November 24, 2014

A forgotten trophy finds its way home

They call it “The Civil War” for good reason.

For 120 years, Oregon and Oregon State have battled on the field in one of the Pac-12’s best rivalries. Yet for all the drama on the gridiron, there hasn’t been a trophy to commemorate the victory achieved on it.

For a brief three-year period, the winner of the game was awarded the Platypus Trophy in an obvious nod to the only animal that looks like a cross between a Duck and a Beaver. The trophy, though, struggled to remain found. 

For instance, in 1959 Oregon State upset Oregon 15-7 and took the trophy back to Corvallis, where they kept it on display. Students from Oregon, presumably upset by their loss to their rivals, stole the trophy from the Oregon State campus and held on to it after a tie in 1960. The Beavers won the 1961 contest and got the trophy back, but it was stolen back and forth by fans for the next few years.

As a result, following that 1961 game, it was officially deemed “lost” and fell out of favor as a potential award for the victor.

Forgotten for 25 years, Warren Spady, a high school art teacher and Oregon graduate, was on campus as part of a one-year sabbatical to work on a textbook. During a visit to Leighton Pool in 1986, the Ducks’ swimming facility, he came across the trophy in a display case. But, rather than featuring the record of the “Civil War,” it was adorned with the results from a four-year winning streak Oregon held over Oregon State in water polo from the 1960s.

A student at Oregon when the trophy was originally fashioned, Spady said he didn’t have enough time to look into what events had led to it winding up at the pool. 

It would be another 18 years before there would be enough momentum to track down the trophy. In 2004, John Canzano, a columnist with The Oregonian, penned a column arguing the rivalry needed its own prize:

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. (Former Oregon vice president Dan) 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.

After more than 40 years of being lost, the trophy was presented to Oregon State’s alumni association in 2007 following the Beavers’ 38-31 win in overtime. Today, the Platypus Trophy is given to the winning alumni association, traveling the state as a proud, albeit, unusual symbol of history and bragging rights. 

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