Image Source: Getty Images, Christian Petersen / Staff
The mascot is among the most cherished traditions in college sports. From giant inflatable elephants to papier-mâché tree nuts, from anthropomorphic vegetables to whatever George Mason University's Gunston is supposed to be, mascots capture the fun, imagination, and culture of campus life in ways that no lecture hall, football jersey, or logo-branded tote bag ever could.
Our mascots are ourselves — the most extreme, spirited, and anarchic version of we, the spectators of American college sport. They are the recklessly abandoned version of ourselves we wish we could be and sometimes are. This is why we celebrate the best, the most huggable, and the most unquestionably strange mascots to ever stalk the field, stride the diamond, or bound the hardwood. The list below is by no means a comprehensive, exhaustive, or scientific list. The most important qualification for inclusion is essentially that the mascot must make you smile, either because of its immediate familiarity, its irresistible cuteness, or its unabashed weirdness.
Of course, we didn't have room for everybody. Don't take it personally if your school's furry firebrand failed to make the cut. But there are a few actual stipulations for inclusion here:
No Live Animals
It's not really fair to expect a guy dressed up as a dog to compete with an actual dog. Putting aside the various animal rights movements throughout history that have sought to free live mascots from the clutches of university employment, a human being in a costume simply cannot match the cuteness factor of the real thing.
No Outdated Ethnic Stereotypes
As this list will demonstrate, many colleges have voluntarily moved away from mascots inspired by offensive Native American stereotypes over the last 40 years. Many others have not. We will honor the progress of the former by excluding examples of the latter from this list.
Everybody is a Wildcat. University of Kentucky, Villanova University, University of Arizona — you're all great and everybody respects you. But you don't get to be on this list. We award extra points for originality (Note: no actual points awarded).
Exclusions aside, read on for a look at The Most Legendary, Lovable and Ludicrous College Mascots:
The Most Legendary College Mascots
Bucky Badger — University of Wisconsin-Madison
Bucky Badger looks like something banished to Jim Henson's attic for its frightening effect on children. But Bucky actually means well.
Beginning life as an angry cartoon badger in the 1930s, the Wisconsin mascot is frequently illustrated in a red and white striped sweater. When feeling ornery, Bucky has been known to lace up a pair of boxing gloves. The original real-life Bucky was an actual badger with an explosive temper. His tenure was brief. Bucky was retired to a nearby zoo before his rookie season was through.
The anthropomorphic Bucky made his debut in 1949, when cheerleading captain Bill Sagal burrowed into a head elegantly constructed from papier-mâché and chickenwire. Consistent with both the cartoon version and the actual animal, Bucky is cantankerous. His face is fixed into a scowl, and his habit of seeking out fisticuffs with opposing mascots is well known.
But in Bucky's defense, it takes a lot of pep to do his job with a head that large. Bucky has to stay in prime fighting condition so he can keep up the tradition of performing one pushup for every point that Wisconsin scores in a game. Though Bucky's expression softened a bit when he graduated from the massive papier-mâché head to a modern felt one, he proved his toughness by rocking out 83 pushups following a 2010 drubbing of the Indiana Hoosiers.
In 2006, Bucky became a charter member of the Mascot Hall of Fame's College Division.
Sparty — Michigan State University
Among the nation's best known mascots in spite of his junior status, Sparty has racked up quite the reputation during his few short years on this earth. Looking not unlike George Clooney on performance-enhancing drugs, the Spartan warrior casts a striking seven-foot figure on the sidelines.
Michigan State has employed Spartan imagery in relation to its athletics programs since changing its team nickname from the Aggies way back in 1925. However, Sparty would emerge in all his foam-rubber glory more than 60 years on. The lantern-jawed legionary made his debut in 1989 but has since become a fixture on the national college sports scene.
Don't let it bother you that his attire is largely of Roman origin and that Sparta's warrior contingent had been long dead by the time of Rome's imperial crusade. Save the historical accuracy for the classroom. On the football field, Sparty is the perfect combination of agility and hilarity.
Certainly, these are the features which propelled him to top honors at the 2004 Best Mascot National Championship. After becoming the first Big Ten Conference mascot to top the competition, he repeated the feat in the following year and once again two years later. These accomplishments made his induction as part of the inaugural 2006 College Division Mascot Hall of Fame a logical choice.
