Crucial Minutia
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Kate Torgovnick
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: 101 Mascots.
2 Comments | posted March 20th, 2007 at 07:08 pm by Kate Torgovnick

If you’ve been anywhere near a television recently, you’ve probably noticed that we are smack in the middle of March Madness. And as you watched the basketball festivities, you might have caught a glimpse of one of the gigantic furry creatures on the sidelines. Which means you might have had one of the following thoughts: What’s so rebellious about UNLV? How are UNC the Tarheels and the Rams at the same time? And why does the Kansas Jayhawk wear shoes?

Well, Dr. Roy E. Yarbrough, mascotologist extraordinaire, knows the answers. Not only was he the Greenville College Panther from 1969 to 1970, but he’s written an encyclopedia detailing how the mascots of more than 1700 colleges came to be. Here are the short stories for the teams in the Sweet Sixteen:

Florida. In 1908, a student saw an opportunity to make a quick buck by selling school penants. But, problem, they didn’t have the mascot. This guy chose the alligator.

Butler. Butler started out as “the Christians.” Supposedly, a bulldog wandered into the student newspaper office just as the editor had decided that the current nickname was lame.

Oregon. For whatever reason, this team was once the “Webfooters.” But that’s long, right? The student newspaper shortened it to “the Ducks.” And yes, that really is Donald Duck in the logo.

UNLV. “Rebels” is an in-poor-taste allusion to the Civil War. Why? Cause UNLV split off from the University of Nevada in Reno. They’ve tried to tone down the Confederate imagery, but it’s still whack.

Kansas. The “Jayhawk” was the natural nickname ‘cause the word was already used to describe people who lived in Kansas. But when the school adopted it, they weren’t sure how to draw it and a cartoonist was called in. Hence the shoes—to kick you-know-what.

Southern Illinois. Lord knows why, but southern Illinois was called “Little Egypt.” Hence the Saluki—a breed of dogs popular in ancient Egypt.

Pittsburgh. Students and alumni voted on “the Panther” together. Bo-ring.

Indiana University. What the heck is a Hoosier? There’s a lot of controversy, but most people think it goes back to a tycoon named Sam Hoosier. When his employees got riled up, they’d yell his last name.

UCLA. Lots of west coast schools have a bear theme going on. UCLA was once upon a time “the Grizzlies.” But when they joined the Pacific Coast Conference, Montana already had that nickname. So they chose Bruins instead.

UNC. For those of you who didn’t sit through years of North Carolina history like I did, the shipping industry was huge back in the day, and as workers stepped in tar, it stuck to their feet. The Ram came in later, thanks to a football player who was called “The Battering Ram.”

Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was founded by a grant from Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. See the connection?

Georgetown. This is convoluted, but many years ago, a Georgetown team was called the “Stonewalls.” Some smarty pantses decided to chant the Latin phrase, “Hoia Saxa!” at games. When the school got a live mascot, a bull terrier, he was named Hoya after the chant. The team was soon named after the dog.

Ohio State. Buckeye trees are all over Ohio, hence the big seed mascot.

Tennessee. During the Civil War, General Andrew Jackson had great luck getting men from his homestate to head into battle. The state soon became known as the “Volunteer State.”

Texas A+M. Since it was originally an agricultural school, “the Aggies” is easy to understand.

Memphis. The University of Memphis started out as a school for teachers, and their mascot was, go figure, “the Teachers.” But they morphed into the tigers from a popular chants at games, “We fight like tigers.”

Want more? Order a copy of Dr. Yarbrough’s book Mascots! at It’s the second book on the page.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 20th, 2007 at 7:08 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 2 responses

  1. This is awesome! If I ever want to impress someone with my March Madness knowledge, I can just look at this list. You rock!

    March 20th, 2007 | 10:12 pm
  2. Priceless information for an uniformed potential poser like me! You rock Kate.

    March 21st, 2007 | 2:16 pm

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