One of Rae Lynn’s favorite collegiate competitions is playing out right now, courtesy of Capital One. Go online and you’ll find college mascots duking it out in the Capital One Mascot Challenge 2013. Atop the standings currently are University of Montana Grizzlies’ mascot Monte, University of South Florida’s mascot Rocky the Bull and East Carolina University’s mascot Peedee the Pirate.
So where does the idea that a mascot brings victory come from? Well “mascot” comes from the Latin masca, which means mask or witch. But the association with luck springs from an 1880 French operetta. In La Mascotte, a farm girl bestows good fortune on everyone she meets. (I’d like to run into her.) The show was translated into English and debuted in Boston and New York.
Today nothing beats seeing our beloved mascots run out on the field, bringing with them boundless team spirit and the promise of a big win. That’s true whether they’re costumed characters, animals, vegetables, fruit, a color or even imaginary.
Read on for some fun mascot tidbits:
- Mascots are often associated with team names, but they’re not always the same. For example, the University of Alabama team name is the Crimson Tide; the mascot is an elephant named Big Al.
- Why an elephant? Big Al originated when a sportswriter covered the Alabama-Ole Miss game in 1930. He reported that an anonymous fan yelled out “Hold your horses, the elephants are coming!” upon hearing the team rumble coming onto the field.
- Rumbling may be OK, but roaring apparently isn’t. Alabama coach Bear Bryant lectured the trainer of Louisiana State’s mascot after “Mike” growled near them. Mike is a live Bengal tiger and opponents must run past him on the way to the locker room.
- Not surprisingly, big cats are popular mascots. Penn State’s mascot is the Nittany Lion, really the common mountain lion that used to roam Pennsylvania’s countryside. Brigham Young University is represented by Cosmo the Cougar.
- Although Auburn’s official mascot is Aubie the Tiger, you may be more familiar with the unofficial symbol of team spirit—the War Eagle. As the story goes, a Civil War vet owned the first War Eagle. At an 1892 football game, the bird took flight and circled over the field, spurring the Tigers to victory just before the bird crashed dead to the field.
- Auburn may have a cat mascot and a bird spirit, but one mascot combines both. Check out William & Mary’s Griffin, an imaginary creature with the head and wings of an eagle and legs and tail of a lion.
- Less fanciful birds serve as mascots for so many teams you could fill an aviary with them. Eagles and hawks seem naturals, but an Ibis? The large wading bird native to South Florida has served as the mascot for the University of Miami’s Hurricanes since 1926.
- Other teams that boast bird mascots include the South Carolina Gamecocks, the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Youngstown State Penguins.
- Still you may initially struggle with the idea of the University of Oregon Fighting Ducks. Think rain: Oregon was once known as the Webfoot state. Thanks to Walt Disney’s generosity, the mascot uses Donald Duck’s likeness.
- Dogs make popular mascots too, of course. One of the first was Handsome Dan I, a bulldog who began representing Yale in 1889.
- Many Handsome Dans have come and gone since, but only one suffered the humiliation of being bitten on the nose by another mascot, the University of Connecticut’s husky named Jonathan.
- The best-known bulldog probably belongs to the University of Georgia, a pup with the moniker Uga.
- Continuing with canines, Texas A&M’s mascot is a full-blooded collie named Reveille VIII. She rules as the highest-ranking member of Texas A&M's Corps of Cadets.
- Even after the current Reveille dies, she’ll still be able to keep score. All Reveille mascots are buried in a special cemetery with their noses facing the south end zone and scoreboard at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, so they can continue watching the Aggies win.
- Even weasels get into the act as mascots: Bucky the Badger serves as the University of Wisconsin’s mascot. The answer from arch-rival University of Minnesota? The rodent Goldy Gopher.
- Animals make great mascots, but at some schools so do insects. The mascot for the University of California at Santa Cruz is the Banana Slug, for example.
- The Banana Slug is more slug than banana, of course, but another school does use a fruit: Syracuse University’s mascot is Otto the Orange.
- Vegetables also join the fray as mascots. The North Carolina School of the Arts features the Fighting Pickles. And not to be outdone, Delta University boasts the Fighting Okra.
- Many schools use legendary characters as mascots, including: Chief Osceola from Florida State University, Sparty from Michigan State, the Leprechaun from University of Notre Dame,
Sam the Minuteman from University of Massachusetts, Montezuma the Aztec Warrior from San Diego State, the Masked Rider from Texas Tech and Herbie Husker from University of Nebraska.
- In some cases, it’s hard to tell what a college mascot is unless you know the back story. The mascot for Concordia College, Minnesota, is the Cobbers. What’s a Cobber, you ask? That’s short for corncobber, a nod to the corn fields that surround the college. To take it a step farther, the mascot’s full name is Kernel the Cobber.
- And finally, the (mostly) guys under the mascot suits started their own Hall of Fame. They’ve inducted 14 collegiate and professional mascots, including Big Red from Western Kentucky University and Smokey the dog from University of Tennessee.
What’s your favorite college team mascot? Tell us in the Comments section below.