Just A Slight Delay

Dec. 30, 2000

By Kip Carlson

Oregon State sports information

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - They played on one of the legendary teams in Oregon State football history, but they never got this chance.

Until now.

Jess Lewis was a defensive tackle and Steve Preece was the quarterback on OSU's 1967 'Giant Killers,' which finished the season ranked seventh in the country after beating eventual national champion Southern California. But the Pacific-8 rule in the late 1960s and early 1970s was that the only conference team advancing to the postseason would be the champion to the Rose Bowl, that left Lewis, Preece and their teammates home on New Year's Day.

Now, with fifth-ranked OSU getting ready for Monday's game against 10th-ranked Notre Dame in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Lewis and Preece are among the thousands of Beaver alums on hand. Both have been closely involved with Oregon State's incredible football ascent, Lewis as director of maintenance for the athletic department and Preece as a commentator on OSU's television broadcasts on Fox Sports Net.

'This is kind of my bowl right now, but I'm glad I'm not out there,' Lewis said, motioning to the Beavers' practice a few yards away. 'This is what I'm enjoying, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be down here. It's great to be invited and be part of this. It's fun, it's nothing but fun.'

OSU quarterback Jonathan Smith appreciates what the Beavers' remarkable 2000 season has meant to former players, particularly those such as Lewis and Preece who were on successful teams denied a bowl appearance.

'It's neat to me,' Smith said. 'I know Jess because I've worked for him out on crews. He's a great guy. It's nice, because you can genuinely see in their faces and the way they talk to you that they're really excited. That's a neat feeling, because you realize that people worked real hard earlier and maybe things didn't work out like they're working out for us right now.

'It's something special, and you realize that. It makes you feel good to see them, that they get so excited and enjoy it so much.

Preece agreed with Lewis' assessment that it's their bowl trip, just delayed three decades or so.

'It is to me. There's so much envy in this,' Preece said, laughing. 'It's exciting for me. A lot of us like Jess have hung around Oregon State for so long waiting for this to happen. You just need the right coach, the right group of kids, and it's beyond expectation.'

The Giant Killers went beyond expectations in 1967. After early-season losses to Washington and Brigham Young, Oregon State won 22-14 at second-ranked Purdue and earned a 16-16 tie at second-ranked UCLA. That led OSU coach Dee Andros - who is also in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl - to announce to the world that he was tired of playing all these No. 2 teams, bring on No. 1.

It just so happened that No. 1-ranked Southern California was to visit Corvallis the next week. Lewis ran down Trojan running back O.J. Simpson from behind to prevent one score, Preece guided the Beavers close enough for a field goal, and Oregon State had a 3-0 victory.

That loss to Washington, though, kept OSU from the Rose Bowl as the Beavers tied for second in the Pac-8. In 1968, Oregon State finished the season ranked 15th and again placed second in the conference as a 17-13 loss at USC kept the Beavers from Pasadena.

'Just because that's the way the rules were, we were okay with it,' Lewis said of the Pac-8's postseason regulation. 'But it still would have been nice to have a reward, to go on and do something like that because we had a pretty good team and there were some guys who worked really hard to get where we were.

'We let some games slip away that we shouldn't have - Washington, Brigham Young - in different situations. You know, it's so much different now with all these bowl opportunities now for these young gentlemen to get out here and do this, I think it's great.'

Opportunities like the Beavers' Fiesta Bowl trip could come along again, but it's far from guaranteed. That's a message Lewis tries to pass on to OSU athletes on summer work crews or in the university courses he instructs.

'I try to get them to understand that you can't waste any of these opportunities, because you probably only get one good shot at it,' Lewis said. 'Then it's all over. But the memories will last forever, we can have those memories. That's what I want these young gentlemen to have, are some of those memories.'

For Preece, the current Beaver team brings back a lot of his memories.

'What I think is just wonderful for the guys - my group - who were so close, is that this is a team you can identify with,' Preece said. 'It's a team that wasn't supposed to be there, it's a team that had a lot of kids who were really close - you can tell that from watching them - and that's what we were. You get that kind of magic between the players, and you can accomplish a lot. And that's what's so special about this team and that's what is really so special about being here with this team.'

NOTES: After Friday's practice, OSU head coach Dennis Erickson had Olympic gold medalist Dan O'Brien briefly address the Beavers. O'Brien, a product of Henley High in Klamath Falls, won the decathlon in 1996.

OSU's final practice at Scottsdale Community College was Saturday afternoon, as the Beavers worked out in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets. Oregon State will have a walkthrough at Sun Devil Stadium on Sunday.

'We've really had some good practices, so I'm pretty excited for Monday the way we've been preparing,' OSU quarterback Jonathan Smith said.

Oregon State fans are arriving in Arizona in increasing numbers and are becoming more visible. Estimates on the number of Beaver backers coming to the Valley of the Sun by kickoff have approached 30,000, which would be only a slightly smaller number than a sellout crowd at OSU's Reser Stadium home.

OSU defensive back Keith Heyward-Johnson is looking forward to seeing - and hearing - them on Monday night.

'They give us such a tremendous boost in confidence,' Heyward-Johnson said of OSU's fans. 'And a feeling that even sometimes when your back is against the wall, you have those people out behind you cheering for you, and no matter what happens, they're going to be there. I think that's a big key.

'Sometimes you go to a road game or to a neutral site, and you don't have that many fans. I felt bad for the teams that played in Hawaii - there weren't that many fans there. When you're playing in a game like that and you don't hear that many people cheering, it's kind of a letdown. You don't feel as good.

'To have 30,000 of your own fans out there wearing that orange and black, it's going to feel good when you run out there and hear all those cheers.'

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