Beavers finally can show their colors in Reno
New Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson wasn’t the only one in Mackay Stadium feeling the heat Saturday.
As a 1986 Oregon State grad I couldn’t remember a game I was more confident the Beavers would win. In fact, it might be the only time I’ve ever felt that way. No disrespect to Nevada fans, but Oregon State started something special in 1998 and there was no way the magic would disappear during the course of one summer – especially with a big-name coach like Erickson now in charge of the long-downtrodden program.
Yet, leave it to the Beavers to trail Big West power Nevada 13-7 through three quarters. Surely, the Pack alums on the South Shore wouldn’t let me forget if that score held. Perhaps former Dolphins linebacker Mike Crawford – a onetime Pack star – was going to get in his digs in the weeks to come, too. At least I had the Beavers’ 48-6 rout of Nevada last season to fall back on.
My concerns were momentarily diverted. Pacing the Oregon State sideline in the sweltering conditions I realized something was amiss for a Beaver road game. Scanning Mackay’s Stadium’s spectator unfriendly seats, I saw enough orange-and-black-clad fans to convince any youngster to tug mom or dad’s sleeve and ask, “May I go trick or treating, tonight?”
Some 7,000 Oregon State fans had honorably made the 10-hour trip to Reno and were revved up for the opener. I can remember when it was tough to get 7,000 fans for home games.
Erickson couldn’t help but notice them – they were proof of what expectations the former Seattle Seahawks coach brought to the program when he took over for San Diego Chargers coach Mike Riley last spring.
“I tell you what, in that third quarter I was starting to get out of the stadium,” said Erickson, the seventh-rated winningest active college coach with a 73.9 percent success rate (114-40-1). “I didn’t realize all of those orange shirts would be here. Six or seven thousand people came down to watch this team play, so I realized their expectations were pretty high.
“I felt probably a little more pressure than I did in a lot of other games. They’re all kind of the same to a point, but that’s kind of how I felt for a while.”
You couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Erickson. His pro experience and the two national titles he won at Miami from 1989 to 1994 put him in this unlikely predicament.
How do you go from coaching the Miami Hurricanes and Seattle Seahawks to Oregon State? If you’re an Oregon State fan, you’ve waited for this day, enduring such coaching follies as the unimaginative Joe Avezzano (special teams coach for the Dallas Cowboys); Jerry Pettibone and his wishbone that brought nothing bad luck; and passing preocuppied Dave Kragthorpe. I can remember in the early ’80s when John Elway and the Stanford Cardinal beat the Beavers by more than 60 points. More painful were the losses to then NCAA Division 1-AA programs Idaho and Montana.
Even though Las Vegas oddsmakers cast the Pack as a one-point favorite and Sports Illustrated ranked the Pack 16 places better in the preseason ratings, the Beavers couldn’t possibly be about to open the season 0-1 like they almost always do.
Something special was about to happen – it had to. Nowhere else in America are fans more patient than they are in Corvallis, Ore. Twenty-nine straight losing seasons have a way of making you realize that the best coaches and players don’t want to be a part of your lifelong grief. But things are changing.
The Beavers must have sensed one of the six wins they need to cease being laughingstock of college football slipping away. They overpowered the Pack during the final 15 minutes, scoring three touchdowns for a 28-13 victory.
More important than the final score was the post-game compliment Nevada coach Jeff Tisdel paid the Beavers.
“I think they are a legitimate bowl-type team come the end of the year,” he said.
Whoa? I don’t know if I can handle a season-opening win and a bowl game all in the same season.
By the way, Pack fans, you can still call if you want. Nevada has nothing to be ashamed of losing to a Pac-10 team, and from what I saw Saturday, the Pack will experience lots of success this fall.
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After more than 70 years of operating with a term deemed derogatory by many Native Americans, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has changed its name to Palisades Tahoe.