It's about 40 miles from Eugene, Ore., to Corvallis, the difference, a University of Oregon T-shirt once put it, between culture and agriculture. On the surface, it would seem that the Oregon--Oregon State rivalry, better known as the Civil War, is as simple as the slogan on the shirt: the sleek, hipster culture of the institution of higher learning in Eugene pitted against the small-town, farming-and-engineering school in Corvallis.
But the 116-year-old grudge match—which renews itself this weekend in Corvallis, the stakes never higher—is quite a bit more complicated than that. There's a reason why this war is "civil," and why Georgia and Georgia Tech's rivalry is called "clean, old-fashioned hate." This civility, combined with the Beaver State's quirky streak, means that public displays of disdain are generally more creative and colorful, less mean-spirited than you find in other major rivalries.
Indeed, longtime columnist Bob Welch of The Register-Guard in Eugene calls the Civil War "Hate Lite." At the end of the day, everyone involved is an Oregonian.
"The provincialism of the schools generates more passion," says Michael Oriard, a professor of English at Oregon State. "The intimacy between them is deeper." The students, he continues, exaggerate what differences do exist in order to create a strong identity. "The reasons why one is 'better' than the other are fictional and arbitrary."
"The schools," says Corvallis Gazette-Times columnist Brooks Hatch, "are 80 percent alike." Everyone writes his own reason for disliking the other, making the animus uniquely personal and less prone to the emotional excesses of crowds. These days, "Beavers or Ducks?" is more essay question than multiple-choice.
In Oregon bifurcated bloodlines and divided families contribute to the richness—and soften the odium—of the Civil War. You can't avoid loving your enemy at least a little bit; there are probably more than a few in your immediate midst. For example, longtime Ducks coach Rich Brooks played with linebacker Dick Ruhl at Oregon State in 1962; almost 30 years later Brooks recruited linebacker Rich Ruhl, the son of Dick, to come to Eugene. As a Roseburg High senior in the early '90s, Rich says, "My dad didn't pressure me about my decision [to go to Oregon]—although some of the guys he played with certainly did!" Presumably, Brooks was not one of them.
Dual-citizen families such as the Ruhls are the norm. There are countless Ducks fans who, out of state pride, root for the Beavers 364 days a year and Beavers fans who don't mind if Oregon has an 11--1 season, provided that one loss is to Oregon State.
This year, of course, that "1" would knock the Ducks out of the BCS championship game. Behind running back LaMichael James, No. 1 Oregon (11--0) enters the 114th Civil War on Saturday with the best team in the rivalry's history. Oregon State, meanwhile, limps in at 5--6.
But playing spoiler is as grand a Civil War tradition as any—in 2008 and '09, Duck victories kept the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl. Throwing up a roadblock on Oregon's march to Glendale would be the epitome of civil.