Sparty also holds the unusual distinction of being the only non-athlete to grace the cover of an EA Sports video game, serving as the face of Wii's NCAA Football 09.
Unlike the famous slumps that followed many an NFL star's appearance on the Madden NFL game, Sparty would continue to perform his job at an extremely high level in the seasons that followed.
Aubie The Tiger — Auburn University
For a vicious, carnivorous beast, Aubie is actually quite cuddly. He looks more like the stuffed titular tiger who waxed philosophical in Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comics than a fearsome predator. Perhaps this is not such a far-fetched comparison. After all, Aubie actually began life as a mischievous (and occasionally ferocious) cartoon feline, making his debut on a game program in 1959.
The cartoon version of Aubie became a regular fixture over the next two decades and led his football team (probably with the help of some coaches and players) to a 63-16-2 home record during his first 18 years as a cover star.
Aubie truly came to life during the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament of 1979 when a 500 pound Siberian tiger escaped its enclosure and turned on the marching band.
Just kidding. I wanted to see if you were paying attention.
Aubie came to life when the university reached out to Brooks-Van Horn Costumes, a vendor that routinely collaborated with Disney, and commissioned a real-life Aubie. The real Aubie would never hurt a living soul, unless you count his competition at the National Mascot Championships. Even though a different student dons the costume each year, Aubie has amassed an unprecedented eight titles.
In 2006, this added up to a slot in the College Division's inaugural National Mascot Hall of Fame class.
YoUDee — University of Delaware
Few college mascots can boast the kind of backstory and pedigree attributed to YoUDee. (By the by, that needlessly confusing word is pronounced “Yoo-Dee”).
Legend has it that YoUDee's great-great-great grandfather served in the American Revolutionary War alongside the second company of the 1st Delaware Regiment. They were commonly known as the Fighting Delawares for their ferocity in battle. It was, however, Captain John Caldwell's enthusiasm for fighting gamecocks — specifically the also-ferocious-in-battle blue hens — that earned his company the nickname "blue hen's chickens."
The University of Delaware began referring to its athletes as Blue Hens by the turn of the 20th century. YoUDee made his first appearance in 1911. It is said that he wears gold in tribute to the Medal of Valor awarded his aforementioned ancestor for service in the Battle of Trenton.
Of course, YoUDee is no stranger to recognition either. In 2006, he joined Aubie, Sparty, and Bucky Badger as part of the inaugural class for the College Division of the Mascot Hall of Fame.
The Oregon Duck — University of Oregon
There are a number of universities on our list who commissioned Disney or its related costume-design houses for assistance with mascot construction. The University of Oregon is the only one, however, that simply borrowed a fully developed Disney character, and made it the face of its athletics program.
But a little on the school's mascot history before we get to Oregon's relationship with the world's most famous pantsless cartoon duck. Beginning in the 1890s, the athletics teams associated with Oregon were referred to as the Webfoots. This was in tribute to a collection of fisherman who served heroically during the War for American Independence. The informal attribution became official in 1926 and soon invited connections to a certain webfooted water fowl.
By the end of the decade, a live white duck named “Puddles” became a regular attendee of Oregon sporting events. The teams themselves became known informally as the Ducks, particularly in college and sports press. With the start of the 1940s, cartoon drawings of Puddles began to look suspiciously like Donald Duck, so much so that Walt Disney was made privy to the potential copyright infringement. In 1947, Leo Harris, the school's athletic director, tapped his personal friendship with a Disney cartoonist to obtain permission to use Donald's likeness.
The agreement was based on a handshake only, which eventually resulted in a 1973 inquiry by Disney's lawyers into Oregon Donald. When Harris produced a photograph that showed both he and the now-deceased Walt Disney together in matching Oregon Donald jackets, the parties reached a formal agreement granting the school use of Donald's image in accordance with Disney's presumed wishes.
In 1978, a student offered an alternative to the Disney character named Mallard Drake. Mallard, once described by a hostile student as “sleazy,” was defeated in a campus-wide vote by a decisive margin of two-to-one, making Donald the uncontested alpha-bird in the Oregon pond.
Though part of the agreement required the wearer of the Oregon Donald costume to conduct him- or herself always in accordance with the wholesome image we've come to associate with the Disney brand, the Oregon Duck gained national attention (much of it positive) for attacking the Houston Cougars mascot, Shasta, during the 2007 season opener.
Check out The Best Online Colleges in Oregon.
