History of Beaver football in Hawaii dates back 90 years

Pineapple mascot

The 1939 OSU trip to Hawaii was filled with pomp and fun (courtesy OSU Special Collections and Archives)

The Oregon State Beavers will travel once again to the Hawaiian Islands for a post-season gridiron battle, the fourth time in the university’s history that the team has made the trip for a bowl game.

“The Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl has a great tradition and we are excited to bring our team, which features several natives of the great State of Hawai’i, to represent the Pac-12 Conference,” Beavers Coach Mike Riley said earlier this month.

The 2013 Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl pitting OSU against Boise State will be our fourth bowl appearance in Hawaii. However, it’s technically the third bowl game, but more on this later.  In the great tradition of Beavers in Paradise, our holiday bowl game history in Hawaii spans 90 years, dating back to 1923.

OSU’s last appearance in Hawaii was the 1999 Oahu Bowl, where we lost to the Rainbow Warriors of the University of Hawaii, 23-17.  Thirty years earlier, Oregon State College defeated UH in the non-NCAA sanctioned 1949 Pineapple Bowl, 47-27.  These two bowl games were important points in OSU Football history, but the story begins much earlier.

Coach Lon Stiner’s 1939 OSC Beavers finished that year with a stellar 9-1-1 record. The season culminated with an invite to the Pineapple Bowl in Honolulu to face the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. The 1940 Pineapple Bowl was played on New Year’s Day against the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. OSC handily won the game 39 to 6.   This game was the first annual Pineapple Bowl, had we been there a year earlier, the Beavers would have been in the Poi Bowl! The Hawaiian Poi Bowl only lasted from 1936-1939, arguably, one of the better bowl game name changes in history.

On Christmas Day, 1939, the Beavers played the Hawaii All-Stars, a Healani town team, in an exhibition contest. They won easily, 28-0.  The Hawaii All-Star teams appear to have been made up of UH Alumni and local athletes.  Traditionally, the All-Stars played the visiting teams prior to the actual bowl games.  Due to the travel restrictions of the period, mainly a long boat ride, and the invited teams would spend up to a month in Hawaii during the bowl season.  This allowed time for extra game during their stay.  OSC left Corvallis on December 11, 1939 by train to San Francisco.  They were to board a steamship for the islands, but due to a dock worker strike, they were forced to leave from Los Angeles a day later.  The team returned home on Jan. 11, 1940, quite a road trip!

Team with pineapple

The 1939 trip to Hawaii by OSU footballers was marked with lots of pageantry, and pineapples.

The squad had to practice on the ship in transit, mixing work and cruise ship travel.  Barometer articles in early January 1940 that chronicled the successful trip touted the excellent Hawaiian hospitality.  The Beavers toured the sights, tried their hands at surfing and attended special events during their stay in Hawaii.  The article reports that the “visitors were shown the Dole pineapple plants, were taken to a sugar refinery and saw museums and aquariums.”   The Pineapple Bowl Parade was one of the highlights of the Beaver’s activities (other than the victorious football games).

1939 Pineapple Bowl

What prompted this foray into Hawaii Bowl history was SCARC’s new addition to our collection of digitized videos available on OSU MediaSpace. The home movies by the OSC Football team on their trip to the 1939 Pineapple Bowl are a colorful look at a happier time in Beaver football history.  The film is available at: http://media.oregonstate.edu/media/0_3vhmql56

But this was not the first time the Beavers traveled to Hawaii. The first trip to the Hawaiian Islands for the Beavers was 90 years ago in 1923.  The University of Hawaii began intercollegiate football in 1920, playing their first game against Nevada on Christmas Day.  These games during the early years were not officially “bowl” games; however, they were held during the holidays and were post-season specials.  The term “bowl game” first is seen with the 1923 Rose Bowl, played in the newly constructed Pasadena stadium.  The name “bowl” to describe the games thus comes from the Rose Bowl stadium.

