This is not a joke. This is a serious proposal. Sport has become serious business at the University of Oregon and these are days of change for the institution — mascots included.
It’s time for the lovable Ducks to make way for the mythical White Stags. Heresy, I know, but changing our mascot to the White Stags would complete a recent revolution. Liberal arts universities should welcome revolutions every few generations, and this one has arrived.
UO has landed in Portland, heralded at the foot of the Burnside Bridge with a neon sign four stories tall.
The sign was built for the White Satin Sugar Co. in 1940. The stag has been leaping atop the sign since 1959, when the host building’s main tenant became White Stag Sportswear. During Christmastide, its nose turns red, adding a charming touch of Pacific Northwest quirk.
Portlanders are wary of Eugene’s designs on the sign. They don’t want our university co-opting their sign. If we change our teams to the White Stags, we’ll be adopting a beloved symbol of Portland. Their most prominent neon landmark will give back a hundredfold.
I love the Ducks as much as the next guy, but we’re not really very Duck-y any more. The Duck was great when our sports teams were unassuming, even self-deprecating — on par with University of California Santa Cruz’s Banana Slugs. We could surprise an opponent and waddle away with an occasional victory. We were an acquired taste, a well-kept secret.
You have to grant me this much. Those days are gone. We’re bold and brash now. Elusive. We show up where you’d least expect us. We’ve bought billboards in New York City and Los Angeles. Why wouldn’t we want to buy the largest one in Portland?
If Portland’s city council wants to make us jump through hoops to have a sign that tells our story, watch us jump in a way that no longer resembles a duck scrounging for an unhealthy morsel of stale bread. We can make those hoops begin to resemble our elegant “O,” which has slowly supplanted the angry Disney character (which we are forbidden to use in marketing or licensing outside the state of Oregon.)
UO wants to be the next America’s Team. We turn heads, and we like it.
We’re good. But more than that, we’re fast. Go down the list: Chip Kelly’s no-huddle offense, Ernie Kent’s transition game plan, Vin Lananna’s steady stream of top-flight runners, and now women’s basketball coach Paul Westhead’s fabled run-and-gun style.
The White Stag looks how we are. If it seems we skip steps, or do things out of order, or jump and dart in unexpected ways, it’s become our nature. We announced a new head coach before the current one was finished. We made a donor our athletic director after his check cleared, creating the vacancy.
“RoboDuck” was our best attempt at updating the Duck and we all know how that turned out. A White Stag is to a Duck what a Duck was to a Tall Fir — more nimble, less predictable. Our reputation has gone from firm to flap to fleet.
We have new coaches all over the place, a new athletic director measuring drapes, and a new university president preparing to take us to new places. It’s a new day.
White Stags are mythical creatures, unless you’re thinking of red deers with leucism, in which case they’re only rare. Stags are conspicuously male, but myths can be made gender neutral. These creatures are also conspicuously white, but then, so are we.
White stags provide depth from literature, and flash for marketing. Professors can reflect how the white stag augurs a Medieval knight’s spiritual quest, represents the epic duality of good and evil, or serves as a symbol for (elusive) peace. Headline writers can have fun with word plays, starting with “stagger,” “stag party,” and “stagnation.” There are no other White Stags in NCAA sport. In addition to being elusive and fast, we’re also unique.
UO mega-donor Phil Knight may blanch at the idea of sharing his favorite team’s identity with another sports clothier, but “Coraline’s” success has changed things. Knight is now in the animated film business. Our duck will never escape Disneydom, unless it darts and leaps away, completing its change into something only dreamt of.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) owns a media marketing management (no commas) company in Eugene, writes for this newspaper on Fridays, blogs at www.dksez.com, and now tweets at www.twitter.com/dksez.