At long last they can party with the people who created their defiantly ludicrous mascot. The Oregon Ducks are going to Disneyland.
The world's most famous theme park will be on the Rose Bowl-week agenda of college football's least likely 1994 conference champion. Oregon's first Rose Bowl bid in 37 years wasn't assured until the penultimate play of last Saturday's rainy Civil War, as the Ducks' annual battle with Oregon State is known, when a last-gasp pass by Beaver quarterback Don Shanklin splashed down, incomplete. The Ducks took over on downs, ran out the clock and then scattered, ecstatic, to the four corners of Parker Stadium, Oregon State's home field in Corvallis. Sprinting along the edge of the bleachers, tailback Kevin Parker bellowed at the crowd, which had trouble understanding him because of the long-stemmed rose clinched in his teeth. On the field, wide receiver Cristin McLemore used his one unmangled hand, the right, to shake a yellow rose in a reporter's face as he shouted, "We're going to Pasadena, and nobody can tell us we don't deserve it!"
Chill out, Cris. No one said the Ducks haven't earned the right to have their gizzards eaten by Penn State on Jan. 2. The new Pac-10 champs came into the season with average talent and an underachieving quarterback, Danny O'Neil, whose unpopularity among Oregon supporters was exceeded only by that of his coach, Rich Brooks. For the first month of the season Duck fans were baying for Brooks's head. Now he's a finalist in everyone's Coach of the Year contest.
O'Neil, a senior from Newport Beach, Calif., was booed by Oregon fans as the Ducks lost two of their first three games this season, at which point he was 0-16 in games in which Oregon trailed at half-time. O'Neil's circle of friends began expanding a few weeks later, on Oct. 22, when he drove the Ducks 98 yards late in the fourth quarter for the game-winning touchdown against Washington. In the fourth quarter a week later, against Arizona—in a matchup of SI's preseason No. 1 and No. 74 teams—he hit tight end Josh Wilcox with a game-winning, 15-yard TD pass. Successive routs of Arizona State and Stanford, in which O'Neil threw for nine touchdowns, left Oregon on the brink of winning the conference. All it had to do was beat Oregon State.
But the Ducks had lost two of the last three Civil Wars. Although lacking the jihadlike passions of the Alabama-Auburn Iron Bowl, the little rivalry in Oregon is nonetheless a testy one, at the core of which lie genuine differences in lifestyles and philosophies. Bob Baum, Oregon class of '73, who now writes for the Associated Press, says, "When I was at Eugene, there were antiwar protests pretty much every day. We knew the war was getting really unpopular when they finally had a protest in Corvallis."
On Thursday afternoon David Thorn, managing editor of the student-run Oregon Daily Emerald, paced the paper's offices as he composed the Top 10 reasons that Oregon is better than Oregon State. The Emerald had just seen The Barometer's, list of its Top 10 reasons that Oregon State is the better place, including "Protesting is not a college sport" and "The only acid we drop is in chem class."
Among the ripostes Thorn and his staff sent zinging back were "Nothing cool rhymes with Beaver," "The main topic of debate on our campus isn't 'Ford vs. Chevy' " and "Alice in Chains would never play in Corvallis."
The Beavers raised the stakes on Friday, covertly distributing in Eugene the Emeroid, The Barometer's annual lampoon of the Emerald, featuring a photo of the "varsity Hacky Sack team" and a sophomorically suggestive story on the Duck football team headlined GANG GREEN SHARES THE SECRET OF SUCCESS: PLAYER BONDING. The Emerald exacted revenge by running a catalog of Beaver jokes, including the one about Oregon State's being the only school offering a dual major in biology and agriculture "so its students can graduate knowing their asses from a hole in the ground."
"They criticize us for protesting," says Thorn, "but a lot of people here think protesting is an important part of living in a democracy." Indeed, Oregon students proudly point out that Mother Jones magazine recently recognized theirs as the nation's top activist campus and claim that no school in the nation registered a higher percentage of its students to vote than the 39.2% signed up by the Oregon student government for the Nov. 8 elections.
This preoccupation with political causes also helps explain why Oregon students are fair-weather football fans. Says Duck offensive tackle Steve Hardin, "Too many hippies." While the Grateful Dead sold out a Saturday show at 41,678-seat Autzen Stadium last summer, Oregon's game against Iowa on Sept. 24 drew only 29,287. But once the Ducks started stringing wins together, the students started coming to games. "You could call us fair-weather fans," said student body vice president Mark Rhinard last week. "I prefer to call it subdued enthusiasm."