OSU prepares for Civil War with history lesson

Usually, when college football players head to practice, they leave the classroom behind.

Not so for those at Oregon State this week. They walked right into a history course: Civil War 101. Not that Civil War, mind you, but the grid version with their in-state rivals, the Oregon Ducks.

The Beavers have enough young players who haven't been in the game that Riley scheduled several days of cramming to bring them up to speed before Saturday, when the OSU visits No. 9 Oregon for the 12:30 p.m. contest at Autzen Stadium.

On the offensive and defensive depth charts, nearly half of the Beavers are sophomores and freshmen, 29 of 59.

"We started today at our team meeting with a little bit of an intro to just the general history of this series," Riley said in a conference call Tuesday. "Then we'll go into some specific games in the next couple days. The main reason is to show them the environment. It truly is a great game to be involved in. I just want the young guys to get a sense of what it's really about. I don't think they will really get it until they get on the field probably."

Nevertheless, he was encouraged to hear some were enlightened.

"I just a got a couple of very, very brief reactions," said Riley, the 11th-year head coach who grew up in Corvallis and holds the Civil War particularly dear. "One kid said to me, 'That was really neat to see.' You don't know what impact it really makes, but it's kind of fun to know a little more about this game."

Riley has been around the game seemingly forever — his father, Bud, was an assistant to Dee Andros in the mid-1960s — but even the Beaver mentor learned something. The session featured video of Terry Baker, the Beavers' 1962 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, with narration by Dan Fouts, one of the Ducks' all-time great signal-callers.

Riley discovered the series is the most-contested on the West Coast. This will be the 115th meeting; only six other rivalry games will have been played more often by season's end.

Oregon has won it 58 times, OSU 46, and there have been 10 ties.

The Ducks, ranked No. 1 at the time, triumphed 37-20 last season in Corvallis.

Down the road in Eugene, Ducks coach Chip Kelly doesn't make one game out to be bigger than another.

He equates them all to the Super Bowl.

But isn't the Civil War bigger, he was pressed, during his conference call Tuesday.

"More important than the Super Bowl?" he responded. "I don't think so. Every game is the Super Bowl for us."

He disagrees with those who say his stance diminishes the magnitude of a game that routinely pits families and friends within the state against each other.

"It's the biggest game we'll ever play," he said.

Because it's the next one.

If Kelly doesn't stress the passion Oregonians hold for the Civil War, his elder players will while educating the youngsters, he said.

"I think they've done a good job in terms of how important this game is," said Kelly. "Know matter where I've been, when you're playing in this kind of situation, it's the seniors that set the tone."

The two teams have gone in opposite directions much of the season, but that trend was reversed last weekend.

The then-No. 4 Ducks (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) were eliminated from the national-title picture with a 38-35 home loss to No. 18 Southern California.

Oregon State (3-8, 3-5 Pac-12) ended a three-game skid with a 38-21 victory over Washington.

Oregon's players have responded well to the defeat, said Kelly, noting that when he left the football facility Sunday night, "I saw the 'feel-sorry-for-you' train leaving, and none of our players were on it."

An inspired Oregon team will make what seems an already Herculean task for OSU — it's a 28-point underdog — even greater.

Perhaps the remaining history lessons will help.

"We might feature a couple of games that obviously the Beavers did well in," Riley laughed, including highlight clips of current OSU players who have had shining moments in the series.

A prime example, he said, was James Rodgers' 25-yard fly-sweep touchdown in 2007 that gave the Beavers a 38-31, double-overtime win at Auzten Stadium.

While Riley insists that treating each game similarly — as Kelly strives to do — is "absolutely" the right way to go about preparing a team and is what the Beavers do as well, there's clearly a mixed message from him when the Civil War rolls around.

Asked how his father approached the game, Riley said he'd be lying if he said his dad got visibly worked up.

But Dee Andros, nicknamed "The Great Pumpkin" for his rotund shape and orange clothing, did enough of that.

"Dee Andros was so fun," said Riley. "He talked about the Ducks giving him a stomach ache, and that was a pretty big deal for him."

Riley quarterbacked Corvallis High to the 1970 state championship, beating Medford, 21-10, to avenge a title loss to the Black Tornado the previous year, then played cornerback on a national-championship team at Alabama under Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Bud Riley coached the Beavers from 1965-72 and again in '79.

Mike Riley has a spectrum of highlights when he reflects on the Civil War.

"When we were kids, it was just bigger than life," he said.

He remembers Beaver Thurman Bell, the longtime Roseburg coach, intercepting a pass at the OSU 5-yard line to stop a potential game-winning drive and preserving a 19-14 victory in 1965.

And defensive back Mel Easley, who would go on to play in the Canadian Football League.

And for Oregon, Bobby Moore, who would become Ahmad Rashad, and a couple of quarterbacks from Grants Pass — OSU's Steve Endicott and UO's Tom Blanchard — on opposite sidelines as their revered high school coach, Mel Ingram, sat in the stands.

"My memories are not so much of wins and losses," said Riley, "because I think the records were real good back then for Oregon State. My memories are of players. There's just a great history of players; and I remember moments."

"It's just a privilege for me to have that background and to be able to coach in this game."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

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