“Well, we really think Dave Kragthorpe is going to be the future of this program.”
“I understand that, but if you value my opinion on football, you will give that kid from Idaho the shot. Erickson is a rising star.”
“All right Dee, we will go with your selection, but this is all on you.”
In the Winter of 1985, Dennis Erickson was named head coach of the Oregon State Beavers football team. There was a lot of head scratching at the Big O and Squirrels about the hire of a 35 year old from Idaho, but the Avazanno era had been so bad, many fans in Corvallis just wanted to see a winner at Parker. It had been a long time.
The first thing Dennis did was hit the road recruiting. “We have hard workers, but we are going to need more speed on defense to compete and whole different attitude.” Coach Erickson brought in friend Craig Bray to coach the defense and Bray responded by hitting the JC’s hard for defensive linemen and secondary players that could compete. Prior to the first week of spring ball, Erickson challenged his players saying “I will never get on you for going too hard or playing too tough.”
In the fall camp, Erickson singled out young Erik Wilhelm to be hist starter and had him work tirelessly with standout wide receiver Reggie Bynum. They also brought in some tough and big offensive linemen from a few California junior colleges to help block. The result was a season opening domination of Erickson’s former Vandals to the tune of 63 -12. Wilhelm had four passes of over 50 yards, two to Bynum and one to freshmen stand out Robb Thomas.
The following week, they took their talents to Portland to face California. The revamped Beavers beat the Golden Bears 46 – 20 as Wilhelm passed for 400 yards and 5 touchdowns and the Beavers recorded a dramatic safety at the end of the fourth quarter. The momentum was palatable, and Corvallis was a buzz at the new high flying offense and stingy defense that Erickson brought to Corvallis. A 30 point home win over Fresno state gave the Beavers their first three game win streak in over a decade with a tough trip to Grambling State the following week. The Beavers got caught up in the sites of New Orleans a bit and had to send a few players home. The result was a less than impressive 23-3 loss. Wilhelm fell back to earth with just 112 yards passing and the running game went for 44 yard total.
Much of Corvallis had a wash of the “Here We Go Again’s” which were quickly squelched by a miraculous road victory against the might USC Trojans as the Beavers recorded 7 interceptions and beat them 23-21 in what many were calling the Return of the Giant Killers. Unfortunately the 4-1 Beavers had four of their offensive linemen suspended for one game for fighting outside of The Beaver Hut, which led to a less than impressive 34 – 15 loss to WSU. After starting out hot, Wilhelm was now averaging just under 200 yards per game. With the mighty Washington Huskies on the horizon, it didn’t look like any relief in site.
Fortunately for the Beaver faithful, the Giant Killers part Deux era was in full effect as the words of Wikipedia best explain it:
“With 1:29 remaining in the game, Washington was forced to punt from right outside their own end zone. Oregon State’s Andre Todd rushed the punter and managed to block the punt, sending the ball flying into Washington’s end zone, nearly causing a safety. However, the bounce went Oregon State’s way and ended up staying in the end zone, allowing the Beavers to recover it resulting in the touchdown. The extra point was good, giving the Beavers a 21-20 lead, which would prove to be enough for the win, resulting in the biggest overcome point spread in college football history.”
The Beavers were back on track and at 5-2, they had a great shot at being bowl eligible. A rough trip to Arizona left the Beavers at 5-3, but a game against Stanford in Parker could be their last legitimate shot at that sixth win. The Beavers come out ready to play and Wilhelm puts on an aerial show that had a few national journalists asking if he should go to New York for the Heisman. 644 yards and 6 touchdowns later, Wilhelm led the Beavers to their first Bowl Eligible record in over 14 years. Coach Erickson was found celebrating throughout town as the newest Celebrity in Corvallis was greeted with with Cheers like chants of “Dennis!”.
Of course with another trip to Los Angeles to take on the 13th ranked Bruins of UCLA on the horizon, the celebrations came to an end as the Bruins beat the Beavers 41 -24. At 6-4, the Beavers needed a big win in Eugene to secure a bowl slot. The pressure was on and practices were filled with skirmishes and pent up aggression towards their cross state rivals.
Riding a wave of emotion, the Beavers stormed the ducks jumping out to a quick 21 – 0 lead on two blocked punts and a 70 yard TD reception by Bynum. A huge fight broke out on the field in the second quarter and stadium security was required to separate players and coaches. Rich Brooks called it a travesty and wanted the OSU players kicked out, while Coach Erickson smiled and said “Relax Rich, I just didn’t know your players were bad at fighting too…”
After a few ejections and order was brought back to the game, the Beavers continued their march to victory scoring touchdowns on each of their next seven drives. They scored so many points that the Benny The Beaver mascot who was asked to do pushups for each point was forced to go on an IV because of exhaustion. Duck announcer and superfan Jerry Allen was so disgusted by the points being scored and his job of actually announcing them over the air, that he quit at the end of the third quarter, leaving just dead air for the whole fourth quarter.
Outside of Autzen stadium, fleets of fire trucks were sent to the grounds to put out dumpster fires started by duck fans burning their ‘lucky’ shirts, hats, sweatshirts and parachute pants. In Corvallis, DaVinci days changed their name to Dennispalooza, which was visited by a young Perry Farrell.
The Beavers went on to win five or more games over the next five seasons before Erickson was wooed away by a job at the University of Miami. Wanting a change in culture, AD Dutch Bauchman wanted to bring in a strong disciplinarian to run a program that had a reputation for unruly behavior on and off the field. So he hired successful Texas State coach Jerry Pettibone to bring a powerful rushing offense to a team that had made a living through the air.
Corvallis Police were sent in droves to The Big O to put out dumpster fires started as Beaver fans began burning their gear…