Corvallis, Oregon. When I was younger those of us who were Oregon Ducks or favored the green and yellow over the Orange Express used to call it Cowtown or make some joke about the agricultural nature of Oregon State University, located in college-town Corvallis in the heart of the Willamette Valley.
That's "Will-A-Met," for those who wish to pronounce it, with the emphasis on the "A" syllable. Say it like Bugs Bunny said "Aaah, what's up Doc?"
I never once considered going to college there since my whole family went to the University of Oregon. And the Beavers were a joke of a football team throughout the 70s, 80s and much of the 90s.
Dennis Erickson, now coach at Arizona State, helped change the Beavers' football fortunes. In his first season, 1999, he guided the team to its first winning season since 1970. The 2000 season was the most memorable of all for many Beaver fans, as Erickson's high-flying offense led by current NFL players Chad (Johnson) Ochocinco and T.J Houshmandzadeh led OSU to an 11-1 record, a share of the Pac-10 title, and then a pounding of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2001.
In four seasons in Corvallis, Erickson went 31-17 and his teams finished below .500 only once, ushering in a new era of success for the program that continues today under Mike Riley. Erickson returns to "Corn Valley" this Saturday when his Devils face OSU.
"I enjoyed my time in Corvallis. It was a great four years. It was a lot of fun," Erickson said in his Monday news conference at Sun Devil Stadium. "We had three pretty good teams, one real good team...great fans up there. They're just outstanding people, the boosters and the people. They're a university that struggled for many years to even have a winning season."
Erickson brought the Beaver Believers (now they call themselves the Beaver Nation) what they wanted, and raised the bar for the program.
"They appreciate the players and the coaches up there, and that makes them special," Erickson said.
There's talk of a 10-year reunion of the 2000 OSU team this weekend.
"I think I'll be busy," Erickson said, "but that was a good place and Mike Riley has done an unbelievable job there, with what he's done with the stability and the winning and all the things that he's done, and those people up there deserve that."
As an Oregon native, I remember the lean years the Beavers suffered through and I kind of reveled in it. But now OSU is a solid program, a bowl contender every year and a team with a growing fan base. Even if so many of those fans were never around during the worst of times.