An Odd Couple

Sept. 25, 2003

Corvallis, Ore. - By George P. Edmonston Jr.

What a bizarre week it was last week for Oregon State's football opponent this week.

First there was the Iowa locker room. Sometime back, it was painted bubblegum pink, the idea of former Iowa Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry to put visiting teams to Kinnick Stadium in a docile mood. This past Saturday, that would have been the Arizona State Sun Devils, ranked 16th, averaging 400 yards and 30 points a game, and picked to be a strong contender for this year's Pac-10 championship.

In 60 minutes, the Devils-turned-docile managed but a safety against the bubblegum boys from Iowa City, losing 21-2 in a contest that had more than its share of odd surprises. To Hawkeye fans, coach Fry, at least for the moment, must seem like the genius of the year.

And so, using this odd game as a theme, and in honor of Arizona State's visit to Reser Stadium this Saturday, let's return to the past, to a couple of Beaver games that still sit high on OSU's list of football oddities. You'll find no bubblegum paint here, only stories to chew on for seasons to come.

'Luck and the man upstairs.'

Husky Stadium, Oct. 18th, 1969: Traveling to Seattle that October weekend 34 years ago, Dee Andros' boys were sporting a 2-2 record, with victories over, interestingly enough, Iowa and Arizona State. Both wins had been on the road.

Picked as slight favorites by the experts, playing the always dangerous Huskies in Seattle must have affected Andros and his team like water rolling off a duck's back. OSU had already squared off against three nationally ranked, Top-20 programs to open its 10-game '69 campaign--UCLA (17), ASU (18) and USC (5)-- in what has to be the most difficult early season schedule ever played by the Beavers. If that were not enough, the game they were about to contest would make a little history of its own, as possibly the most bizarre ever in the long rivalry between the Beavers and the Dogs.

This was one Seattle Saturday where the improbable would come true, hell would freeze over, and roosters would crow in the dark.

'The game unfolded in crisp, windless weather,' Don McLeod of The Oregonian wrote that night.' In the early stages, neither side made any serious dents in the defensive armor of the the slam-bang tempo that usually marks grid duels between long-time interstate rivals.'

All this changed in the second quarter, with UW quarterback Steve Hanzlik, a product of Oregon's David Douglas High, directing the purple and gold offense. His cue to get things going was triggered by a Ron Volbrecht hijacking of a Steve Endicott pass on the UW 41-yard line. Volbrecht's return was to the Beaver 41, where Hanzlik took the Huskies to the OSU one in seven plays. Two passes of 16 and 14 yards to split end Ralph Bayard did the biggest damage. On first and goal, Bo Cornell slammed the dagger home with a dive into the end zone for a 6-0 Husky lead. Volbrecht's extra point attempt hit the upright and bounced away. No good.

Now it was Endicott's turn to shine. With time running out in the half, OSU's intrepid signal caller turned in a little passing magic of his own, assisted by the brilliant Billy Main, and a hero for later in the game, Jim Scheele. Moving his team 58 yards in seven plays, the drive was capped by a Mike Nehl field goal with no time left on the clock. Halftime score, UW 6, OSU 3.

By game's end, statistics would show the Beavers whipping the Huskies in almost every statistical category. For most of the second half, it was hard to see, much harder to believe.

Said McLeod: 'While defensively brilliant, the Orange was unable to make any headway when the inspired Huskies were guarding their side of the arena. Occasionally, the Beavers flashed promise of breaking loose, but then always something would happen to foil their plan and they would have to kick.'

Finally, with the shadows of twilight beginning to blotch the Husky Astroturf, the Beavers took possession of the pigskin on their own 18. The game clock showed 90 seconds. It was gut-check time, now-or-never time, time to apply a message they had heard Andros preach so much in practice they were sick of hearing it: togetherness and never giving up. And there was one other little piece to the chemistry of that day that has almost been lost to history, except if maybe you were on the team, watching from close-up the drama about to unfold.

It was Dee's birthday, and his boys had promised him a win.

Two plays and two passes Scheele and Main...OSU was still in business at its own 48. Now a quarterback keeper was called but the play lost four precious yards. Another pass play. Incomplete. But UW was called for pass interference and the ball was walked forward to the Husky 49. Time for one last play. The clock will expire as the ball is in the air, for surely the young man known by many as ' the blond terror from Grants Pass,' will heave one to the heavens. Endicott did as expected, a 'Hail Mary' to the end zone, a nothing-to-lose toss that found a wide open Scheele with arms outstretched and a clear shot to the goal line.

No time left on the clock.

Touchdown Beavers!

