EUGENE — The football game on Saturday may be a battle between the mediocre (Oregon, 6-5) and pathetic (Oregon State 1-10), but the competition between the two schools and their hometowns goes on whether both teams are driving for the Top 20 or diving for the bottom of the Pac-12.
It’s liberal arts University of Oregon vs. hard sciences Oregon State. Urbane and quasi-urban Eugene vs. bucolic and semi-rural Corvallis.
These two universities and towns share the Willamette River, but that doesn’t make them friends, or even neighborly
Oregon State backers say that with all its arts, social sciences and humanities students, “U of O” stands for “Unemployed of Oregon.”
Oregon fans play the country card on Oregon State, with its animal-centric programs, calling it “Moo U.”
No wonder the nickname of their annual game is “The Civil War.”
It’s a battle of pride and envy. Oregon State won the first game in 1894 and the last game in 2016, but Oregon holds a 63-47-10 advantage overall.
The 2017 bragging rights are on the line with a 4 p.m. kickoff at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.
For much of 21st century, the Ducks and Beavers regularly routed Pac-12 opponents. Three years ago, the Ducks went 13-2 with Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota at quarterback. Five years ago, the Beavers were 9-4.
The Beavers have returned to their too-familiar spot at the bottom of the division, which includes Cougars, Huskies, Wildcats, Bruins, Bears and Buffaloes. The Ducks, who soared for many years, are consigned to middling altitudes with hope of a winter migration not to the Rose Bowl, but one of the low-tier bowl games.
The historical record is full of insult and injury.
Beaver fans last century tried to dynamite the big yellow “O” on Skinner Butte above the University of Oregon campus. Other times, they’ve slathered it with orange and black paint — the Oregon State colors.
When Oregon State students dared to venture into Eugene in 1937, University of Oregon students turned fire hoses on them and wouldn’t agree to let them flee town until a muddy dunking in a nearby creek.
Each team has a dozen or more victories to recall over the decades — epic comebacks, gutsy plays, nail-biting finishes and lopsided blowouts.
One of the few things both towns and teams agree on: The nadir was the infamous “Toilet Bowl” in 1983, when the mutually inept Beavers and Ducks played to a 0-0 tie.
“It was almost like neither team wanted to win,” said Ducks coach Rich Brooks after the game
To outsiders, these two universities can appear like a set of fraternal twins — a familial resemblance but not identical.
Each has a leafy, laid-back campus surrounded by a pleasant community.
Residents of both towns have sometimes seemed more concerned that all the national attention would draw more people to a region they believe is just this side of paradise.
Eugene has made the top-10 college town lists of Sunset Magazine and Cosmopolitan. Money once ranked it the sixth-best American city to live in.
Corvallis has been rated the second best “micropolitan” area in the nation as well as a top-10 town for lowest cost of living in the country.
Snuggled up against Interstate 5, Eugene is home to more than 167,000 people, making it about three times the size of Corvallis.
Compared with Corvallis, the hotels are better, the shopping bigger, the arts scene more vibrant. On the east side of town, the 295-acre University of Oregon campus has stately Deady Hall, which opened in 1876. The campus shows its age with towering redwoods and its vibrancy with long walkways filled most of the year with book-toting students.
It’s such a stereotype of a college campus that Hollywood has used it several times, most famously as fictional Faber College in the 1978 comedy “Animal House.”
Eugene’s real-world reputation is as “Tracktown USA.” It’s been home to the U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials and other major international events.
Running borders on a religion in Eugene, complete with its own martyr, Steve Prefontaine, the world-class track star who died at 24 in a 1975 automobile accident. Pre’s Trail, the 4-mile loop around Alton Baker Park, is a running path created in his honor.
Corvallis, well off Interstate 5, gets its name from Latin for “Heart of the Valley.” It has what sociologists call “The Mayberry Effect.” Small towns are becoming increasingly popular with travelers-turned-new residents tired of big city crowds and prices, but unwilling to make the move to a cookie-cutter suburb.
In pop culture, Corvallis is a post-apocalyptic center of civilization in “The Postman,” a science fiction novel by David Brin. Unfortunately, the movie version starring Kevin Costner often makes the “worst major motion picture ever” rankings.
The 500-acre Oregon State campus has diversified its curriculum over the decades. It now offers over 200 undergraduate majors, such as environmental economics, drawing an increasingly eclectic student body.
But the old brick buildings bearing the chiseled titles AGRICULTURE and HOME ECONOMICS, along with the animal centers and greenhouses on the west side of the campus, harken back to Oregon State’s history as the applied-sciences counterpart to the University of Oregon’s liberal-arts offerings.
Linus Pauling entered Oregon State at age 15 without graduating from high school. He went on to win Nobel Prizes for chemistry and peace, the only person to be awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes.. He’s honored with a research center and a middle school named after him.
Urbanization is catching up to Oregon State’s hometown. It has bustling modernist-chic eateries, coffeehouses and apartment buildings along the redeveloped riverfront. A bit of Portland in Corvallis.
The growing popularity of the region has residents of Eugene and Corvallis concerned. One dire state-sponsored analysis says that more than a million more people will move into the Willamette Valley by 2050.
Don’t try to sell it to Ducks and Beavers die-hards, but perhaps a little bit less visibility in the top football ranks and Saturday network games might not be all bad.
Reporter: 541-525-5280, email@example.com, lives in Eugene