War for the Rose

Dec. 08, 2008
Dec. 08, 2008

Table of Contents
Dec. 8, 2008

Sportsman of the Year
Stanton Barrett

War for the Rose

The 112th meeting between Oregon State and Oregon was one of a handful of showdowns last week in which heated rivals squared off with much more than bragging rights at stake

THE ROSES? Someof them just disappeared, the way odd socks do. Others lay crushed beneath theseats and in the concrete aisles of Oregon State's Reser Stadium. Outside, amiddle-aged woman peddled cut-rate bouquets. Sales were not brisk. One red roseended up in the hand of James Bishop, a thirtysomething Oregon fan who dancedwith it on the field after the Ducks' 65--38 clubbing of the Beavers lastSaturday in Corvallis. ¶ "We've been to the Holiday Bowl," shoutedBishop, "and we're probably going back. What we haven't done is see themwith the Rose Bowl in their grasp and just rip it from them. And it feelsgreat."

This is an article from the Dec. 8, 2008 issue

Such nakedschadenfreude is a symptom of Rivalry Week—the eight-day period spanning thelast two Saturdays of November and featuring most of college football'sspiciest feuds. The Civil War, as the Ducks and the Beavers refer to theirannual encounter, dates to 1894—less than three decades after the conclusion ofthe real Civil War. Always intense, this rivalry has gained significance overthe last 15 years, as both programs have come up in the world. This season,after an 0--2 start, Oregon State rattled off eight wins in its next ninegames. The second of those victories remains one of the least comprehensibleupsets of 2008, a 27--21 win over then No. 1 USC. Now, with a victory overOregon, the Beavers would book a trip to their first Rose Bowl in 44 years.

The defense gotthings off to a swell start, sacking Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli on thegame's first play. So deafening was the home crowd of 46,319 during the ensuingthree-and-out that Ducks running back Jeremiah Johnson later paid it tribute."I've gotta give it to 'em," he said. "It ain'tAutzen"—Oregon's notoriously boisterous home venue—"but it got loud tothe point where we were like, Damn!"

The fans hadpiped down considerably by the end of the quarter, at which time Johnson hadrushed for 95 yards on four touches—he would finish with 219 and a touchdown on17 carries—and the Ducks led 17--7. With the run game firing, "that set upour play action," said Masoli, who described the Beavers' defensive backsas "really aggressive. When those safeties came down, we just threw rightover 'em."

The Ducks led athalftime 37--17 and had piled up a jaw-dropping 442 yards. (They would finishwith 694.) Masoli mulched the Beavers' defense much the same way he'd madeshort work of Foothill College, Santa Rosa J.C. and the College of San Mateowhile leading City College of San Francisco to last year's junior collegenational title. Fifth on the depth chart after transferring to Eugene, Masoliwas starting by Game 4, the result of injuries to those above him and hisShamWow-like ability to absorb the elaborate schemes of offensive coordinatorChip Kelly.

While Johnson,fellow running back LaGarrette Blount (112 yards on 17 carries) and Masoli werehaving huge games, no one was having more fun than Kelly, who demonstratedagain why his name appears on so many short lists for head-coaching vacancies.Endlessly creative—he has used 6'5", 243-pound tight end Ed Dickson as thepitch back on option plays ("Why not? He can really run")—he keptOregon State off balance all night. Three times in the second half the pluckyBeavers pulled to within 13 points. Three times the Ducks answered with atouchdown.

"I've hungout with some of those Oregon State guys, and they're good guys," saidDucks center Max Unger. "Our motivation was not to take the Rose Bowl awayfrom them." And yet, having done so, he admitted with a guilty smile,"makes this win 10 times sweeter."

NOT EVERYfive-star rivalry can wait until late November. While Texas and Oklahomatraditionally square off on the second Saturday of October, the result of thisyear's Red River Rivalry—a 45--35 Texas win—was very much in the news lastSaturday. As expected, the Longhorns, Sooners and Texas Tech won last week:Texas over Texas A&M 49--9 on Thanksgiving night; Tech at home againstBaylor 35--28; Oklahoma 61--41 in Stillwater over No. 12 Oklahoma State in theBedlam Series. Thus did they finish the regular season in a three-way tie atopthe Big 12 South.

