Oregon State University recognizes 121 years of Civil War traditions, history

Reser Stadium is home to the Oregon State University football team. Reser Stadium has the capacity to seat 45,674 fans.

Community recalls events that helped shape Civil War.

Walking through the arches of the stadium, the din of Beavers and Ducks fans alike roar to life. 

The rivalry between the Oregon State University Beavers and the University of Oregon Ducks is the longest running west coast rivalry, according to Mike Dicianna, an OSU special archivist. The annual game between teams approaches next week, and the excitement for the event is building. The first game between the UO and OSU, previously known as Oregon Agricultural College, occurred on Nov. 3, 1894, resulting in an OSU victory of 16-0. The championship game was considered the homecoming game from 1917 to about 1930, Dicianna added.

The Civil War was known as the Oregon Championship Game until the 1930s when the Ducks’ coach, John McEwan, coined the term in a newspaper interview, according to Dicianna.  

At the time, the Civil War was not on a national perspective, according to Steve Fenk, the associate Athletics director of communications. It was a competition between two nearby schools for mostly local enjoyment.  

“But that back then was even a bigger deal probably for the state because of those guys,” Fenk said. “They’re playing against guys they went to high school with. You know, so that was a bigger deal.”

With 121 years of competition between schools comes 121 years of traditions and legends, according to Fenk. From pranks to papers to trophies, the culture behind the Civil War is just as rich as the sporting event itself. 

“There is a thing called the platypus,” Fenk said. “And it always pops up every year in national conversations about what the teams play for. But really it’s not. It hasn’t been for years and years and years.” 

According to Dicianna, the platypus was crafted in 1959 by a UO art student, Warren Spady. Over the years it would be passed between the alumni and bands.  

“For a while, the Alumni Association would trade it back and forth, and I think the band’s gotten involved with it,” Fenk said. “But not the actual football team.”

The platypus trophy has since faded out of use, according to Fenk. 

According to Olin Hannum, director and instructor of athletic bands, the music of the game is as much of a staple of Civil War as the sport is. 

The OSU band has multiple little progressions and pieces to play depending on what’s happening in the game. One is the first down chant that occurs when the OSU team scores a first down. 

According to Hannum, the progression played is from a little known wind ensemble piece by H. Owen Reed called “La Fiesta Mexicana”. At first, the crowd wouldn’t respond to a first down progression being played. But after eight years of playing this progression at a first down, the tradition to throw your arm out and give a loud “Hooa!” began. 

“The first time you see it, you’re like, ‘Oh wow, that’s a very cool tradition, you would use that word’,” Hannum said. “But what the people around here don’t know is that the band played that for eight years before people started doing this. And now it’s a thing.”

The first down chant was a long time coming, according to Hannum.

“It took a long time,” Hannum said. “I’m sure when they first started this thing, they didn’t do an arm movement and shout ‘Hooa!’ you know?” 

This organic start of a tradition is a key element in creating traditions, according to Hannum. 

“I found that it’s very difficult to manufacture genuine traditions. Something that is part of an organization has to sort of come up from within,” Hannum said. “In that way, some traditions are something that are really precious. Tradition is a first down thing, playing rock and roll down to the buzzer, those are traditions.”

In Civil War history, other traditions were pranks played between schools, according to Dicianna. 

“Pranks between the two schools go back to the earliest games,” Dicianna said via email. “George Edmonston tells the story of three in an Alumni Association article a few years ago. They can be of usd in comparing the old days to our more ‘tame’ rivalry today.”

Alumnus Brent Culver recalls Civil War antics during his days attending OSU in the early to mid 1980s. 

“Probably the best prank was that the Barometer would publish a fake Emerald (UO student newspaper) and distribute it on the Duck campus just as if it were real. Genius!” Brent Culver said via email. 

According to Aaron Kerosky, the regional network director of the OSU Alumni Association, it is important to keep a critical eye on Civil War pranks and traditions altogether. 

“I think traditions are an important part of the college experience, but it’s critical to always be ready to adapt to a changing environment on campus and society in

general,” Kerosky said via email. “Too often I’ve seen the argument of defending traditions to justify outdated or harmful practices.”

Nowadays, the pranking and competition has calmed down as the game persists, according to Fenk. There was once a student who hung a deceased duck from Gill Coliseum during a Civil War basketball game. 

“I think the state used to be really divided more than it is now. I think to some extent that’s been watered down a little bit,” Fenk said. “But still that week and that game, there’s a lot of families who have members who went to both schools so there are a lot of friendly rivalries there.”

As with all games, the public is welcome to join and cheer for their preferred team. Inside Reser Stadium, there is a section dedicated specifically to OSU students to gather and cheer on their school.

According to Brent Culver, the OSU student section in Reser has gone under extensive changes since his attendance. 

“The student section was on the east side, which at time was basically a small dirt hill with metal bleachers on it,” Culver said in an email. “You could walk in without any security. Just had to show a student ID card with a corresponding color sticker on it. Boda bags were allowed. No alcohol monitors.”

According to Kerosky, the process and landscape of the OSU student section may have changed over the years, but the charm and electricity of it remains.  

“I attended pretty much every home football game during my time at OSU,” Kerosky said via email. “The student section was a great place to run into friends, and the atmosphere during that time period was great.”

Allison Culver, administrative assistant for customer service for the Alumni Association, attended Civil War games with her family from a young age.   

“Since I grew up going to games I had a different experience from other students, I loved going to games with my family and grandparents. Those that sat around us became family,” Allison Culver said. “However, when I started standing in the student section, I would say there’s no feeling like the energy in the student section. It makes you feel like you are a part of something way bigger than yourself; everyone is there to have a good time and cheer for the Beavs!” 

Before electronic ticket purchasing systems, students would have to get athletics events tickets in person, according to Culver. 

“We used to camp out for football tickets in front of Reser all weekend; sometimes in the rain, usually getting no sleep before midterms and standing in line at 4 a.m.,” Allison Culver said. “It’s different now. I would say the electronic system takes away that experience for current students, but maybe I’m just crazy and enjoyed waiting all weekend for tickets.” 

According to Fenk, the electricity of Civil War game day is tangible to its attendants. 

“Once you walk into Reser, it’s different for sure than a normal game,” Fenk said. “You feel it because a lot of times there’s so much going on.” 

On game day, one is bound to see fans of both the Beavers and Ducks tailgating before the event, according to Fenk. This helps create an environment of friendly camaraderie. 

For Hannum, the pressure of game day is managed with adrenaline and excitement. 

“There’s not that level of get up for the game with any game except for the Civil War and that makes it hyped a little bit more,” Hannum said. 

According to Dicianna, for 121 years, the Civil War game has created, kept and continued long-time Oregon heritage.

“In a time where the old traditions have faded away at OSU, the Oregon Championship, or Civil War, is one of the last, most important, things we, as Beavers, can hang on to,” Dicianna said via email. “This one game a year, more important than all others, harkens back to a simpler time at this institution. The 121 year history of our rivalry, as long as we have been playing football intercollegiate games in Oregon, is the main tradition of today that gives us some continuity with our history. As we celebrate our 150th anniversary of OSU, traditions of our past, and our collective memory is so important. The Civil War is a major part of this, win or lose.”

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