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Ducks Or Beavers? After nearly leaving the state, the author won a Heisman by staying put

I wasn't born in Oregon--my family moved there from Minnesota
when I was a youngster--but it became clear when I was a high
school senior that people in the state considered me one of
their own. I was a pretty good three-sport athlete at Portland's
Jefferson High (my teams won two state titles in football and
one in baseball, and two city basketball championships), and
when I was choosing a college in the spring of 1959, the local
papers wrote editorials all but declaring me property of the
state. They argued that Oregon's population was so small that
when an athlete like me came along, it was my obligation to stay
at home. ¶ The problem was, I wasn't focused on either Oregon or
Oregon State. To me they were Tweedledee and Tweedledum; I grew
up rooting for both schools but didn't have any attachment to
either. I was leaning toward Stanford, for its academics.
However, a high school friend, with whom I wanted to play
basketball, didn't get a full athletic scholarship from
Stanford. Oregon State offered full rides to both of us, so off
to Corvallis I went. I'm glad I did.

That move was typical--all my life I've ended up doing the right
thing for the wrong reason. Here's another example: I didn't want
to play football in college; I liked baseball and basketball
better. As a freshman at Oregon State I wasn't even on the
football team, but I had a job taking care of the balls during
games. I would stand on the sideline and throw passes, and fans
would yell, "Why aren't you playing?" I was having fun not
playing. But one day the next spring, when baseball practice had
been rained out, football coach Tommy Prothro talked me into
sitting in on a team meeting. When I arrived, I saw that he had
written my name on a depth chart on the chalkboard, as the
second-string tailback.

Something about seeing my name up there changed my mind, and I
joined the team. Before long I had moved from tailback to
quarterback, and in 1962, my senior year, I won the Heisman
Trophy. We went 9-2 that season and beat Villanova in the Liberty
Bowl; I scored the game's only points on a 99-yard touchdown run.

After bidding Corvallis goodbye, I played for the Los Angeles
Rams for three years and the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos for a year,
all while completing a law degree at USC. I intended to practice
law in California when my playing days were over, but while
waiting to resolve a contract dispute with Edmonton that was
never settled, I started my legal career in Portland and never
left. You could compare me with George Bailey of It's a Wonderful
Life, who has ambitions to see the world but realizes how much he
has at home. I still live in Portland and work as a lawyer
(mostly in business litigation), and I couldn't imagine it any
other way. In 10 minutes I can drive from my house in the hills
to my downtown office, which has a view of the Willamette River.

Since my playing days ended, I've watched the athletic fortunes
of my state's two big universities rise and fall. Oregon has
developed into a sports power, thanks in large part to its major
benefactor, alum and Nike founder Phil Knight. At Oregon State
the football program went into free fall in the early 1970s,
suffering through 28 straight seasons with a losing record. My
Beavers finally bounced back in the late '90s, and they've done
especially well under coaches Dennis Erickson and Mike Riley.

While the two schools certainly have a rivalry--located just 40
miles apart, they can't avoid each other--it isn't as fierce as
those you find in other states. I'll root for the Ducks when
they're playing someone other than the Beavers, and I know Oregon
alumni who often pull for my alma mater. I can't get too riled up
about Oregon because I have so many friends and coworkers who
went there. (Most Oregonians will tell you that our real enemy is
the University of Washington.) Maybe it comes down to what those
newspaper editorials said years ago when I was making my college
choice: People from a state like ours need to stick together.

Terry Baker, now a lawyer in Portland, won the 1962 Heisman
Trophy as a quarterback at Oregon State.