Gus The Gorilla — Pittsburg State University
In its earliest days, the school that would become Pittsburg State was known as the State Manual Training Normal School. (Note: The "State" is Kansas, and the school is not to be confused with the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.) Pittsburg State's first athletics teams competed under the alternating (and equally inspiring) nicknames, the Pittsburg Manuals or the Pittsburg Normalites, until the school's pep club intervened during its inuaurgural 1920 meeting, wisely dubbing the schools competitors Gorillas.
That characterization proved a popular one among the rowdy supporters of the school's growing athletics program. When an art student was commissioned to illustrate the new avatar in 1923, Gus Gorilla was born. Just two years later, he gained full favor of the student body and was adopted as the official mascot. In a nation of wildcats, cougars, and nearly every breed of bird you can name, Gus is the only Gorilla in all of college sports.
Originally more ferocious in appearance, Gus would soften over the years, especially after finding true love with Gussie the Gorilla in 1952. Today, he is a cherished fixture at the university and stands out among college mascots for the plausibility of having opposable thumbs and the ability to wave a flag. (No offense Syracuse, but you show me one real-life orange who can wave a flag).
In addition to being one of the most popular, unique, and enduring mascots in college sports, if you squint your eyes during halftime at a Pittsburg basketball game, you could swear you were watching Teen Wolf.
Sebastian the Ibis — University of Miami
The short answer to why the Miami Hurricanes chose a bird as their mascot is because it's hard to design a costume that looks like a tropical cyclone. Of course, there's more to it than that. The University of Miami began its association with the imagery of the ibis nearly a century ago. The graceful marsh bird made its first appearance in a 1926 yearbook and was selected for the bravery that the breed shows in the face of an approaching hurricane. In other words, the bird is friends with the hurricane, so the mascot totally makes sense.
The ibis remained a symbol of the school during the ensuing decades, though it was not yet the University of Miami's official mascot. In 1950, that title belonged to a massive brown and white boxer dog named Hurricane I.
Seven years later, Sebastian the Ibis was invented, becoming the official school mascot by 1958. Over the course of the following decades, many donned Sebastian's beak, but among the most notable was John Routh. Between 1984 and 1992, Routh was the great Ibis before getting the call-up as Billy the Marlin for Major League Baseball's expansion Florida Marlins.
This is quite an accomplishment for a bird that, in 1989, was handcuffed by police officers during a game against the Florida State Seminoles for dressing as a fireman and attempting to extinguish rival mascot Chief Osceola's flaming spear.
Brutus the Buckeye — The Ohio State University
Perhaps more than any other mascot in college sports, Brutus actually kind of looks like a football player, albeit one with an abnormally large and oblong head. That reverse-Boston Creme Donut of a head is actually supposed to be a nut.
Indeed, Brutus and the vaunted OSU athletics programs are named for the official state tree of Ohio and the fruit that it bears. Brutus came to life as a cumbersome and short-lived papier-mâché head with vestigial arms and legs in 1965. The wearer was covered from head to torso in bulbous brown. Within a few years, the papier-mâché was replaced with a lighter fiberglass model.
Back in the late ‘60s, the not-particularly-mobile Brutus had one trick up his sleeve. He had a smiley face tacked onto his head that he could turn upside down when the team was losing. Other than that, Brutus was not the most finely-tuned athlete on the field.
In 1975, the University attempted an upgrade, trading the torso-concealing head for a shoulder-length model. Unfortunately, the sneering, one-eyed design was kind of disturbing so the university quickly abandoned ship. In fact, they doubled down on the heaviousity. By the late ‘70s, the torso-loaded Brutus had swelled by 60 pounds.
Brutus, swept up in the fitness craze of the go-go ‘80s, shed the extra weight and donned a lightweight headpiece that makes him look like Mayor McCheese's health-conscious cousin.
As the decades have worn on, Brutus has grown buffer and more agile. In 2007, America's second most famous anthropomorphic nut (I'm guessing Mr. Peanut holds the world title) earned a well-deserved induction into the Mascot Hall of Fame.
WuShock — Wichita State University
Either you are witnessing the opening salvo of an invasion by a mutant super-race of pep-stepping wheat-stalks or you're at a Wichita State basketball game. If it's the former, I really don't have any sound advice. If it's the latter, sit back and enjoy the amusing antics of one of the strangest mascots in college sports.
