TROPHY FITS THE BILL.
There is only one season-ending football arch rivalry in the Pac-10 Conference in which the winning school does not come away with a trophy, and it's right here in the Willamette Valley.
Washington and Washington State have the Apple Cup. Stanford and California battle over the Stanford Axe. USC and UCLA play for the Victory Bell. And Arizona and Arizona State fight for the rights to the Territorial Cup, a 108-year-old relic that is college football's oldest rivalry trophy, even older than the Little Brown Jug that Michigan and Minnesota knock heads over.
Sculptor Warren Spady did his best 48 years ago to help Oregon and Oregon State battle for something more than state bragging rights, but playing for the Platypus lived a short life in Civil War football lore.
As the 111th edition of the annual gridiron battle between the Ducks and Beavers approaches, however, it's a long lost idea whose head - or is that its tail? - just might resurface Saturday at Autzen Stadium. The University of Oregon Alumni Association is trying to resurrect the awarding of the Platypus Trophy - created in 1959 when Spady was a UO art student and later forgotten as it gathered dust for decades - to the winning school.
The way the injury-riddled Ducks are playing now, though, after high hopes of playing for the national title or in the Rose Bowl, there's a possibility this might be another Platypus presentation to the Beavers.
"No, not again," Spady, 71, sighed through the telephone from his Redmond home last week.
Willard Thompson, the UO's director of public service in the fall of 1959, selected Spady from among several UO art students to sculpt the wooden platypus (what better represents a cross between a Duck and a Beaver than the Australian native that is the only mammal known to lay eggs?). With only a month before that year's game at Hayward Field, Spady didn't have much time, but he got a block of maple and did his best. He wasn't completely satisfied with it by game time, though. He thought the platypus' feet needed a little more work.
Not to worry, he was told. He'd get it back right after the game, in which the 15th-ranked Ducks at 8-1 were highly favored over the 2-7 Beavers. But as luck would have it, Oregon State won 15-7, ruining Oregon's bid for its second Rose Bowl in three years, and the OSU students ran off with the unfinished trophy.
Memories about what happened to the trophy afterward get a little fuzzy.
Former UO vice president Dan Williams remembers slogging through Hayward Field's mud when he was the UO student body president, on Nov. 25, 1961, and delivering the Platypus to OSU's student body president after a 6-2 Beaver win. How did the UO get it back two years later after the 1960 game was a 14-14 tie?
It was supposedly stolen by fraternity brothers from an OSU trophy case at Gill Coliseum in the early 1960s, Spady said. Somehow it ended up in the hands of the UO water polo team in the mid-1960s because, well, that's what the sculpture's plaque says. Engraved on the brass plate are no Civil War football results, but Oregon's claim to four water polo championships (over the Beavers?) in 1964, 1965, 1967 and 1968.
After more than a quarter century, Spady, who taught art and African studies at Churchill High School in Eugene from 1970 to 1995 before retiring to Redmond, spotted it again in a glass case at the UO's Leighton Pool in 1986. Busy on a one-year sabbatical at the UO to complete a textbook, Spady says he didn't have time to discover how it got there.
In 2004, Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano wrote that the Civil War really should have a trophy. Spady e-mailed Canzano to say it does, or at least it did. Williams, who is now retired but still serves as a special assistant to both UO President Dave Frohnmayer and the athletic department, had also read Canzano's column. Curious, he launched a search party. Athletic department equipment personnel found it in storage at the Moshofsky Center by Autzen Stadium. It probably was moved there from a storage room called the "dungeon" below Esslinger Hall, next to McArthur Court, when the Casanova Center opened in 1991, said Pat Conrad, the athletic department's equipment manager. Spady came to town a couple of years ago to identify the trophy, and finally sign it, in Williams' office.
Williams delivered it to the alumni office in Agate Hall earlier this year.
"Doesn't it look like a large slug?" said Lisa Fortin, the UO Alumni Association's director of student membership.
Fortin advises a group called the Flight, an association of UO students who work to maintain UO traditions. She has been in touch with the OSU Alumni Association about holding a special ceremony.
"It seems appropriate that two teams who are seen across the nation as having two of the sillier mascots would have an appropriately silly trophy," said Kevin Miller, the OSU Alumni Association's communications director.
Jennifer Casey of the UO Alumni Association said an on-field presentation after the game at Autzen Stadium has been discussed but is unlikely at this point mainly due to all the activities scheduled for Saturday's game, which is "Senior Day" for the UO football team. Another option is to hold a ceremony sometime next week.
Chauncey Freeman, a UO senior and president of the Flight, brought the Platypus tale to Fortin last year after his friend and fellow student, Ray Ocampo, who graduated last spring and now works for Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, told him about it. A journalism student, Ocampo did a class project on the trophy, interviewing Williams, Spady and others.
"This was something I thought could be revived," Ocampo said. "I always wondered what the Civil War was fighting for. This is something that I think would intensify the rivalry."
Spady says he has no intention of finally putting the finishing touches on the platypus' feet after 48 years, but he would once again like to see the trophy presented at the end of the Civil War game.
"It adds a little humor to the violence (of the game), you might say," he said. "This is the fun part."
Williams has his own take: "It's a nice piece of history, but I don't think anybody around here would get too excited about it."
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; The Platypus, a once-fabled sports prize, makes a comeback|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Nov 28, 2007|
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