Many remember when UO played Ohio State University in the 2010 Rose Bowl, but standing 60 feet tall in front of Lillis Business Complex is a reminder that these two schools have a long and storied sports history.
When the Ducks meet the Buckeyes in the first college football playoff championship game on Monday, it will come 76 years after the UO played Ohio State in the first-ever NCAA basketball tournament in 1939. Then known as the Tall Firs, the Oregon team won the game 46-33.
But out in front of Lillis Hall is proof of a lasting connection between the two universities. A yellow buckeye tree was planted in April 1958 after the UO lost that year’s Rose Bowl to Ohio State, 10-7. An Oregon Douglas fir was shipped to Ohio.
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Lost to history is who sent the buckeye tree. Some say the Ohio governor, others the Ohio State president. UO President O. Meredith Wilson is said to have bet a Doug fir on the game.
Archives show football coach Len Casanova and quarterback Jack Crabtree planting the sapling as cheerleader Mimi Sommerville and football players Norm Chapman and J.C. Wheeler look on. As the campus grew and buildings were constructed, the tree remained, becoming a colorful fixture in front of the LCB.
In October 2013, a plaque was added to commemorate the exchange. The UO College of Education and athletic department brought together those connected to the planting of the tree for a dedication event.
In attendance were Sommerville — who commissioned the plaque; Margaret Casanova, the coach’s widow; Crabtree’s wife, Diane; and Chapman. Football players from the 2013 team, including De’Anthony Thomas, were also at the event.
The upcoming national championship game is the latest in historical matchups for the Ducks and Buckeyes, two schools with a shared passion for sports and trees.
—By Heidi Hiaasen, Public Affairs Communications