While theLonghorns trailed slightly in the human polls going into the last week of theregular season, they proved to be light years ahead in the area of politickingfor their team's cause. On Nov. 23 a Texas sophomore named Austin Talbert firedup a Facebook page advocating that the Longhorns maintain their place ahead ofthe Sooners in the BCS rankings. Later that morning he noticed the site had 300"friends." At week's end it had almost 50,000. Talbert's page and awebsite started by Texas senior Matt Parks ( helped raise $7,000for a unique lobbying opportunity. High above Boone Pickens Stadium before theBedlam kickoff, a small plane pulled a banner that hectored: TEXAS 45, ou35—SETTLED ON A NEUTRAL FIELD.

The Longhorns'problem: The BCS computers don't have a Facebook account, and they couldn't seethe flyover. While Texas overtook the Sooners in the Harris poll (a 27-pointswing) and closed to within a single point in the coaches' poll (making up 41points), Oklahoma vaulted from third to first in the computer rankings,leapfrogging the Longhorns in the process. That was enough to move the Soonersto No. 2 in the BCS and into the Big 12 title game against Missouri thisSaturday night in Kansas City, Mo.

In a statementexpressing his disappointment, Longhorns coach Mack Brown noted that hisplayers would be excluded from a championship game featuring teams they'dbeaten (by a combined 35 points at that). Somewhat less crestfallen, Texas Techcoach Mike Leach proposed last Saturday, with a twinkle in his eye: "Ithink they should break that three-way tie based on graduation rate." Bywild coincidence, the Red Raiders' football players have a Big 12--leading 79%graduation rate, according to a recent NCAA report. The Longhorns and theSooners are at a distant 50% and 46%, respectively.

AT THE other endof the rivalry spectrum, opposite such tense and hostile pairings as the RedRiver Rivalry, the Border Showdown (Kansas 40, Missouri 37) and the Big Game(Ohio State 42, Michigan 7 on Nov. 22) is the nation's oldest, most sublimeintersectional matchup. With "the championships and traditions" thatUSC and Notre Dame bring, says freshman tailback Marc Tyler, one of a handfulof Trojans recruited by both schools, "this is a rivalry built on mutualrespect." (Except when the teams are shoving each other in a near-rumblethat breaks out 45 minutes before the kickoff, as happened last Saturday.)

Fighting Irishquarterback Jimmy Clausen played with Tyler at Oaks Christian High. Severaldays before the game Tyler wished Clausen well, expressing his hope that thequarterback would "make it out of the Coliseum alive."

Alive, yes.Victorious, no. So dominant was the Trojans' defense in a 38--3 win that thequestion was not whether the Fighting Irish would get into the end zone. It waswhether or not Charlie Weis & Co. would get a first down, which Notre Damedid—on the last play of the third quarter.

"Emotions runhigh during rivalry games," said USC safety Taylor Mays, another Trojan whoconsidered going to Notre Dame. "Anything can happen."

How else toexplain the goings on between the hedges at Sanford Stadium, site of one of theseason's most dramatic in-game reversals? Trailing favored Georgia at the half28--12, first-year Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson assured his players theywould score on their first possession of the third quarter.

"I didn'tknow it'd be on one play," he would say later. Running back JonathanDwyer's 60-yard TD dash sparked a ridiculously dominant third quarter, duringwhich the visitors, who had not beaten the Dawgs since 2000, rushed for 201yards and scored 26 points on their way to a 45--42 victory.

Only the strongfeelings engendered by a time-honored feud can explain the following result:Eagles 56, Chippewas 52.

The 2--9 EasternMichigan Eagles were jacked up to send recently fired coach Jeff Genyk off witha win, and that was before Butch Jones, coach of the 8--3 Central MichiganChippewas, allegedly taunted one of Eastern's fired assistants before thegame.

The result:another pregame shoving match, followed by a historic performance by Eaglesjunior quarterback Andy Schmitt, whose 58 completions (in 80 attempts) set anNCAA record. Schmitt threw for 516 yards and five touchdowns in the upset, ofwhich Genyk remarked, unnecessarily, "We played with a tremendous amount ofemotion."

