September 6, 1996, Oregon State Beavers coach Jerry Pettibone tells a hand full of local reporters to watch out for what Oregon State will do this year. Many in Beaver nation just shrugged it off and figured it was coach speak because few coaches start off with “Well, we are going to really suck this year. Bad.”
Saturday morning, after an inspired speach by defensive coordinator Rocky Long, the Beavers take the field against Division II Montana for the first few snaps of a historic season. Rushing for 333 yards and 5 touchdowns against an over-matched Grizzlies, Oregon State jumped out to a 21 – 0 lead before half time. The second team played the whole second half yet the Beavers still only gave up 118 yards and 10 points en route to a 35 – 10 victory.
After falling to USC (55 – 24) in LA, the Beavers get a rare road wina against Baylor (21 – 17) and California (28- 21). After 27 years of losing, the Beavers started 3-1 as they take the field in a rare, packed Reser Stadium to face Northwest Rivals Washington State. Jumping out to a 28 – 14 lead, the Beavers give up a few quick TD’s on turnovers and end up losing 33 – 28. 3-2 is rough, but much better than what many Beaver fans expected. Pettibone would be heard saying “People better come to play against the Beavers this year. We are not just going to lay down.”
To prove it, Pettibone’s Beavers come out and delight 33,436 fans at Parker Stadium with a decisive 26-12 win over the Cardinal of Stanford. A trip to nationally ranked Arizona proves to be a tough task for the surprising 4-2 Beavers as they fall 33 – 28 in the desert. Hoping the the return to friendly Corvallis would prove to be a panacea to their loss in Tucson, Oregon State tries to improve to 5-3 against the Sun Devils. A rocky start sees OSU down 21-10, but after an emotional speech at half time from former coach Dee Andros, the Beavers come out and narrowly defeat the Devils 35 – 29.
Being one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time in thirty years, Pettibone’s hope to reach that milestone in Seattle against the hated Huskies. The trip turns out to be too much of a task for Oregon State as they fall to UW 42-28. This means that the Beavers have two games to reach .500 or greater and go to a bowl game, thus ending their record setting losing streak. Fortunately for the Beavs, they had Northern Illinois coming all the way to Corvallis. a 67 -10 whupping in front of a standing room only Parker Stadium saw Coach Pettibone storming the field in jubilation as the stands emptied and the streak was over. Even at 6-6, the season would be a non-losing season and break the streak.
But no one at Oregon State was satisfied just not losing, and with bitter rival the oregon ducks on the horizon, a 7-5 season would be more than anyone in Corvallis could ever have hoped for. The Beavers came ready to play in Autzen on that brisk November morning. Jumping out to a quick 45 point lead in the first quarter due to several exciting interceptions thrown by the ducks, the Beavers went on to set a Division I record for most points scored in a game with 127 to the ducks 0. The defeat was so bad, that the NCAA ruled it was worth three wins and thus rescinded the previous two duck victories. The fans at Autzen were so mad they could be heard rapping “I hate my ducks” in the stands while tearing their seats out of the ground and throwing them on the field.
The University of Oregon decided after that loss to end their football program and instead focus on lacrosse and competitive cheer. President Dave Frohnmeyer said later “The University of Oregon wants to focus on being an education first institution, focusing on long standing programs that have a bright future in the new millennium like Journalism, Banking and Sociology.”
Jerry Pettibone was signed to a 12 year contract after a narrow Liberty Bowl loss to UNLV but never reached the glory found on that magical 1996 season and was fired after the 2003 season. Fortunately, new head coach Mike Riley, fresh off of a stint as USC’s associate head coach seems to show promise. Hopefully we will against see the seats of Parker Stadium filled with riotous fans again some day…