Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, December 24, 1999


By Barry Scwartz, Oregon State University
Ken Simonton ran for 17 TDs this season, fueling
the Beavers' improbable run to a bowl game.

Ex-Rainbow Beaver
couldn’t be happier

By Steven Welsh
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Forgive us, people of Hawaii, but Paradise has been temporarily moved to a mainland college town in the Northwest.

Yes, Paradise has finally come to Corvallis, Ore., home of the Oregon State Beavers. Oh, you and the Rainbow Warriors will get your chance to stake claim to Paradise once again, on Christmas Day. But it won't really matter, you see, who wins the Oahu Bowl tomorrow.

Perennial football losers and longtime doormats of the Pac-10 Conference, the Beavers have found Paradise.

Oh, we heard about Hawaii's best-ever turnaround, going from 0-12 to 8-4. And we shook our heads in wonder, too.

But not for long. You see, you don't understand. You tasted losing in one quick dose. The Beavers (7-4) haven't had a winning season in football for 29 years (I've been here for 20 of them). No, not two or nine.

Twenty-nine. Years.

OSU hasn't been to a bowl game in 34 years. That's, what, six years after Hawaii became the 50th state? That's before Jack Lord and 5-O.

Before Don Ho ... no, wait. Okay, after Don Ho. When anyone in Corvallis said "bowl game" they headed down to the nearest alley and racked up the pins. Please, let me tell you just how bad it was.

The dam

Blow off the dust, the news clippings are still there for proof. The Beavers, in 1961, were known as the "Giant Killers" under coach Dee Andros (known as "The Great Pumpkin" because of Andros' size and his habit of wearing mostly orange coaching togs.

In the late 1960s, they upset then No. 2 USC and O.J. Simpson on a field goal, 3-0. But in the next couple of years, OSU slowly dropped in prominence. No big deal.

Surely, a few strong recruits here, a few tweaks in strategy, and OSU would be back in the black. But nobody heard the sound of falling logs ... a dam was slowly being built. A dam that would keep out the winning seasons.

For Beavers, that is some irony.

The dam was strong

Oregon State did what most other schools do in trying to break out of a funk, they brought in new coaches. Craig Fertig, Joe Avezzano, Dave Kragthorpe, and Joe Pettibone.

But it wasn't quick and dirty for any Beaver coach; OSU and Beaver fans are patient, loyal --and enduring. Each coach was given enough time to recruit for their system and to develop that talent. But nothing seemed to work.

Avezzano barely escaped Corvallis alive after winning only a handful of games over five seasons.

Football was now a distant second to OSU basketball, ranked No. 1 in the nation in 1981. Football highlights? How about a 0-0 tie with cross state rival Oregon in the Civil Bore game. Beaver fans, long known to sit in cold rains for their football, continued to suffer.

Corvallis was now considered a coaching purgatory for any coach who dared come. Even a drastic, one-sided aerial offense under Kragthorpe (which set several school and Pac-10 passing marks) couldn't break the dam. A four-win season was merely a crack.

Bring in Pettibone. And a 180-degree turnaround in offense. OSU went from 100-percent passing to 100-percent running, it seemed, with Pettibone's wishbone ground game. It was like down-shifting to first gear. In mud.

Pettibone's wishbone, however, almost broke the dam in one season (4-7), but with expectations high, the team mysteriously collapsed the next season (1-10).

The dam leaks, or so it seems

Bring in Mike Riley, a local boy. Riley, a graduate of Corvallis High School, seemed like the savior. Combined with the recruiting of Pettibone before him, Riley constructed a more balanced offensive scheme and a defense that was earning praise throughout the Pac-10.

Suddenly, big cracks appeared in the dam. A 5-6 season in 1998. Riley was going to take the Beavers through that dam.

Anticipation (and ticket sales) was at an all-time high. In the last game of 1998, the Beavers even upset then 15th-ranked Oregon, 44-41, in double overtime. And then Riley suddenly, after only two years on the job, leaves to take the NFL head coaching job in San Diego (taking over for June Jones). The Beaver team, all of Corvallis and most of Oregon, was stunned. It was a prime opportunity for Riley, but the timing couldn't have been worse. OSU finally had the talent, but who would get the Beavers to Paradise now?

The dam breaks, finally

It took one good break to make it happen. Dennis Erickson, fresh from his firing as Seattle Seahawks coach, took the OSU job. It was as if God could no longer endure "the dam losing streak." Beaver fans went from a cold sweat to a dizzy, bewildered glee.

But nobody expected 7-4.

Only a couple of west coast experts picked OSU fifth in the Pac-10 this season. Most everyone else put the Beavers in their long familiar spot in the Pac-10 basement. After a quick burst to 3-0 on a feast of non-Pac-10 teams, Beaver fans quickly did the math -- could we win three out of the remaining seven games, even if some were against top-25 teams in their conference?

Yes. And then one. After a near upset of eventual Pac-10 champion Stanford, OSU pasted UCLA, 55-7. Down went Dick Tomey's Arizona Wildcats in Corvallis. Then, with OSU's record at 5-3, the all-important sixth win (guaranteeing a winning season) came at home against Cal. Fans stormed the field after OSU won, 17-7. The scoreboard flashed, "Hail Dorothy! The wicked streak is dead!"

Corvallis and Beaver fans throughout the state celebrated wildly. Was this Paradise? Maybe, but it got even better. With a seventh win, OSU earned its plane ticket to Hawaii and the Oahu Bowl.

The Beavers, winners, and in a bowl game.

Now this is Paradise.

I attended both schools, pulling for Saturday? I'm torn. It's like a Dad rooting for his two sons, who are on opposite teams. But I'll give you a hint. I'm pulling for the rainbow. Nope, not necessarily the team that wears the rainbow.

The rainbow that accompanies Paradise, or winning.

This rainbow arcs across the Pacific ocean, one end touching the Manoa campus, almost righteously but certainly familiar. The other end touches Oregon and the OSU campus, breaking through where there were once dark skies. Twenty-nine years of darkness.

I must admit, this rainbow is rather warm and bright, almost blinding.

Beaver eyes aren't quite used to it yet. But we like what we see of Paradise.

For this kamaina, it feels like home.

Steven Welsh is a former Star-Bulletin sports writer,
Leilehua High School grad, and UH Rainbow.
He resides in Corvallis, Ore.

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