Why Is Alabama's Mascot an Elephant, and What Is a Crimson Tide?

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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?

Big Al
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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.

What Does 'State of Emergency' Really Mean?

Firefighters battle a state of emergency.
Firefighters battle a state of emergency.
Phonix_a/iStock via Getty Images

Local and state officials across the U.S. are declaring states of emergency in their efforts to manage the coronavirus pandemic. Some entire countries, including Italy and Japan, have also declared a state of emergency. But what does this phrase really entail?

Local and State Response

The answer varies a bit from state to state. Essentially, declaring a state of emergency gives the governor and his or her emergency management team a bit of extra latitude to deal with a situation quickly and with maximum coordination. Most of these powers are straightforward: The governor can close state offices, deploy the National Guard and other emergency responders, and make evacuation recommendations.

Other powers are specific to a certain situation. For example, in a blizzard, a governor can impose travel restrictions to clear roads for snowplows and other emergency vehicles.

Calling in the Feds

If a disaster is so severe that state and local governments don’t have the cash or the logistical ability to adequately respond, the governor can ask for a declaration of a federal emergency. In this case, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does a preliminary damage assessment to help determine whether the governor should petition the president for a federal emergency declaration.

When the declaration from the president comes through, state and local governments can get funding and logistical help from the feds. What makes a crisis a federal emergency? The list is pretty broad, but FEMA shares some criteria here.

Why Does Hand Sanitizer Have an Expiration Date?

Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
galitskaya/iStock via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has turned hand sanitizer from something that was once idly tossed into cars and drawers into a bit of a national obsession. Shortages persist, and people are trying to make their own, often to little avail. (DIY sanitizer may not be sterile or contain the proper concentration of ingredients.)

If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle of Purell or other name-brand sanitizer, you may notice it typically has an expiration date. Can it really go “bad” and be rendered less effective?

The short answer: yes. Hand sanitizer is typically made up of at least 60 percent alcohol, which is enough to provide germicidal benefit when applied to your hands. According to Insider, that crucial percentage of alcohol can be affected over time once it begins to evaporate after the bottle has been opened. As the volume is reduced, so is the effectiveness of the solution.

Though there’s no hard rule on how long it takes a bottle of sanitizer to lose alcohol content, manufacturers usually set the expiration date three years from the time of production. (Because the product is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it has to have an expiration date.)

Let's assume you’ve found a bottle of old and forgotten sanitizer in your house somewhere. It expired in 2018. Should you still use it? It’s not ideal, but if you have no other options, even a reduced amount of alcohol will still have some germ-fighting effectiveness. If it’s never been opened, you’re in better shape, as more of the alcohol will have remained.

Remember that sanitizer of any potency is best left to times when soap and water isn’t available. Consider it a bridge until you’re able to get your hands under a faucet. There’s no substitution for a good scrub.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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