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1939: Tall Firs of Oregon win first-ever championship tournament

Courtesy University of Oregon Libraries Special Collections and University Archives

EUGENE, Ore. - The year was 1939.

The Oregon Webfoots - affectionately nicknamed the Tall Firs for being the nation's tallest team - took the train to Illinois to take part in the national basketball championship tournament.

Oregon beat Texas and Oklahoma en route to the title game against Ohio State.

A lifetime later amidst the madness of March, sports historians consider the game between the Ducks and Buckeyes a showdown for the first-ever NCAA Championship title.

"You really had two teams coming in that were almost certainly the strongest in the nation," said Zachary Bigalke, graduate assistant to the University Archivist at the University of Oregon.

Despite playing in unfamiliar territory, the Tall Firs dominated 46-33.

Begalke has studied the 1939 championship game in depth, delving into the university archives.

He says Oregon fans sat anxiously by their radios, listening to the game via live broadcast.

When Oregonians heard of the victory over the Buckeyes, celebrations began immediately.

Crowds flocked to campus and cars crowded the streets, horns blaring.

"There was one incident of a police officer coming to try to deal with the traffic," Bigalke said, "and the crowd ended up hoisting him up on their shoulder and carrying him around."

Even more impressive was the celebration for the team's homecoming.

"Everyone wanted to catch a view of this team," Bigalke said. "This was a statewide source of pride."

An estimated 10,000 fans crowded the train station to welcome the Tall Firs home.

"You had the Oregon Marching Band playing Mighty Oregon, they actually set off fireworks for the group. You really had just a large outpouring of community support," Bigalke said. "It really brought Eugene into the national spot light for the first time."

That year, the Tall Firs made University of Oregon history, bringing home the school's first national championship in any sport.

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