In many ways, WuShock was way ahead of his time. One would be hard-pressed to come up with an older anthropomorphic inanimate object in the history of college sports. Sorry Delta State University, but WuShock has your Fighting Okra beat by more than 30 years.
The seedling to WuShock's invention was a 1904 advertisement which characterized the Wichita State (then Fairmount College) football team as “Shockers.” Legend has it the name was derived from the off-season profession held by many on the team, who moonlit as wheat-shockers in the agriculture-dominant state of Kansas. For the next several decades, a stoic shock of faceless wheat served as the team's logo.
The cartoon wheat was given a face in the '20s, but weathered the next several decades without a name. It was in 1948 when an ex-Marine and current student designed the scowling, no-nonsense wheat-shock personified. Though WuShock was very much beloved among his fellow Shockers, his early costume design was not particularly apt to movement. Thus, in many ways, he really did effectively embody all the intimidating characteristics of wheat.
In celebration of WuShock's 50th birthday, 1998 saw this mascot outfitted with newly mobile and musclebound threads. The goal was to create a mascot significantly more capable of instilling fear in the hearts of opponents. Certainly, if any of Wichita State's opponents happen to be gluten intolerant, WuShock is a towering nightmare of metabolic danger.
Pistol Pete — Oklahoma State University
Among college mascots, perhaps only Pistol Pete can boast the life and legacy of a true Old West lawman. Or at least, that was the inspiration behind this massively mandibled mascot. This stubble-faced sheriff has been repping Oklahoma State's Cowboys for more than half a century.
But in fact, Pete's inspiration goes all the way back to 1868. That was the year that a child named Frank Eaton saw his father gunned down by a band of former Confederate raiders in Twin Mound, Kansas. The eight-year-old boy vowed revenge, became one the fastest gunslingers of the time, and by 17, was deputy sheriff of all Indian lands between Southwest Kansas and Texas.
Known as Pistol Pete for his unmatched marksmanship, Eaton was a well-traveled legend by 1923, when he led the procession for an Armistice Parade in Stillwater, Oklahoma. At the time, the school then known as Oklahoma A&M, was living on borrowed branding. Sometimes called the Princeton of the Prairie, Oklahoma had purloined the Ivy League school's tiger as well as its black and orange stripes. The tiger was never very popular though. So, when students saw Eaton's crusty figure astride a horse, they saw the perfect embodiment of their school's history.
For nearly 30 years, it was Eaton who served in an official capacity as the symbol of the Oklahoma college. His likeness became the inspiration for Pistol Pete branding and cartoons. In 1958, when the legendary, real-life cowboy rode into the proverbial sunset at the age of 97, the orange-and-black clad Pistol Pete galloped from cartoon to sideline.
Since that time, Eaton's memory has been honored by the leather-faced, world-weary rider whose gargantuan head and striking orange hat are a fixture at OSU sporting and community events. Also notable, each year a new Pete (usually two people) is elected by a panel of former Petes.
Check out The Best Online Colleges in Oklahoma.
The Most Lovable College Mascots
Gunston — George Mason University
Just what exactly is Gunston supposed to be? Cookie Monster's non-diabetic cousin? A Chuck E. Cheese employee who can't let go of his day job? The freakiest dude at a furry party?
It's not entirely clear. Whatever Gunston is, he may be one of the most huggable mascots in all of sports — or at least he was before George Mason University unceremoniously demoted him.
Gunston is a big, green, fuzzy creature of unknown genus or phylum. His friendly nature and shag-carpet exterior made him popular with children. But the same could not be said about his reputation among students or alumni. From his inception in the 1990s, Gunston's soft nature seemed to reinforce George Mason's reputation as a relatively unknown commuter school.
Gunston bumbled around the sidelines for an athletics program of relatively little repute. That all changed with George Mason's Cinderella run at the Final Four in 2006. Suddenly, nobody at George Mason was all that thrilled with Gunston's adorable antics. The brighter spotlight of national fame was unkind to Gunston, who was ridiculed by outsiders for failing to strike fear in the hearts of opponents.
In 2010, Gunston was stripped of his title, replaced on the sidelines by a seven-foot tall Revolutionary general. The Patriot was modeled in the spirit of the Founding Father from whom the school takes its name.
Though Gunston did lose his starting job, he wasn't fully terminated. (You try looking into those big blue eyes and telling the guy he's fired). Instead, Gunston has been relegated to an honorary ambassadorship, appearing at children's events and promoting the university's conservation and environmental preservation efforts.
