ONCE A DUCK, ALWAYS A DUCK OREGON'S ENDURING AMBASSADOR

THE SILENT KING OF EUGENE

Few mascots are more iconic or readily recognizable in college sports. Be it for the wild sense of humor, unmistakable appearance, or great strength from game-time pushups, his history alone makes him more than just sideline entertainment.

After years of conflict and calls for change, the Duck has become a figurehead of Oregon’s athletic programs and the UO campus community in the 21st century. From uncertain beginnings, the Duck has evolved from its Webfoot roots to become the silent king of Eugene.

Even though the uniforms have changed, no longer bearing his fighting countenance bursting through the block "O" logo, the Duck remains as one of the most recognizable and lovable mascots on the collegiate sports landscape.This uniform is a tribute to that fact.

MOLDING A MONIKER

Before the Duck came to Eugene, no duck seemed destined to represent the school as its mascot. In fact, during the University's early days, Oregon's pride was tied to a patriotic band of New England anglers with soggy soles. University students referred to themselves as Webfooters.

EARLY BEGINNINGS

L.H. Gregory, sports editor of The Oregonian, has been credited with coining Webfoots as the school's athletic nickname, even though the students had seen themselves as such since the turn of the century. Headline writers searching for ways to parse Webfoots into their sports pages began churning out Ducks, which the students eventually voted as their new nickname over Timberwolves and Lumberjacks.

A second student-body election in 1932 beat back the challenges of Trappers, Pioneers, Yellowjackets and Spearsmen, the latter in honor of football coach C.W. Spears, who left before the '32 season for a similar post at Wisconsin.

ENTER: "PUDDLES"

Oregon's first live mascot had surfaced in the 1920s when "Puddles," a resident duck of the nearby Millrace, was escorted to football and basketball games by his fraternity-house neighbors.

Puddles and his various offspring were part of the Duck sports scene until the early 1940s when repeated complaints from the Humane Society finally sucked the fun out of bringing a live duck to games.

ENTER: A LEGEND

However, Puddles' memory was preserved in 1947 when Oregon's first athletic director, Leo Harris, struck a handshake arrangement with Walt Disney determining Donald Duck's likeness could serve as a mascot, as long as it was done in good taste.

The unique deal stood for 20 years, with Walt Disney Productions providing several versions of the duck for Oregon's use, until the cartoonist's death in 1966. That's when both parties realized no formal contract existed granting the University the right to Donald's (the Duck's) image.

The best evidence Harris could offer was a photograph taken two decades earlier showing the late Mr. Disney in an Oregon letterman's jacket with the Oregon Duck clearly visible on the front. Disney representatives agreed to negotiate the first written contract in 1973 for the athletic department's continued use of the Duck.

However, not everyone accepted the cartoon mascot's image at face value. Jerry Frei, Oregon's football coach for five seasons (1967-71), wanted the Duck to sport teeth in his bill to better portray his team's "Fighting Ducks" image. And Dick Harter, the men's basketball coach for seven years (1971-78), disdained the Duck nickname altogether and insisted that any public relations materials refer only to his "Kamikaze Kids."

Then Oregon's duck endured another popularity contest in 1978 when a cartoonist for the student newspaper pushed his Mallard Drake as a suitable successor to the Duck, prompting one local high school student to comment that "if that sleazy Duck makes it, I'm going to OSU." The Duck was the students' overwhelming choice by a 2-to-1 landslide in an election that saw more than twice the typical voter turnout on campus.

The Duck found even more support for his 50th birthday celebration in 1984 during a visit to the Eugene City Airport that drew 3,000 to 4,000 fans for the presentation of an academic cap and gown to the Duck, who was named an honorary alumnus of the University of Oregon. Thousands of area residents signed a congratulatory scroll for the Duck, and that document is now part of Disney's corporate archives.

The Oregon Duck remained the lone duck mascot in any collegiate or professional capacity until the advent of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks franchise in the National Hockey League in 1993. Now, the Duck looks forward to staying Oregon's enduring ambassador for the future.

All the while...never saying a word.

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.