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Heldenfels: Oregon’s mascot not exactly intimidating

Rich Heldenfels Akron Beacon Journal

Seriously, a duck?

Having dammed up the Crimson Tide, Ohio State is supposed to be worried about a duck?

The folks at Duck Dynasty don’t take their name from fear of a beast. They take it from the idea of hunting the feathered beings down and covering them in orange sauce.

The idea of a sports team named the Ducks is so rare, the University of Oregon claimed to have the only one until the NHL admitted the Mighty Ducks in 1993. Even that team later dropped the “Mighty.”

A duck in pop culture is Daffy. Or the original Donald. (Too bad, Trump.) A Sesame Street song. A Jon Cryer role. Or, when nuclear war was on everyone’s mind, the word before “and cover.”

Remember the famously unsuccessful movie Howard the Duck? Yes, the extraterrestrial Howard made a brief appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy, and there’s a comic-book series about him coming. But even then, one of the new comic’s creators told Entertainment Weekly that Howard is just “an everyman who happens to be a duck.”

The closest we get to a macho duck is Kris Kristofferson, as the CB-handled Rubber Duck in the movie Convoy. While based on a hit song, the movie was not something to brag about.

Yes, there’s Donald “Ducky” Mallard, the doctor played by David McCallum on NCIS. But he’s more academic than athletic.

I know, Oregon fans have probably already ramped up mockery of a Buckeye. But at least his first name is Brutus. And he has a long history of tough sporting action.

More than enough to counterbalance the “Fighting Ducks,” as the University of Oregon refers to its teams on its website. The official history of the team mascot is more about cartoons than championships.

The name, says the website, goes back to the days when Oregon was known as the Webfoot State, because of “a hearty band of Massachusetts fishermen, who in 1776 helped save General George Washington and some 10,000 of his troops from imminent defeat at the hands of the British. When many of the Webfoots’ progeny migrated west of the Cascades and settled in the Willamette Valley in the 1840s, the name stuck to their muddy shoes and came with them.”

As Oregon students and players became known as Webfoots, “Ducks” was adopted by headline writers, and students eventually voted for that as the team name. Other contenders over the years included Timberwolves, Lumberjacks, Trappers, Pioneers and Yellowjackets, any of which would have sounded more formidable than Ducks.

In 1947, the team began using a mascot version of Disney’s Donald Duck, with permission from Disney and his company.

The Donald model has been used ever since, and in 1984 he became an honorary alumnus of the university, the website says.

What can we say about a school where a cartoon character can get a degree?

Well, one thing is that not even everyone at the school has liked the name, especially when it comes to sports.

Says the site: “Jerry Frei, Oregon’s football coach for five seasons (1967-71), wanted Donald 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.’”

It’s one thing to refer to a rival as That Team Up North. Can you imagine refusing to say the name of your own team?

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