Big Red — Western Kentucky University
Of all the amorphous blobs in college sports (and there are many), Big Red has got to be the funniest. Full disclosure: I might have a soft spot for Big Red because I once had an English teacher who looked exactly like this.
In spite of not being any particular thing other than his namesake color, Big Red is extremely popular both in Western Kentucky community and on the national stage. Created in 1979 as an abstract artistic embodiment of WKU school spirit, Big Red is distinguished by his gigantic smile. Don't be deceived by his seemingly pleasant demeanor though. Big Red has been known to swallow whole the heads of those who approach too closely.
Otherwise, Big Red can be found on the sidelines of Hilltoppers games as well as in the spotlight at various national competitions. Big Red has been invited to compete in numerous Capital One Mascot Challenges, a prolificacy that helped make him the Capital One Mascot Challenge Hall of Fame's inaugural inductee in 2007.
The Blue Blob — Xavier University
Technically, the Blue Blob is a mere sidekick, but in actuality, he is by far the more popular of Xavier's two-mascot tag-team. The Cincinnati-based university's official mascot is a musketeer named D'Artagnan. The school's athletes were first dubbed musketeers back in 1925, but they competed without a mascot for the next four decades.
As a gift to the university, the class of 1965 constructed a real-life musketeer and bestowed it upon the student body. The mustachioed D'Artagnan enjoyed twenty years as the lone costumed attraction on Xavier's sidelines (though mostly at basketball games since the school's football program was discontinued in 1973).
For two decades, D'Artagnan's main function was to make little children cry. For some reason, young fans were terrified by the seven-foot, sword-wielding, pantyhose-wearing Burt Reynolds lookalike. To soften the musketeer's harsh image, Xavier paired him with a friend in 1985. Suddenly, the swashbuckler was hanging out with a dome-headed furball named The Blue Blob.
To create the Blue Blob, designers drew heavily from the work of French Dadaist Marcel Duchamp and notable avant garde performance art collective, Fluxus.
Just kidding. It's basically a walking Snuggie.
But what charisma! The kids love this guy, and who can blame them? Unlike D'Artagnan, Blob doesn't carry a weapon or hide behind a suspicious moustache. He just seems like he'd make a really loyal pet.
As Xavier's basketball program has gained greater prominence, so too has the Blue Blob achieved some modicum of national fame. At the height of his celebrity, Blob appeared in an ESPN commercial, defeating enshrined NFL quarterback Jim Kelly in a game of rock, paper, scissors, then promptly eating his Hall of Fame blazer.
Fortunately, the Blue Blob hasn't let the fame go to his head. He remains ever the humble and eager foil to the more flamboyant D'Artagnan.
Otto the Orange — Syracuse University
Otto is little more than a face with a hat. But he is suprisingly spry for a citrus.
And to his credit, Otto is far less controversial than the school's original mascot, Big Chief Bill Orange, alternately known as the Saltine Warrior. Native American students were successful in petitioning the demise of Big Chief Bill Orange in 1978.
This led to a brief flirtation with a wildly unpopular orange-clad Roman gladiator, one who was routinely booed off the field. This unfortunate gladiator would be succeeded by a rogue's gallery of failed mascots, from a man in an orange tuxedo to something called Egnaro the Troll (hard to believe that one didn't catch on).
By 1980, an unnamed and as yet unsanctioned orange began making regular appearances at games. Even still, the university continued its search for a viable successor to the Saltine Warrior, variously considering the candidacy of an orange cowboy called the Dome Ranger, a giant gnat named Dome Eddie, and a green monster dubbed the Beast from the East.
None could compete with the grassroots popularity of the creature simply known as The Orange. Gradually becoming a fixture at Syracuse sporting events, Otto earned his name in 1990. Despite Otto's popular appeal, a committee assembled in 1995 and recommended a nameless wolf as the school's official mascot.
The student body campaigned passionately on Otto's behalf, ultimately winning the friendly Orange uncontested reign over Syracuse University.
Hairy Dawg — The University of Georgia
Technically, the University of Georgia's official mascot is and has been, for many years, an English bulldog named Ugu. (And Ugu II through Ugu X). Since 1956, each in a single ancestral line has served admirably in representation of Georgia University athletics.
