SEATTLE — This is where it all began.
Two years ago at cavernous Husky Stadium, an Oregon State football team sent a message to its long-suffering boosters and the remainder of the Pacific-10 Conference.
Moral victories weren't enough.
By going for two points and instant victory against the long-powerful Washington Huskies instead of forcing overtime with an extra point, the Beavers showed they were finally ready to end their three decades of football futility.
No matter — as all true Beavers fans can recount in their sleep — that quarterback Jonathan Smith's two-point conversion pass was just a whisker behind Roddy Tompkins and batted away by Husky defensive back Nigel Burton.
No matter that the Beavers' agonizing 35-34 loss was another nail in the coffin that subsequently became their 28th consecutive losing season, albeit one made considerably sweeter by the Civil War win a month later.
No matter that the Beavers would drop close games to California and to UCLA on the next two Saturdays before finally getting it right in the double-overtime thriller against the Ducks.
The point had been made.
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The standard had been raised.
"As much as it hurt that day not to win, it certainly told our kids that they could play with anybody in the league," OSU athletic director Mitch Barnhart said Saturday, speaking several hours before kickoff.
Smith threw for a school and Husky Stadium-record 469 yards, a performance that earned him a starting job he's yet to lose.
"It certainly gave our program a different identity, coming from behind like we did. Quite honestly we could have won," Barnhart said. "It certainly was a good jumping off spot for us."
A catalyst for change
And look where they've landed.
Two years ago, anyone who bragged that the Beavers would end their losing streak, play in a bowl game, punish a Top-10 team, develop a legitimate first-team All-American running back contender, raise $13 million for an indoor practice facility, regularly draw near-capacity crowds, get millions in stadium naming rights, hire one of the most famous names in all of football as their coach, erase almost $7 million of athletic department debt, triple donations to the scholarship fund and evolve into at least a dark-horse possibility for the Rose Bowl before they returned to Seattle, would have been directly sent to a rubber room.
But guess what? As impossible as that seems — and it does, especially to those of us who have followed the program for 15 or 20 years — that's exactly what's happened in the intervening 100 weeks.
"It's been an amazing two years," Barnhart said. "We've had a lot of streaks that have stopped. I'm sure there's a few more out there that everyone will remind us of, but I'm really proud of what this staff and these athletes have accomplished.
"It's been a heck of a good run and I don't think we're anywhere near close being done yet. I think we've got a great opportunity to finish out this season in good shape, and set the tone for some solid recruiting and continue to build our program with the facilities we've got in place."
Saturday's game also had tremendous financial implications.
Win, and the Beavers probably guaranteed themselves at least two additional TV appearances, worth about a cool half-million. Win, and the Beavers probably sell out the Oct. 14 Stanford and Oct. 28 Washington State games.
Win, and the Beavers move within one victory of bowl eligibility and another windfall.
Win, and all those bad memories and Beavers jokes fade away even more.
A fresh, new story
Two years ago, the preview stories in the Seattle papers concentrated on OSU's streak of ineptitude.
They harped on how far the Beavers had tumbled from the late-1960s glory days and on how lopsided the once-bitter interstate rivalry had become since the days when Dee Andros and Jim Owens regularly battled for Northwest supremacy, and how remote it seemed that OSU could ever reverse that downward cycle.
That tune changed this past week, on the heels of OSUs convincing victory over USC and the overall success the Beavers have enjoyed since their last visit to the Emerald City.
Beavers tailback Ken Simonton, arguably the Pac-10's premier player, was featured prominently in Friday's and Saturday's Seattle Times. Influential Times' columnist Blaine Newnham gave coach Dennis Erickson the five-star treatment on Thursday.
And there was only one mention of the old Beavers-week standby, the once bi-annual recounting of OSU's improbable and monumental 21-20 upset of Washington in 1985.
This year the emphasis was on the game itself, and how significant it was to both teams' — yes, both teams' — Rose Bowl hopes.
OSU got the attention of the college football world by beating USC. It could make everyone stand up and take notice by defeating the Huskies.
"If you get a win at Washington that means you've defeated a Top 15 team on the road in the Pac-10, in a very difficult place to play," Barnhart said. "It sends a different message to your (players) and a different message to your fans.
"I won't say it's a coming-out party, because we've already done that. But I do say it means that maybe we've elevated one more time, another notch, the level of our play and the level of respect I think this program deserves."
It all started here, two years ago.
Yes, the two-point conversion failed. No amount of wishing and hoping can change history. But on a larger level, it was a smashing success.
"At the time we thought it was a good decision and even now I think it was," Barnhart said. "We let everybody know that we weren't going to play for the tie and hope. We were going to go after it.
"It sent the message to people that we weren't satisfied with just hanging around any more."
Former Gazette-Times sports reporter Brooks Hatch covered the Beavers throughout the 2000 campaign.