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UO-Disney deal in 1947 brought us Donald, the fighting duck

When did the University of Oregon become the Ducks? Since the state animal is a beaver, it's understandable that Oregon State University chose that toothy creature. But a duck seems kind of lightweight. And where the heck are his pants? I know this isn't a profound issue but it bothers me profoundly.

— Jim S., Medford

We quacker backers here at SYA suspect you may be a diehard beaver believer but we won't let you ruffle our feathers, Jim.

We would have you know that UO is the only major university to have as a mascot a popular film and television cartoon character, thanks to a licensing agreement between the Disney Co. and the university.

It all started in 1947 when then-university Athletic Director Leo Harris and Walt Disney shook hands on an agreement allowing the school's sports teams to use Donald Duck's image as its fighting duck mascot. Prior to that, the university's athletes were known as the Webfeet, although the school's national champion basketball team in 1939 was known as the Tall Firs. (As to the choice of a duck, if you spend anytime in the wet Willamette Valley, a duck mascot seems all too appropriate.)

The fighting duck has had to fight to keep his title. After Walt died in 1966, the Disney company became concerned there was no formal written contract for the use of Donald's image. In 1973, a written contract between Disney and the university resolved the duck issue.

But the fighting duck still had to keep his beak sharp. In 1978, there was a move to replace him with "Mallard Drake" followed by a duckish creature called "Mandrake" in 2003. Fortunately, for those of us who are proud Donald Duck alums, the two fowl were too foul for the mascot-minded.

Incidentally, Donald Duck was made an honorary alumnus of the University of Oregon during his 50th birthday celebration in 1984. During a visit to the Eugene airport, some 4,000 fans gathered for the presentation of an academic cap and gown to the famous duck.

As for the fact our favorite duck doesn't wear any pants, we have no answer. But we are very, very troubled you would notice something like that, Jim.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.