Given that they are not indigenous to the North American continent, let alone the general Tuscaloosa area, it may seem odd that an elephant serves as the mascot for the University of Alabama’s football team. Nonetheless, a student in a doe-eyed elephant costume struts his stuff at every ‘Bama home game, having become a fixture at one of the state’s proudest institutions. What gives?
According to the school, the relationship between elephants and University of Alabama football dates back to 1930, when Atlanta Journal sportswriter Everett Strupper relayed a story from an Alabama-Ole Miss game. "At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble,” he wrote, “there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, 'Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,' and out stamped this Alabama varsity.” Unmatched in size that Alabama team “knocked me [out] cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size." From that point, Strupper started calling Alabama the “Red Elephants,” and the association stuck.
Even though the elephant served as a symbol for the team, it took decades for the Big Al mascot to come to fruition. In the 1960s, student Melford Espey would wear an elephant costume to games, much to the delight of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. With Bryant’s support, the university made an elephant the team’s official mascot in 1980, and Big Al made his debut at the Sugar Bowl. (He was portrayed by a different student, of course, as Espey had long since graduated.)
Today, Big Al can be seen at all types of University of Alabama athletic events, not just football. He'll also drop in on your nuptials, if you’re willing to pony up his $400 wedding appearance fee. The maximum amount of time Big Al can spend at your special day: one hour. Roll tide.
What Exactly Is a Crimson Tide?
Hugh Roberts, sports editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald, is widely credited as being the first to use "Crimson Tide" to refer to Alabama's football team.
Roberts used the term to describe crimson-and-white-clad Alabama's surprising performance during a rain-soaked 6-6 tie with heavily favored Auburn in 1907. Henry "Zipp" Newman, who became the sports editor of the Birmingham News at the age of 25, helped popularize the nickname.