season openers and see if we can cull something from our statistical crystal ball that helps predict how the Aug. 29 game might turn out.

Hopefully, the result will be better than last year's Sept. 2 ambush at Fresno State, when OSU traveled south to California with a Sports Illistrated magazine No. 1-ranking only to be crushed by a David Carr-led offense that didn't stop prancing and dancing on national TV (ESPN2) until the score was 44-24.

No fun.

The sport of intercollegiate football at OSU dates back to 1893, with the opening game of that inaugural season played on Nov. 11.

Known at the time as either State Agricultural College or Oregon Agricultural College, OSU crushed then arch-rival Albany College 62-0, in a contest in which fullback Brady Burnett scored touchdowns on back-to-back fumble recoveries in the first half.

Except for a 0-0 tie against Forest Grove in 1895, OSU would not lose a season opener until 1903, that coming at the hands of Washington by a 5-0 score.

This was but a temporary setback. For the next 32 years, or from 1904 until the year 1936, when Head Coach Lon Stiner lost three openers in a row, a first-game win for the Beavers was almost automatic.

Their combined record of 24-2-6 over that stretch proves it. This unique period in OSU's football history is highlighted by two remarkable statistics, both turned in by Head Coach Paul Schissler, who led the football fortunes at Oregon State from 1924 to 1932.

First, his season-opening 76-0 victory over Willamette University in 1931 still holds the record for the most points ever scored by the Beavers against an opponent.

Second, and probably to the envy of every OSU coach since, Schissler never lost an opener in the nine years he was at the helm.

Just as impressive were the margins of victory his teams turned in.

For the 1924, 1925 and 1926 seasons, the scores were 41-0, 51-0, and 67-0. The first team to score a TD against Schissler in a season-opening game was UC-Davis in 1927, but the Beavers won easily, 25-6.

The next year, 1928, OSU recorded another shutout, only to give up six points the following year to Willamette in a 37-6 Beaver win.

That six points must have made the Beavers fighting mad.

To start the '30 campaign, OSU beat Willamette 48-0. In 1931, the score was the 76-0 record-setting game already mentioned. Schissler's final season at OSU, 1932, saw him venture the closest to losing an opener, but the Beavers prevailed in a 19-16 squeaker over Gonzaga.

With the hiring of Lon Stiner in 1933, season-opening victories became hard to come by--he didn't win a first game until his fourth year--and OSU, quite honestly, has never been the same.

With its record for season openers at 22-36-1 since 1941, the numbers show that first-game wins for the Beavers since World War II have been anything but automatic. Even the legendary Tommy Prothro (1955-64) lost four of 10 opening games.

Because this year's opener will be played on a Thursday, the first time ever the Beavers have started a season the day after hump-day, what does the record show when OSU kicks off a football campaign on any day but a Saturday?

Well, there have been eight such openers, and the picture isn't pretty. A study of OSU's latest Football Media Guide, which dates games only back to 1927, shows that the first time the Beavers did not open on a Saturday was on Friday, Sept. 16, 1949, when a talented UCLA squad drubbed Stiner's boys 35-13 before 37,427 fans in Los Angeles.

In 1952, a Sunday opener found the Beavers on the better end of a 14-7 score against Utah. In 1953, Friday was the magic day and UCLA crushed the Beavers 41-0. Another Friday game opened the '58 season and once again OSU took it on the chin, this one to USC, 21-0. Other Friday openers occurred in 1960, 1972 and 2001. Of the three, only the 1960 game produced an OSU victory, that over No. 6-ranked USC in a 14-0 away-game thriller. Having little success with Fridays, OSU opened the 1959 season on, of all days, a Wednesday, but the result was yet another off-Saturday loss, this one to the Trojans 27-6 in Portland. Adding the totals, of the eight season-opening games in which Oregon State has not played on a Saturday, the Beavers are two wins and six losses. Frightening stuff for the superstitious.

What about Dee Andros, who coached the Orange and Black from 1965-75? The numbers are ugly, as the 'Great Pumpkin' could only turn in two victories in eight starts.

In fact, until the arrival of Mike Riley in 1997, OSU suffered through the leanest of the lean years from 1965 on, winning but eight of 24 opening games during the period, which included a run of nine-straight losses from 1968 to 1976.

Head Coach Craig Fertig would break the string in 1977 with an impressive 24-12 victory over Syracuse, then not win another season opener for the rest of his four-year tenure.

Joe Avezzano, who took the job in 1980 and coached through the 1984 season, would also record but one win to start a season. Dave Kragthorpe (1986-1990) did only slightly better with two wins, and his successor, Jerry Pettibone, did the same.

Mike Riley was 2-0 for openers but only stayed two years. Besides Riley, 14 other Oregon State head coaches never lost a season opener, but the vast majority of these served the university during the early part of the 20th century. Current Head Coach Dennis Erickson was also undefeated until running up against Fresno State's buzz saw offense to start last season. Another Friday game, as we noted above.

Overall, the Beavers have won 55 opening contests, lost 42 and tied eight (the last tie coming in 1945), for what is still a fairly healthy winning percentage.

Which leaves us with a few closing questions.

What, for example, does it mean to win or lose the first game?

OSU's historical record is ambiguous. As much as football fans like to think a season-opening victory sets the tone for the rest of the year, such was not the case in 1954, '81 or '95. The record shows that for each of these campaigns, the Beavers did not win a single game beyond the first.

What about the reverse? Does losing at the start point to a disastrous season?

Not necessarily.

Coach Prothro's Rose Bowl team of 1964 lost its opener to Northwestern by a 7-3 margin. Kip Taylor's Pineapple Bowl team of 1949 lost its first game to UCLA, 35-13. Dee Andros had four highly successful seasons, each of which started with a loss. Lon Stiner's '46 squad lost only one game, its opener, a 50-7 stomping at the hands of UCLA. The same was true of his 1941 team, which finished in impressive style at 8-2 but lost its first game to USC, 13-7.

Now we've come to the 2002 campaign, where on Aug. 29 at Reser Stadium, OSU will suit up for its 106th season opener against the nationally ranked Div. I-AA Colonels from Eastern Kentucky.

So how will OSU do?

Only time and a bouncing football will tell, but if you bleed Orange, the one thing you can count on is that Oregon State has more opening wins than losses, and that this (probably) says absolutely nothing about what the final score will be. Oh well, so much for crystal balls.

They sometimes have a tendency to fog over at this time of the summer.

George Edmonston Jr. is editor of the Stater and Eclips.

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