By Chuck Woodbury
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Oregon Ducks, the mascot of the University of Oregon. Its football team has been one of the best in the country in recent years. But did you know that the school mascot — the duck that cheers at football, basketball and other events — is not just any duck, but the famous Donald Duck? It’s true!
Back in the early days of the school, as late as the 1890s, students called themselves “Webfooters.” But soon, journalists — especially headline writers — began to refer to them instead as the Ducks. It caught on. In 1932, students voted to officially nickname their mascot the Ducks, over the Trappers, Pioneers, Yellowjackets and Spearsmen, the latter in honor of a popular coach named Spears.
For awhile, a real duck named Puddles showed up at football and basketball games. But people complained to the Humane Society, and, alas, Puddles was shipped back to his pond.
In 1947, Oregon athletic director Leo Harris asked his friend Walt Disney if the university could adopt Donald as the official mascot. Walt said fine, they shook hands, and that was that. Donald Duck was the new mascot.
All was good until a few decades later, after Walt died, when nobody could find a contract (because there wasn’t one) saying Donald was official. It look liked Donald might get the boot. But then someone found a photo of Walt and Harris shaking hands, Walt wearing a letterman’s jacket plainly showing Donald as the mascot.
That was good enough for the lawyers. A contract was signed and Donald was in for good. Today, the image of Donald is everywhere around Eugene. A new eight-foot, 1,000-pound statue just went up on campus in front Matthew Knight Arena.