The public’s fascination with major college mascots often reaches a fever pitch during the NCAA basketball tournament, which tips off this week. Mascots jump. Mascots slide. Mascots dance. Mascots dunk. Mascots “flirt” with cheerleaders. And, under those fuzzy mascot suits, human perspiration often reaches epic proportions.
The Oregon Duck will be wading into the NCAA’s big dance (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, not Milwaukie, Oregon) as a number seven seed in the West region. Meanwhile, the OSU basketball Beaver will be sitting the tourney out again, thanks, in part, to a Pac-12 tournament loss to the aforementioned Duck.
As Duck waddles on, a not-so-serious question continues to quack regarding his or her actual name. Serious, or not, this name issue once sparked colossal controversy in Eugene and beyond.
Is he/she “The Oregon Duck?” “The Duck?” “The Fighting Duck?” “Donald?” “Ducky? “Daisy?” Or, his/her original name “Puddles?”
As many diehard Duck fans know, prior to Puddles, the University of Oregon sports teams were known as “The Webfoots.” That inexplicable nickname had nothing to do with ducks or rain, but everything to do with a group of heroic Revolutionary War fisherman from Massachusetts. The Webfoots’ descendents moved to the Willamette Valley in the 19th Century. For reasons apparently lost in a historical downpour, some fans began calling Eugene-based sports teams The Webfoots. In 1926, an Oregonian “name that team” contest made The Webfoots official. Worth noting the runner-up names in this hotly-contested fracas were: “Pioneers,” “Trappers,” “Lumberjacks,” “Wolves” and “Yellow Jackets.”
The Oregon student body never embraced The Webfoots nickname. According to dozens of reliable and unreliable sources, Puddles made his first appearance at a Eugene sporting event in 1920. Sadly, the original Oregon Duck was not an energetic undergrad wearing an uncomfortable fake head, fuzzy suit and flippers. The first Puddles was a REAL LIVE DUCK, who was often plucked (not literally) prior to kickoff, tip-off or whatever from the Eugene Millrace or one of the puddles in the area around the campus. Despite the fact that the same wild duck didn’t appear at every game, he/she/they became fondly known as Puddles.
Journalists and students became very fond of Puddles, and began referring to University of Oregon sports teams as “The Ducks.” However, for good reason, the local humane society was horrified by the practice of allowing a REAL LIVE DUCK to run around the field/court, and spread its wings and feathers throughout the bleachers. After much public debate apparently, the REAL LIVE DUCK practice was banned in 1947.
By then, Puddles (Duck) fever had mesmerized the campus. Cartoons of the still unofficial mascot (Puddles) had been appearing in student publications for years. Down south, Walt Disney himself took notice. And, coincidentally or not, the same year REAL LIVE DUCK activity was banned, Uncle Walt and U of O’s Athletic Director, reached a handshake agreement to use the Duck image, and Puddles quickly began looking more like “Donald.” That’s when The Webfoots nickname was dropped and replaced by The Oregon Duck.
None of this possibility inaccurate background, of course, gives us any insight into why the name Puddles is no longer on the silly looking sailor’s hat the current Duck wears. His/her hat reads “Oregon” now. Sadly (to me), there’s only one Puddles product available on The Duck Store website – a junior retro brand long-sleeved T-shirt.
Puddles The Clown
There is another nearly as-famous Puddles who we “discovered” during our haphazard research for this story. He’s a seven-foot-tall sad clown “with a golden voice.”
Cybermeeting the REAL LIVE CLOWN Puddles got me thinking. Perhaps this Puddles and his world-renown “Pity Party” would come to Portland (his act seems perfect for our “weird” metropolis) and start a movement to resurrect the original University of Oregon Puddles?
In my view anyway, the original Puddles deserves a chance to waddle back into his/her former glory.
Feel free to wade in with a comment below.
A brief discussion about Puddles with a local sports expert.
Video links of interest:
Duck vs. Cougar
Oregon Duck Loses his Head Skydiving
Official Oregon Duck Video: