Up Close and Personal: The Perfect Run
By George P. Edmonston Jr. for the Gazette Times
It stands as a lone sentinel, guarding an era of Beaver football dating back to the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. It is the oldest football record in the OSU Media Guide credited to an individual player. Three Oregon Staters have come close to toppling it from its lofty throne, but, as with all records, close still gets you no cigar.
That it was turned in by a freshman running back playing in only his fourth game of varsity competition, and against one of the nation's (then and now) best football programs, makes it all the more special. Often mistaken for Terry Baker's brilliant 99-yard sprint to pay dirt in the 1962 Liberty Bowl, OSU's most ancient football record is for the longest touchdown in school history.
It happened in Portland in 1916, on a cold, crisp, near perfect day for football. A crowd of over 6,500 had piled into Multnomah Stadium (now PGE Park) that Oct. 21 to watch the Oregon Agricultural College Aggies do battle with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. As such, the contest would mark only the second time in OAC history the boys from Corvallis had played a school geographically located outside the confines of the Pacific Northwest.
And there was something else mixed in with the dynamic that gave the game special significance.
Nebraska's new coach, E.J. Stewart, was OAC's old coach, having just left Corvallis earlier that summer to take over the Husker program from the legendary Ewald O. Stiehm, a man who had led the Lincoln team from 1911-15 to a stellar 35-2-3 record.
No coaching slouch himself, Stewart's departure had stunned OAC's football faithful.
In just three years (1913-15), his Aggie teams had won 15 games, the most of any coach in school history, and had pulled off the biggest upset in the country in his final season by crushing national power Michigan State on its home field, 20-0. Not bad for a school playing (and winning) its first game ever outside the Pacific Northwest. Coach Stewart's lineup also included Oregon State's first true All-American, Herman Abraham.
Excitement for the Nebraska game was high throughout the state. As the 2:30 p.m. kickoff approached, Aggie fans in Corvallis who couldn't travel to the city began piling into the Crystal Theater downtown to watch the action played out on a large "electronic scoreboard" -- a 6-by-12-foot miniature football field, complete with yard markers and end zones. It had been paid for and installed in the theater's auditorium by Aggie rooter Sam Elliott, owner of the Gem Cigar store.
Using small, color-coded footballs they could move around the device, a relay team of three -- two at the stadium, in communication with the scoreboard's operator -- entertained theater patrons with a minute-by minute description of the game, while at the same time moving the balls back and forth to reflect just where on the field the pigskin was located. In essence, this was the first "big screen" showing of an OSU football game in school history.
Winning the toss, the Aggies returned the opening kickoff to their own 35-yard line and then decided to try a fake punt on first down. Nothing doing. The kick was blocked and recovered by the Huskers, who wasted little time in tallying the first score of the game to take a 7-0 lead.
Play now settled into a contest of smash-mouth football, with each team unable to move the ball on the other. Midway through the second quarter, Nebraska got a break and began from the OAC 24-yard line to grind its way toward the Aggie end zone for another TD.
On third-and-five from the 19, Nebraska's quarterback, a young man named Caley, found room around right end and wasn't stopped until he reached the OAC one-yard line for a first and goal. Nebraska's fans, including a 40-piece band, were now in a frenzy. The way their defense was playing, this next score might seal the victory for sure.
Since Caley had taken NU down this far, the play from the bench called for Caley to get the score. And so the ball was snapped to him for his attempt at a "chip-shot" TD ...another run to the right in which he should have breezed in without being touched.
But Joe Pipall's defense knew what was coming. As the young Nebraska signal caller received the oval, he was hit so hard the ball leaving his grasp in a fumble looked like round shot exploding from the mouth of a cannon.
It landed squarely in the hands of Aggie freshman defender George "Tuffy" Conn three-yards deep in OAC's end zone. In front of him was, as they say in football circles, nothing but open field.
And so off he dashed.
And after him the Cornhuskers dashed...and chased...and chased...coming so close at times they were nicking the heels of his shoes.
But catch him they did not.
A whopping 103 yards later, "Tuffy" Conn was in the Big Red's end zone for the touchdown, in a run longer than Baker's Liberty Bowl masterpiece and three yards better than Ray Taroli's 100-yard kickoff return against UCLA in 1971 or Tim Alexander's kickoff return of the same distance against USC in 1998.
Conn had delivered one for the ages, the perfect run.
Newspaper accounts also recorded the fact that it was Conn who kicked the extra point to even the score with the visitors, 7-7.
But, alas, we now know the Huskers had the better team that day, as the tie would last only until a 10-point Nebraska fourth quarter put them in the lead for good.
After the game, both teams were entertained at a special gala hosted by the OAC Portland Alumni Club, with former Oregon State professor and then Oregon governor James Withycombe in attendance.
Around midnight, as if nothing had happened and Stewart's lads were really on an extended vacation, the Nebraska party left for Seaside for what the Sunday Oregonian said would be a "squint at the Pacific Ocean and the kelp beds and Tillamook Rock, where they raise oranges and apples-with a derrick."
As for "Tuffy," OAC's talented footballer left after his freshman year and transferred to Philadelphia to play for the University of Pennsylvania Quakers. Later, he moved back home to Pasadena, Calif., and became a successful real estate agent and 10-year member of the prestigious Pasadena Athletic Club.