But the Beavers do have a lot of heart, and a curious disposition for smashing their top-ranked rivals into the chilly turf of Reser Stadium.
"A question I asked people in our original interviews was, 'Do you think one game can define a season, and do you think one season can define a program?'" says filmmaker and OSU graduate Alex Crawford, 25. A producer for Portland's KFXX 1080 The Fan by day, Crawford and director Riley Hayes debuted Legend of the Giant Killers, an hourlong documentary chronicling the 1967 Oregon State football team, on Nov. 6, 2015.
Under coach Dee Andros, the 1967 Beavers became the only team in history to, over the course of four weeks, go unbeaten against three top-two teams in one season. They defeated the No. 1-ranked USC Trojans led by superhuman running back O.J. Simpson, beat No. 2 Purdue and tied No. 2 UCLA. The Beavers earned the moniker "Giant Killers," a name that is common parlance to OSU graduates and Corvallisians.
"The ethos of Oregon State that's represented by the Giant Killers is that we're going to outwork you and we're going to out-tough you," Crawford says. "You might have O.J. Simpson, the best running back in college football, but our field is muddy, and we're going to get down in the trenches. We're going to go to work."
If you watch Legend of the Giant Killers, you'll see why Pac-12 Networks picked it up. The film is astonishingly professional, building the Beavers' scrappy, underdog narrative by weaving dozens of interviews with Giant Killers players, their opponents (sadly, O.J. was not available) and contemporary Beavers football personalities with archived 16 mm footage of the '67 team, much of which, according to Crawford, is from the personal collections of various Giant Killers players.
In 2013, Crawford found himself with some free time while he was interning with 1080 The Fan. His father, who attended OSU's '67 upset over USC at then-Parker Stadium, suggested he look into the Giant Killers team, providing him with a scrapbook of photographs from the season and the email address of '67 halfback Billy Main.
"I got in touch with Billy, and it turns out there's a lot more to the Giant Killers' story than just a football game," Crawford says. "I'd call him from my internship when I didn't have anything to do and we'd talk for an hour. He gave me some of his teammates' phone numbers and I started making arrangements to interview some of these guys."
Crawford enlisted director Riley Hayes to create a 12-minute concept video to be shown to members of the team. "They didn't know who the hell we were, but they liked the video and told us they wanted us to tell the story of the team," Crawford says. "They gave us some money, and we did some fundraising through our own website. Eventually, OSU and a lot of people in the OSU community hopped on."
Production of Legend kicked off June 21, 2014, with an interview with the Beavers' then-coach, Mike Riley. "We would go and film as many as 10 interviews in a week," Crawford says. "As we got in touch with more people and crafted the story more, we reached out to different people, ultimately 41 total."
Throughout this process, Crawford was in touch with potential buyers of the film, including OSU, Pac-12 Networks and Comcast SportsNet. "When we started in fall 2013, we reached out to everyone whose email address we could get," Crawford says. As unknown filmmakers fresh out of college, Crawford and Hayes got little traction. "Everyone was like, 'We don't know who you are, you're 24 years old and you've never made a movie. We had to finish it and get people to like it first."
In April 2014, Crawford emailed the trailer for Legend to Patrick Phillips, director of archives at Pac-12 Networks, to gauge the network's interest. "They told us they were definitely interested in our film, but that they didn't know us or what Legend would look like," Crawford says.
Legend of the Giant Killers was completed Nov. 4, 2015. Two days later, Crawford and Hayes premiered the film at Portland's Academy Theater with several members of the Giant Killers and the film's donors in attendance.
Crawford wasn't prepared to give up on getting Legend to a wider audience. This past spring, he reconnected with Phillips, who put him in touch with Patrick Griffin, the Pac-12 Networks' director of programming. "When we had Legend finished, we came back to them and they told us it was really good, that they still wanted to air it," Crawford says.
"It grew into a discussion of 'We want to sell Legend to you.' 'Well, we can't pay you for it.' 'Well, what can you give us?'" Crawford says. "At the back of our minds, we knew we weren't going to turn them down, but we wanted to try to at least be pseudo-businessmen so we could make another film in the future."
Crawford negotiated to get Legend played 10 to 15 times on both the regional Pac-12 Oregon channel and the nationally broadcast Pac-12 Networks HD, along with a short commercial that directs viewers to the filmmakers' website. "We felt we got a pretty good deal," Crawford says. "We're getting a huge, captive audience of college football fans, plus we're getting an insane amount of exposure because Pac-12 Networks reaches people across the nation."
Legend's television debut was Sept. 17, with Crawford watching with friends from a bar in Pacific City. "As much as I had dreamed about a moment like this, there were a ton of times when I did not think we would finish the project," Crawford says. "But during those times, I just put one foot in front of the other and focused exactly on what I could do to inch toward the end goal. All that hard work manifested on the TV on Saturday, and I said, 'Whoa, we really did it.'
"My mom texted me during the movie and told me that my dad teared up when he saw his old newspaper clippings on national television, and my dad isn't the kind of guy to tear up watching a movie. Taking an experience my dad had in 1967, an experience shared by thousands, and bringing it back to life nearly 50 years later, not only for him but for the Giant Killers players, made me feel like I was doing what I was put on this planet to do. It made me feel like a Giant Killer myself. As ['67 defensive tackle] Jess Lewis said about his drive-killing tackle of O.J. Simpson, 'That's kind of neat.'"
Legend of the Giant Killers is not rated. It screens at 7:30 pm Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Mission Theater.