I have, from an early age, had an inexplicable aversion to people in big mascot suits. Actually, come to think of it, I guess it’s pretty explicable, because I plan to spend the bulk of the following paragraph explaining and analyzing in great detail the basis for my aversion, before segueing into why the University of Oregon has the greatest mascot ever, primarily because he doesn’t trigger this fear in me. Spoiler alert.
Disneyland was a stressful experience for me in my youth, the whole time spent hoping that a gigantic mouse or dog wouldn’t come over and try to interact with me. This wasn’t because I was scared of them, necessarily, but because I was scared of something far more ominous, which still haunts me today: Awkward social situations.
So Mickey Mouse, let’s say, comes over to say hi to me. I would find this upsetting because I was in on the gag, so to speak – I knew that he wasn’t the real Mickey Mouse. I knew that there wasn’t a real Mickey Mouse. And I knew that there was nothing special about a man in a mouse suit. But at the same time, it was this guy’s livelihood; he was going to great lengths, sacrificing his own dignity, even, to entertain children by leading them to believe that they were palling around with the real Mickey Mouse. I wouldn’t want to make him sad by showing that I wasn’t fooled by his costume, so I’d have to act excited to see him and try to have an enjoyable experience. But the thing is, even when I was six, I interacted with others primarily through conversation, and Mickey Mouse can’t talk, or otherwise at all express himself beyond waving his arms around a little bit. So in essence, my time at Disneyland when I was a child was peril fraught because I was terrified that I might have to act entertained by an awkward game of charades with a nonunion actor in a poorly ventilated suit modeled after a cartoon character I wasn’t even all that fond of, when really all I wanted was some funnel cake and another turn on Star Tours
Why, yes, it is very hard being me. Thanks for asking!
Gearing up to come to college, I was afraid I would wind up in the same situation with our mascot, Puddles the Duck, as the marching band and the mascot fulfill similar duties and tend to stick pretty close to one another. I was worried because I had seen other college mascots and been sincerely creeped out by them, mascots the likes of…
However, in my time spent at UO and around the Duck, I’ve found that he’s a huge exception to my childhood phobia for two reasons:
1) The guy inside the Duck has a great job. I don’t feel sorry for him in the slightest. While a Disney employee portraying Mickey Mouse has to contend with an army of screaming children and fat people from the middle part of the country for eight hours a day, the guy inside the Duck may as well be dressing up as Jesus when he walks around UO. All he does is crowd surf, mock the other team, and hang out with the world’s hottest cheerleaders, with a few thousand pushups thrown in for good measure.
2) The very structure of his uniform is such that he isn’t creepy. Most mascots are rendered with a simple, cartoonish smile that looks pleasant at a glance but becomes creepy immediately thereafter – for example, a guy broadly smiling on the bus seems nice at first, but when he’s just sitting there smiling for hours, you’re suddenly less inclined to sit next to him or have your kid pose for a picture with him. Puddles, with his wide eyes and open beak, looks like he’s constantly thrilled by everything around him, which is a damn infectious thing at a football game.
The other benefit to Puddles having an open mouth is that it makes him one of the few mascots who can eat things. (Please don’t make this sentence dirty.)
It may not sound like much, a sports mascot’s ability to consume items, but given the fact that mascots have only body language with which to communicate relatively complex messages about college football rankings and the BCS, the ability to eat is a valuable tool in a mascot’s arsenal.
Two years ago, when we went to Corvallis and utterly destroyed the Beavers when they were in line for their first Rose Bowl since 1967, the Duck ran up to the students after the game holding a large bouquet of roses and stuffed them into his mouth, then shook his head to empty the shredded petals and stems onto the ground.
This year at the Civil War, when it was clear that we were going to win, the Duck opened up a package of Tostitos corn chips and emptied them into his mouth, followed by several tortillas, which he then pulled back out of his mouth and tried to feed to the band director (with limited success).
And, just about every time I’ve seen him, the Duck has snuck up on at least one person and eaten their head. This is basically the funniest thing in the world. There is no greater joy than watching the Duck pose with a bunch of people for a picture and then stick his mouth over one of their heads right as they take the photo.
So maybe Old Dominion’s mascot beat the Duck in the Capital One Mascot Bowl, but so what? We all know who the real winner is: The mascot who could transform my fear of mascots into love, and who could make devouring children’s heads wacky and innocent again.
Truman Capps does not mean to suggest that the Duck is anything other than a real, freakishly large, seemingly immortal duck.