Most mascots fall into two categories: area-relevant, or tough (or both). You’ve got gators in Florida, buckeyes in Ohio, and cowboys in Oklahoma. But sometimes, a school fronts a mascot that just leaves everybody else scratching their heads. We’re looking into the worst offenders in college sports and either passing along the accepted, convoluted explanations or simply expressing a collective “WTF?” for the sports world.
If you’re not up on turkey lingo, you might think “hokie” is a slang term for the bird, seeing as the mascot is a turkey/cardinal amalgam. Nope, “hokie” is gibberish. From the 1910s into the 1960s, the football team was known as the Gobblers, because of the way they scarfed down their food. But the coach in the late ’70s disliked the name and borrowed a nonsense word from a cheer known as “Old Hokie,” the first line of which reads, “Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy.”
We’ve never been to North Carolina, but we’re fairly certain camels aren’t roaming the countryside. Fighting Camels, explain yourselves. The best the school can come up with is a statement someone made to the school president just after a devastating campus fire: “Your name’s Campbell; then get a hump on you!” Instead of saying, “Um, no, that’s Campbell. Learn it — I’m the president, for crying out loud,” he opted to mention it to someone who remembered it 34 years later and offered the Camels as a new nickname.
Since 1975, the Stanford administration has been telling anyone who’d listen that the school has no mascot. But none of us are listening; we’re too busy watching this ridiculous giant tree that’s unofficially filled the mascot vacuum thing fight with the Cal mascot and swigging from a flask during games. Why Stanford doesn’t get an actual Cardinal mascot to match their nickname, your guess is as good as ours.
When your mascot is a creature that can be destroyed by getting a little bit of condiment on it, there’s got to be some kind of backstory. Turns out the lowly banana slug was the school’s unofficial mascot from “the early years,” a sarcastic response to athletics at other schools with vicious animals like badgers and bears (ahem) representing them. An administrative move to change the Slugs to the Sea Lions in 1980 did not fly, and in 1986 Sammy was voted in for good.
Auburn has a lot going on in the spirit department. They’re called the Tigers, but they’ve got an eagle flying around named Tiger, and every so often you’ll hear them referred to as “Plainsmen.” Here’s how it shakes out: they’ve always been the Auburn Tigers, represented by Aubie the Tiger. “War Eagle” is claimed as the school’s battle cry and the eagle itself is not a mascot. The term “Plainsmen” is simply a reference to Auburn students from an old poem by one Oliver Goldsmith.
We can just hear the little girl saying, “Mommy, what’s a scrotum?” Well, Kimmy, it’s the anatomically-correct mascot for the RISD hockey team, the Nads, complete with veins and testicle hair. Really the only question is, what the hell kind of team name is the Nads, anyway? Even the basketball team thinks that’s going too far, and their name is the Balls.
This school knows you have no idea what that big white troll is doing at their basketball games, which is why they set up a handy page on their website entitled, “What is a Billiken?” It is known that it’s a fantastical good-luck bringer like a leprechaun, created by a school teacher in 1908. What’s less clear is how it became SLU’s mascot. The working theory is that an early football coach closely resembled one of the little gnomes and the team began to be called by the name.
How confusing could a Texas steer be? The animal himself is pretty straightforward, it’s his name that’s the difficulty. It was long thought by many at both UT and rival Texas A&M that the name was the result of Aggies kidnapping the mascot in 1916, branding it with the score of the previous year’s football game (13-0), and UT students making a few minor adjustments to turn the numbers into letters. But the explanation du jour seems to be that the name “Beevo” is a takeoff on “beeve,” an early 20th-century slang word for “beef.”
Clearly all the good mythical creatures have been made already. Now we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel with straight-up blobs. We get that WKU teams are called Hilltoppers because the campus sits on a steep hill. Explain how that translates into a mascot that looks like the child of Grimace and the Kool-Aid Man.
At least Stanford’s tree is a tall, strong organism that is not easily taken down; Evergreen State’s Speedy is a mollusk, the world’s biggest burrowing clam and local ocean dweller. To be an accurate geoduck (also known as a “mud duck”), the guy in the mascot costume should have both arms and a leg cut off. Then he would just dig into some mud and lay there for 150 years.
You see what you started, Western Kentucky? The Blue Blob is Xavier’s “secondary” mascot, a favorite of the young Musketeer fans who don’t know any better. Really, XU? You already have D’Artagnan , one of the greatest literary heroes ever, as your mascot. Is there really a need for an obese cookie monster?
A hairier version of a greyhound might seem like an odd choice for a mascot unless you understand southern Illinois’ connection with Egypt. The region got the nickname “Egypt” after an early 1800s drought in the northern part of the state left the southern part the only area getting rain and maintaining crops, similar to a story from the Bible about Egypt. And salukis happen to be a hunting dog used centuries ago by those crazy-walking Egyptians.
Having a bulldog for a mascot? More than acceptable. In fact, it’s the most common NCAA Division I mascot animal. But Georgetown teams aren’t called the Bulldogs, they’re called Hoyas. Even the school is confused about the origin of the nickname; something about Latin, and the old name “The Stonewalls,” and it was a really long time ago …
In a dance known as the PR Shuffle, UTC set aside its history of being the Moccasins in the Native American sense to simply becoming “the Mocs” in 1997. Thus was the way paved for Scrappy the “Moc,” a mockingbird railroad engineer, as a nod to the city’s heritage and the fact that mockingbirds were the only birds that start with “moc.”
One might very well ask why the Cyclones have a cardinal for a mascot. Well, if you have an easy way to create a wearable suit that represents a tornado, the school is all ears. (An upside-down trailer would work for the logo, but that doesn’t help the mascot situation.) The bird was chosen in the ’50s because of its association with the school colors, and he got his name in a naming contest for which the winner won a blanket.
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