No disrespectintended to the rest of the republic, but nowhere do emotions run higher thanin the South. Revenge was the theme of this year's Iron Bowl, where Alabamasimply imposed its will on Auburn, which Bear Bryant called "that cowcollege on the other side of the state." With hardnosed Glen Coffee rushingfor 144 yards, the Tide rolled 36--0, winning its first Iron Bowl in sevenyears while piling up the largest margin of victory in the series since 1962.Despite its No. 1 ranking Nick Saban's crew will be underdogs in thisSaturday's SEC title game, which suits this no-frills bunch just fine.

That matchup, tobe played in the Georgia Dome, will serve as a semifinal, if you will, to theBCS title game. 'Bama will attempt to slow No. 4 Florida, which embarrassedFlorida State in Tallahassee 45--15 and has outscored its last eight opponents414--97.

Whether running,passing, throwing downfield blocks or bellowing and pumping his arms betweensnaps like a Braveheart extra, quarterback Tim Tebow took the game over.Displeased with the Seminoles fans who cheered when Gators wideout Percy Harvinsuffered an ankle injury in the second quarter, the reigning Heisman winnerbriefly channeled National Lampoon's Politeness Man. To teach the boors alesson, Tebow requested, and received, permission to run the ball. "Ireally wanted to hit somebody extremely hard the next play," heexplained.

BACK INCorvallis, not all Oregon fans felt the need to rub the nearest Beaver's nosein it. Alan Brann, decked out in green and gold, gloated not the least in frontof his best friend, Collin Rainville, who sported the colors of Oregon State,his favorite team in the world. Fourth graders at Eugene's St. Paul Elementary,they simply agree to disagree.

In this way theyare a microcosm of the Civil War. Yes, it is a genuine clash of cultures:liberal, activist Eugene versus the more rural, conservative Corvallis and theag school it supports. Beavers joke about Oregon's "varsity Hacky Sackteam"; Ducks counter that Oregon State offers a dual major in biology andagriculture so its students can graduate knowing their rear ends from a hole inthe ground.

But in a statewith such a small population many Ducks and Beavers call one another friendsand, in rare cases, spouses. This accommodation is evident in the dividedjerseys that bear each school's colors and in the scores of cars outside ReserStadium last Saturday flying flags of both universities.

"I thinkpeople in this state like both teams," proclaims Nick Aliotti, the Ducks'defensive coordinator. "Except for our hard-core fans, I don't think mostDuck fans would have been terribly upset to see Oregon State going to the RoseBowl."

He ventured thisopinion a hundred yards or so from where Bishop, the rose-wielding Oregonpartisan, had concluded a midfield interview with this sign-off: "Now ifyou'll excuse me, my son is going to videotape me while I dance on theBeaver."

The Horns trailed in the polls, but they were lightyears ahead in the area of POLITICKING for their team's cause.
Weis's offense picked up its INITIAL FIRST DOWN on thelast play of the third quarter.
Revenge was the theme of the Iron Bowl. Led by Coffee,unbeaten Alabama IMPOSED ITS WILL on Auburn.



Get breakdowns and analysis of the Big 12 and SEC championship games fromStewart Mandel and Cory McCartney.


PHOTOPhotograph by Robert BeckOFF AND SCORING Jeff Maehl put the first six points on the board during the Ducks' record-setting offensive performance.PHOTODARREN CARROLLPHOTODARREN CARROLLBY A HAIR Texas was in line for a Big 12 title shot, but Frank Alexander (84) and the Sooners were .0128 better in the BCS's eyes.PHOTORONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES[See caption above]PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHPHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHTRIPLE-JUMPED The Trojans' defense smothered Armando Allen and Notre Dame, holding the Irish to 91 total yards.PHOTOBILL FRAKES (MURPHY)FLORIDA'S FINEST Wideout Louis Murphy celebrated after the Gators blasted Florida State for their eighth straight blowout win.PHOTOBOB ROSATO (COFFEE)