Players and fans looked at the scene in stunned disbelief, both sides. Dee Andros, the only coach in OSU history to win a game in which all the Beaver points were scored with no time remaining on the clock, said this in his post-game interview: 'We were lucky as the dickens. Luck and the man upstairs were with us today.'

Happy Birthday Dee.

'Even overtime wouldn't have helped.'

Autzen Stadium, Nov. 19th, 1983: Over the past few years, the annual Civil War game between the Beavers and the Ducks has produced both back-and-forth results and some of the most competitive and spirited games in the history of the series, the oldest college football rivalry in the West. National rankings, conference championships and bowl games have usually been up for grabs.

My, how times have changed.

The truth is, for the past 30 years or so, the Ducks have fairly owned the Beavers, enjoying, for example, a 12-game winning streak against one tie from 1976-88. The string was broken in 1988 with a 21-10 OSU victory in Corvallis, but the Ducks resumed their winning ways the year after and have recorded an additional nine victories against five defeats. It was so bad for a time that UO fans would automatically pencil in a 'W' even before a season started, just as OSU fans got accustomed to doing during the latter part of the 1930s all the way to the early 1970s. Dee Andros, for example, only lost to Oregon one time during his 11 seasons as head coach, still the best performance turned in by a Beaver boss.

But we're talking here about the past three decades, a period when the Ducks won even when they were bad, which was the case in 1983 when the Beavers at 2-8 overall and 1-6 in the conference traveled south to Eugene to face Rich Brooks' Lemon Yellow at 4-6 and 3-3. Nothing was at stake that day but pride, nothing important except bragging rights for the next 12 months. For teams not going to a bowl game, this was the only bowl they were going to get, so why not make the best of it, right?

Saying this says something about how the fellers should have played the game that day. They did anything but. The Oregonian, in its post-game stories, ran what it called a 'Futility Scoreboard,' which gave a few pertinent statistics about the contest and which spoke volumes about the game itself. Fumbles: 11; Interceptions: 5; Missed field goals: 4.

Staff writer Steve Brandon said: 'It had everything 33,176 fans wanted in an Oregon-Oregon State game--except points. Announcement of the final score probably had them rolling in the aisles at press boxes along the West Coast. Two hours and 46 minutes of slap-stick comedy produced the sixth scoreless tie between the two and the first since 1931. The game film single-handedly could bring back Fractured Flickers to television.'

OSU dominated the first half, holding Oregon to 45 yards and one completion. The Ducks never got beyond the Beaver 49. In turn, OSU muffed five scoring opportunities, with fumbles at the Duck 20 and 11 yard lines and missed field goals, chip shots by today's standards, of 26 and 36 yards. One threat ended in an interception at the Duck 17.

Oregon returned the favor by dominating the second half, contributing six blown scoring chances to the folly. Field goals of 20 and 50 yards were missed. A fumble at the Beaver six stopped another threat. Another loose ball was lost at the OSU 45. Add two costly interceptions, both inside OSU's 30 yard line, and it's little wonder fans were laughing themselves silly.

So hapless was the action, sports columnist George Pasero commented that 'even overtime wouldn't have helped.'

'What was it?' he asked. 'Soccer, water polo, rugby? Nobody plays scoreless ties anymore.'

Little did Pasero realize his comment would one day prove historic. The truth is, the 1983 Civil War game, a game so maligned it is often comically referred to as 'The Toilet Bowl,' sits on the books as the last 0-0 tie played anywhere in the country at the Division I level. New NCAA rules authorizing overtime came about in 1996. Looking back over scores turned in from 1983-96 reveals plenty of ties, but none with goose eggs.

After the game, UO Head Coach Rich Brooks, who ironically holds two degrees from OSU, told a bemused press corps: 'It was almost like neither team wanted to win. It seemed like there was a force out there that said, 'We aren't going to let either team score.' '

OSU's Joe Avezzano, who would go on to coach the Beavers for one more season before eventually landing a special teams job with the Dallas Cowboys, said he was 'not happy with the result.' Amazingly, almost incredulously, Avezzano somehow managed to see something positive in the result, as if he were trying to will his team a moral victory: 'We were a bad program when we came in here, and now we are no longer a bad program.'

Oh really?

In his last year in Corvallis, 1984, Avezzano finished the season at 2-9, including a humiliating 31-6 loss to the Ducks before 39,000 not-very-amused fans at Parker Stadium.

Out of respect for those who played that day, it must be said that no player from either school went out on that rainy, windy day to put on a comedy show. From all indications, every player did his best to win. Fumbles happen. Interceptions and missed field goals happen. It's in the game. At that time so were scoreless ties.

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