A lot of things about Oregon’s mascot are cool. For one thing, he is a duck, which is cool. He rides a motorcycle. Also cool: his giant, beady eyes that never close and his beak that’s always open like he’s about to say something, though he never will.
He looks like Donald Duck, and that not being a coincidence makes him even cooler. He is the silent king of Eugene, Oregon.
There’s exactly one thing about Oregon’s duck mascot that could be cooler: His nickname could become his real name. For now, it’s not. That nickname is “Puddles,” which is about the cutest damned name for a water-based animal I’ve ever heard. People around
the world college football Twitter call him that regularly.
But to Oregon, the duck is not Puddles.
Sometime in the 1920s, a live duck mascot named Puddles started showing up at Oregon football and basketball games. The duck kept being escorted to games until the 1940s, when, as the school puts it, “repeated complaints from the Humane Society finally sucked the fun out of bringing a live duck to games.”
Puddles lost its capacity as the team’s mascot. But it made a comeback in another incarnation in 1947, when Oregon’s athletic director struck what the school calls a “handshake agreement” with Walt Disney. The deal was that Donald Duck’s likeness could be the basis for an actual, costumed mascot. So, he is.
Disney and Oregon didn’t put pen to paper on the arrangement until 1973. And by that point, the mascot duck wasn’t Puddles any more. He either didn’t have a distinct name, or he was referred to as “Donald.” That is where our great American confusion begins.
Oregon usually refers to the mascot as only “The Duck.”
The school has been insistent that the mascot’s name is not Puddles. This position was perhaps most explicitly staked out in 2015, though it’s not like it was new news then.
"The Duck is The Duck,” Oregon assistant AD for communications Andy McNamara told ESPN. “Puddles was the name of a live duck the student body paraded around in the early 20th century."
But the plot always thickens.
In March 2017, Oregon’s men’s basketball team took to the floor in warmup shooting shirts that referred to The Duck as Puddles, and the official athletics account shared them.
That’s the Oregon Duck and Benny Beaver, the mascot of rival Oregon State. But when I asked an Oregon official if the move signaled a pro-Puddles shift within Oregon’s administration, I was told that the mascot remained known as The Duck. It seems possible someone at Nike, Oregon’s synonymous apparel provider, went rogue.
The university’s official stance remains that Puddles is a thing of the past. Oregon’s live duck mascot was Puddles, but its costumed duck mascot is The Duck.
There are still other traces of Puddles on official channels.
Oregon’s official team shop sells a hat called “Zephyr Oregon Ducks Puddles Custom Washed Adjustable Hat - Green.” There’s no rainwater puddle here, either:
A similar item, also with Puddles’ name on it, is available in camouflage.
If you’re an internet sleuth daring to prove that The Duck’s proper name is actually Puddles, you could choose to treat this as a birth certificate of sorts. But that’s not right, because retailers and apparel-makers have a lot to do with the operation of most team shops. Oregon’s one of many entities that works with the online shop Fanatics. Oregon might not have made a choice here.
Puddles does live elsewhere. A 2011 blog post on the athletic department’s official site refers to “Puddles the Duck” making a guest appearance with UO cheerleaders at a kids fun day. There are, for sure, people associated with the Oregon athletic department who believe Puddles is at least an acceptable nickname for The Duck.
Still, the company line has long been clear.
Is The Duck really Puddles, then? Yes and no.
This is a paradox. A real Schrödinger's duck situation, if you will.
Oregon is resistant to the idea that the duck’s name is Puddles, but it’s not like the school publicly hates the name Puddles. Meanwhile, some of its official partners have paid heed to the name, even if they did it unintentionally or without UO’s blessing.
Many Oregon fans are quick to correct anyone who refers to The Duck as Puddles, but some don’t mind it, and some like both names.
“During my first years at the University of Oregon, I called the mascot Puddles,” says Sean Larson, the managing editor of Oregon blog Addicted to Quack. “Lately, I've been calling it The Duck. I think the way to look at it is that The Duck is its official name, while Puddles is a fun nickname. I personally like the name Puddles better, for what it's worth. I have no issue when people call the mascot Puddles, so long as they know the story behind that name.”
“Oregon’s mascot is The Duck, but if you want to call the mascot Puddles, that’s cool, as it probably means you have some sort of degree of affection for both history and the work of The Duck itself,” agrees Oregon alum Dan Rubenstein of the Solid Verbal podcast. “If you genuinely take exception to people using a fun nickname for a fun mascot, I’m going to guess that you’re not that much fun yourself, so you just matter less and aren't worth worrying about.”
The Duck is a child of the university, and parents get to name their children.
But The Duck is also generations old at this point, so he’s old enough to go by Puddles, Donald, or whatever name he wants. We could ask The Duck for his view, but he’d never answer anyway.