Disney History: How Donald Duck Became a College Football Mascot

Disney History: How Donald Duck Became a College Football Mascot
Credit: Disney/ Canva

As autumn approaches, college football enthusiasts are preparing themselves for Saturdays filled with excitement, nerve-wracking last-minute scoring drives, and plenty of shouting at their TV screens. It’s difficult to find a group of individuals as dedicated and devoted as college football fans. These passionate supporters proudly display their university’s colors and logos throughout the entire year, and are fully immersed in everything related to their beloved teams. As stadiums all over the United States spring to life with hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic fans eagerly anticipating the sound of marching bands and cheerleaders as their team takes to the field, you might be wondering what this has to do with Disney. Well, aside from the fact that ESPN, owned by The Walt Disney Company, is a major hub for college football, Disney also has a unique partnership with a certain college mascot that you may recognize. Nope, not Mickey Mouse. Instead, we’re talking about his foul-tempered companion Donald Duck.

If you follow college football, then you’re probably familiar with the big names. The University of Georgia, The University of Alabama, and Ohio State University are just a few of the teams that seem to always find success on the football field. Like most sports, college football has its top teams, known as blue-bloods, and there are programs that always succeed. While not quite at the level of Georgia and Alabama, The University of Oregon Ducks are a team to watch. They’re known for their flashy uniforms and fast-paced offensive style, and they consistently rank among the top 25 teams out of the 125 Division 1 teams in college football.

Disney History: How Donald Duck Became a College Football Mascot

Credit: D23

Donald Duck Takes the Field

The Oregon Ducks football team may not have won a National Championship yet, but they have a rich history. The University of Oregon stands out from other schools as they are the only athletic department to have used a Disney character as their mascot. They obtained a special licensing agreement through an unofficial handshake with Walt Disney and have been featuring Donald Duck as their mascot for many years. While the costumed version has evolved over time to look less like the famous duck, their retro logos still bear a strong resemblance to Donald Duck.

The University of Oregon didn’t adopt the famous Disney duck as their mascot until 1940. Prior to that, a live duck named Puddles was used on the sidelines during games. Even though the name Puddles remained, a costumed mascot was introduced after student publications depicted a mascot that looked exactly like Disney’s Donald Duck. In 1947, Walt Disney became aware of the issue, but contrary to popular belief, he did not shut down the use of his creation.

Donald Duck College Football Oregon

Credit: Disney/ University of Oregon

Leo Harris, the athletic director of the University of Oregon, had a unique connection with Disney through his friendship with Mike Royer, a Disney animator. Together, Harris and Royer established a gentlemen’s agreement to continue using Donald Duck as the university’s official mascot, despite attempts by Disney lawyers to stop the use of its likeness after Walt Disney’s death. Evidence produced against Disney lawyers showed Walt Disney and Leo Harris in matching Oregon jackets complete with the Donald logo, ultimately securing the university’s right to continue using it, but only at Disney’s discretion.

However, in 2010, The Walt Disney Company and Oregon reached an agreement that dictated details to remove the likeness of Donald from the current live mascot. Although Disney previously held much control over the university’s utilization of Donald Duck as its mascot, the on field association was ultimately finished off by Disney. Oregon made several changes that applied to the live use of Donald, but the athletic use of Donald in the form of a logo remained the same. This is still covered under prior trademark agreements between the two organizations.

Donald Duck’s History of Promotional Use

Many people who have worked with or for Disney know that the company is very protective of its property. The University of Oregon was allowed to use Donald Duck, but only under strict agreements, as the Disney brand is easily recognizable. However, Walt Disney was not as concerned with legalities as he was with sharing his web-footed character.

Donald Duck first appeared in the Silly Symphonies cartoon, The Wise Little Hen, in 1934. Since then, he has become a beloved character alongside Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Pluto, known as the “Fabulous Five.” Donald has not only made appearances in college football, but he was also used as the face of promotional posters and propaganda during World War II. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the entire Disney crew was deployed by Uncle Sam to promote recruitment and war bond sales during the war.

Credit: Disney

Donald was even enlisted in military service and used in posters and other media to show support for the ongoing war effort. This was allowed because Walt Disney’s studio was struggling due to the war’s impact on the box office success of releases like “Pinocchio” (1940) and “Bambi” (1942). As Donald was often depicted in his sailor uniform, he was a logical choice for the United States to use to support the country’s involvement in the war. Walt Disney was happy to oblige the use of Donald in support of America’s last great war, given his deep love for his country and his struggling studio.

It is noteworthy that Donald Duck played a significant role in the war effort, to the extent that the Department of Defense issued official discharge papers to the character from military service. According to Military.com and the Department of Defense, Donald Duck was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. Following this, he appeared in the cartoon Donald Gets Drafted (1942), which revealed his official middle name to be Fauntleroy. Donald was extensively utilized by the United States during the war, and in 1984, he was honorably discharged from service after being promoted to the rank of sergeant.

Donald Duck is not only a decorated veteran of World War II, but also a college mascot. Despite the University of Oregon’s live mascot no longer resembling Donald, the famous Disney character still holds a special place in the college’s history and lore. Oregon fans will always remember Donald Duck for his former role. As you gear up to watch the upcoming action this fall, keep an eye out for Donald if you’re tuning into PAC-12 and University of Oregon events.


About Michael Arnold

Michael is a father, husband, and an Army Veteran. Michael spends his weekends at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando checking out new merchandise and food. Michael is a graduate of the University of Alabama and has an education background in Public Health. You can find Michael riding Pirates of the Caribbean over and over again or binge watching new Marvel and Star Wars content. Han shot first. Thor is the strongest Avenger. Roll Tide and Wash Your Hands!