The 1923 season did not go well for the Oregon Agricultural College Beaver squad.  Coach R. B. Rutherford took the 4-3-2 Beavers to Hawaii for OAC’s first game outside of the contiguous United States.  This endeavor was undertaken at great expense to the college, so only 25 OAC delegates and team members made the trip.  Two coaches, a team manager, and only 14 football players boarded the steamship S.S. Lurline sailing from Seattle on Dec. 11, 1923.  The team arrived in Hawaii after an arduous voyage, and battling the island heat, the Beavers went down to defeat in two hard fought gridiron spectaculars against the Hawaii All-stars and the University of Hawaii.

Team aboard ship

The first OSU football team to play in Hawaii in 1923.

The long voyage did not pay off as the Beavers dropped a game to the Hawaiian All-Stars, playing their first college team, 14-9, on Christmas day 1923 and then another to the University of Hawaii, 7-0. The loss to Hawaii was a huge upset, as Hawaii had only begun playing intercollegiate football three years earlier.  The OAC Barometer, in the journalistic style of the era, reported on Jan. 4, 1924 the stories of the games.  “The Aggies and All-Stars tangled in a 60 minute encounter that was said to have all the ear-marks of a combined bull fight and Sinn Fein uprising.”

Another special distinction for OAC during this trip was the subsequent renaming of the University of Hawaii football team.  The legend states that a rainbow appeared in the sky as the Hawaii Fighting Deans upset Oregon State. Local reporters began using the nickname, and it was made official soon after.  After that, every time a rainbow arced over the field, the team is said to have won, prompting a name change to the Rainbow Warriors.

The losses were devastating for the Beavers, who had to pay to travel to Hawaii and suffered two humiliating defeats.  Again, we see in OAC Barometer articles some attempts at justification for these losses to their readers.  The Jan. 4 edition speaks of the trials and tribulations of a sea voyage and the effects of  island weather, “Under the devitalizing influence of the tropical heat of Hawaii, the OAC football team, fresh from the moist Oregon country, went down to defeat before the acclimated Honolulu pigskin artists.”

According to the Barometer, the seasick Beavers had an eventful trip on the steamship Lurline.  Four stormy days of travel on the open seas had a detrimental effect on the team.  Coach Rutherford held daily workouts and the decks of the vessel.  Only eight of the fourteen Beavers were able to participate, others were “using the rail…studying the habits of the fish”.  The Barometer also reports that “They started their workouts by passing the ball around, but after they had lost two of the three pigskin spheroids overboard, the confined themselves to calisthenics and to running signals.”

Photographic evidence of the first trip to Hawaii is scarce.   The OSU Special Collections and Archive Research Center collections only yield the one photograph of the team on the ship, found in the 1925 Beaver Yearbook.  Bound copies of the Barometer provide the only descriptions we have of this epic contest.  The games are part of OSU’s football statistics, but these stories are what make history come alive.

On Christmas Eve, 2013 the OSU Beavers will again return to the balmy Hawaiian islands for a 21st century gridiron duel.  Now the team travels in the comfort of chartered jet liners, arriving in hours rather than days.  Today’s Beavers will have the benefit of team doctors, sports medicine, and air-conditioning to battle the island heat.  The entire team and its entourage will make the trip.  In 1923, with only 14 players available, substitutions were not an option.  Imagine being both, an offensive and defensive tackle, on the field for the entire game…still a little woozy from the heat and long trip, and a long, long way from home.

~ Mike Dicianna, OSU Special Collections and Archives Research Center



One Response to “History of Beaver football in Hawaii dates back 90 years”

  1. Chris H says:

    Congratulation Beavers!
    You guys really showed those guys what Oregon State football is all about. I love what the Pac 12 is doing these days and you guys are a big part of it’s success. I know that the Ducks get all the accolades, but Pac 12 is doing great in Bowl Games.

    My company puts on alumni football games all over the country and we are most popular in the SEC country, where football is like a religion. I live in California, so as football builds in Oregon, I look forward to a day when I can drive up I-5 and put a game on rather than fly all the way to Georgia for a game.