I went to a university with a seemingly
perplexing mascot. How do you get a small red bird from a large, destructive force of nature? It turns out there’s a perfectly good explanation – for Iowa State and for these nine other schools.
1. The College: Iowa State University
a cardinal bird
It’s kind of difficult to depict a weather phenomenon (see #7 below) in loveable mascot form, so Iowa State decided to use their cardinal and gold colors to create a character that could walk around on the sidelines and pump up fans at games. A contest was held to name the red bird; when he was officially christened “Cy” in 1954, the housewife who suggested it won a stadium blanket.
2. The College: University of Alabama
The Team: the Crimson Tide
The Mascot: Big Al the elephant
What Gives: The problem with giving teams creative names that stand out from your typical tigers, bears and panthers is that cyclones, hurricanes and tides are much harder to make bipedal and slap a jersey on. An elephant… now that’s a mascot. When a sportswriter said “here come the elephants” to refer to the stomping and pounding of the Crimson Tide team’s grand entrance back in the ‘30s, it stuck. Students voted to give him the name Big Al.
3. The College: Navy
The Team: the Midshipmen or “Mids”
The Mascot: Bill the Goat
What Gives: The legend goes something like this: an old Navy ship once sailed with a pet goat to eat their scraps and produce milk and butter. The goat became so beloved that when it died while out at sea, the crew kept its skin to have it stuffed when they got home. They did, and brought the goat to a Navy game before they headed back out to sea again. When Navy won, the goat became a good luck charm, and Billy has been hanging around ever since.
4. The College: The College of William & Mary.
The Team: The Tribe.
The Mascot: Griffin, and before that, Colonel Ebirt
What Gives: Chalk this one up to political correctness. Until 1977, William & Mary students and athletes went by the name “the Indians.” When this was deemed inappropriate they decided “the Tribe” would suffice, because it was merely referring to the close-knit community the students had formed. Even so, the mascot was a couple of students who dressed up like Native Americans for quite some time. When the NCAA required the college to remove the last bit of its potentially offensive moniker – two feathers in the William & Mary logo – it also seemed that it was time for a new mascot. Students voted, and the mythological griffin (half lion, half eagle) beat out a king and queen, a phoenix and a pug. The griffin still has no name.
Rebel Black Bear.
Before Rebel Black Bear took over, Colonel Reb was the big man on campus. You can see where a plantation owner is maybe not the wisest choice for a feel-good mascot, though, and he was removed from official duties in 2003. Although there was an Internet campaign to replace Colonel Reb with Admiral Ackbar from
(he’s leader of the Rebel Alliance, you see), the Black Bear won because Teddy Roosevelt allegedly shot a black bear in Mississippi.
6. The College: The University of Miami
The Team: The Hurricanes
The Mascot: Sebastian the Ibis
What Gives: Remember the problem the Cyclones and the Crimson Tide had? The same issue applies here. The Ibis was adopted because it’s a native bird, and because, according to the 1926 University of Miami yearbook, “It is the last sign of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane hits, giving warning that danger is imminent. As the storm passes the Ibis is the first to reappear, a sign that clear skies are approaching."
7. The College: University of Akron
The Team: The Zips
The Mascot: Zippy the Kangaroo
What Gives: The team was originally called the Zippers, not after the device on your jeans but apparently after a rubber overshoe made by the BF Goodrich Company in Akron. While I’d love very much to see a rubber overshoe with eyes and legs leading a cheer at halftime, the Zips decided they’d probably better come up with a better mascot. They chose the kangaroo because “the kangaroo is fast, agile, and powerful with undying determination – all the necessary qualities of an athlete.”
Reveille the Collie
The Aggie (a common nickname for agricultural schools) marching band was on their way home from a party in 1931 when they hit a little dog in the road. She wasn’t dead, though, so they scooped her up and took her back to the no-pets-allowed dorms, intending to take her to the vet school the next day. She revealed herself loudly the next morning when she started barking and howling at the bugler playing “Reveille” to wake everyone up. The school adopted her and the tradition continues – they’re on Reveille VIII now. That's Reveille I in the picture.9. The College: Xavier University
The Blue Blob
Truth be told, the Blue Blob is but one of two mascots at Xavier, and the other one is indeed a Musketeer – D’Artagnan, to be exact. Perhaps I lied in the intro, though – there is no perfectly good explanation for the existence of the Blue Blob. At least, I couldn’t find one. If there’s a Musketeer out there who can shed some light on the subject, I’m sure we’d all be grateful.
10. The College: The University of Tennessee
The Team: The Volunteers
The Mascot: Smokey the Coonhound
What Gives: The Volunteer State is Tennessee’s state nickname, so it’s easy enough to understand where that nickname came from. But Smokey the Coonhound? He has a bit of a back story. Also wanting to honor the state’s heritage, a contest was held in 1953 to select a native dog as a mascot for the University. The coonhound was chosen, and several dogs were involved in a little pageant to select the official dog of the Volunteers. Just as “Blue Smokey” was introduced to the crowd, he let out a long howl. The crowd went wild and Smokey became a school institution. It’s Smokey IX you see at the games today, but he has a costumed counterpart as well.
Do you have a school mascot that doesn’t seem to make any sense? Can you tell us about the Blue Blob? Drop us a line in the comments and let us know.