'Here comes the Tall Firs ... making Oregonians feel good again'

'Here comes the Tall Firs ... making Oregonians feel good again'

EUGENE, Ore. - John Dick remembers it all like it was yesterday.

He and his teammates were on the train home to Eugene in March 1939, unaware that the town - and all of Oregon - was ready to celebrate the University of Oregon's win in the first-ever NCAA college basketball tournament.

"They were getting the word that the people back here in Oregon were going a little bonkers over this," said the retired Navy rear-admiral, now 92 and the last surviving starter from the legendary Tall Firs. The only other player still alive is reserve guard Ford Mullen.

After train stops in Nyssa, The Dalles, Portland, Salem and many other cities, the champion Ducks - then known as the "Webfoots" - arrived home in Eugene to a tumultuous welcome. >>> Photo Gallery

"This huge, huge, humongous crowd - probably the largest crowd Eugene ever had up to that point," said Keith Richard, archivist emertius at the University of Oregon. "There were enough people crowded in there that the students were climbing up the telephone poles."

Rare film from the UO archives shows the sidewalks jammed with people for a parade down Willamette Street in honor of the team.

"The state police had to come in to help them direct the traffic on the various streets that were being interrupted," Richard said.

Dick remembers the scene.

"People on both sides of the street, the whole way," said the starting forward, who took the court as one of three Oregon players over 6-foot-4. "I couldn't believe it. I don't know where they all came from."

Oregonians came out of the woodwork to celebrate this one-of-a-kind team.

And the celebration came just in time: Oregon was climbing out of the Great Depression.

"Here comes the Tall Firs, getting all this publicity, making Oregonians feel good again," Richard said.

That quacks like a Duck.

Dick said, "It gave everybody in the state greater confidence and greater pride in our achievements."

Oregon can tap back into that spirit now as Duck fans gather to celebrate the two-time Pac-10 champion Duck football team and other community champions this Saturday.