Beginning in the 1960s, Ugu received assistance from a scruffy gray costumed bulldog of little distinction and no name. Agreeing that this was no way to honor the spirit of those Ugu's now passed, the university recruited an alumnus named Tom Sapp to design a suitable replacement. Hairy Dawg was unleashed at the 1981 Sugar Bowl and led his team to victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and to a National Championship.
Hairy Dawg was designed to intimidate, and I suppose if you're afraid of dogs, he does just that. But honestly, his humongous head and winning underbite make him one of the more adorable bipedal dogs in college mascotting. Like Ugu, Hairy Dawg is a mascot you just want to dress in a scarf and cuddle.
But Hairy Dawg has little time for cuddling. He's too busy ranking third overall in Forbes Magazine's list of America's Top 10 Sports Mascots, not to mention competing in five Capital One National Mascot of the Year Challenges over the last 15 years.
Big Al — The University of Alabama
The University of Alabama came up with the most perfectly logical solution for the fact that it's hard to dress a guy up as a Crimson Tide. They dressed a guy up like an elephant instead. If you have a better idea, I'd like to hear it.
Big Al traces his origins to 1930, when a sportswriter quoted an anonymous football fan who was heard to exclaim at the thundering approach of his team “Hold your horses, the elephants are coming!” (Side note: We're pretty sure that even back then, this anonymous fan would have been considered the dork among his friends.)
Though the nickname stuck, it wasn't until the early 1960s that somebody first took to the field under the weight of a giant elephant head. Melford Espey, Jr. was the first student to don the great mask before going on to serve as a university administrator. The pachyderm tromped its way into Alabama's lore and logo even before it was adopted in any official capacity.
With the approach of the 1980 Sugar Bowl, the University decided it was finally time to give the elephant fully sanctioned status. With direct approval from no one less than legendary Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, Big Al was given his name and a spiffy costume designed by Disney engineers.
The upgrades were clearly a success as, some time in the ensuing years, Big Al landed himself a girlfriend. Big Alice, also a lovable anthropomorphic elephant, often helps Big Al to rally Alabama's rowdy crowds.
The Most Ludicrous College Mascots
The Fighting Okra — Delta State University
The official mascot of Delta State University is technically a guy known as the Statesman. As statesmen go, this one looks like he fell off a St. Patty's Day float due to sudden onset of elephantiasis. Though he had served the school for decades, the Statesman never quite captured the spirit or imagination of this Mississippi school's student body.
Students and athletes at the Division II university took matters into their own hands some time in the late 1980s. Seeking a more fearsome mascot to represent their small but excellent athletics programs, members of the school's baseball and basketball teams kicked around ideas under the stipulation that the new guy be both mean and green.
So, of course, they did the only logical thing that one could do. They dressed somebody up as a giant okra.
The Delta State Fighting Okra is, in fact, decidedly more intimidating than the Statesman. Baring a constant tooth-gritting snarl and a pair of junior flyweight boxing gloves, this flowering fruit (I know, I thought it was a vegetable too) is quite the prankster. While the Statesman provides a more traditional approach to supporting Delta U's athletes, the Fighting Okra is known for somewhat perverse motivational tactics like improving the swim team's relay speed by training with live alligators.
Though the Fighting Okra is clearly hilarious and absurdly brilliant, he is a point of contention for the university. Whereas the student body voted the Okra as their official unofficial mascot in the mid-90s, older alumni often bristle at his silliness. With all due respect, that's crazy. The Fighting Okra is a mad genius.
Gorlok — Webster University
Understanding exactly what Gorlok is requires a quick zoological review. Technically, Gorlok has the paws of a cheetah, the horns of a buffalo, and the face of a St. Bernard. Gorlok is, of course, inspired by the part-cheetah, part-buffalo, part-dog creatures that freely roam the St. Louis, Missouri suburbs where Webster University makes its home.
Nah. I'm kidding. Gorlok was clearly culled from the back pages of the Dungeons and Dragons “Dungeon Master's Guide.”
Ok, that's still a lie.
Gorlock was actually forged from a contest which challenged students and staff to create a suitable mascot to represent the Webster community. The first sketch of this mascot was rendered in 1984 and depicted this escapee from the Island of Dr. Moreau brandishing one of those old-timey insecticide hand-pumps (I'm really not sure why).
Students also voted to call the creature Gorlock in recognition of the intersection at the university's heart: Gore and Lockwood Avenues (See, it's not as weird as it sounds). It took four years for the blue and yellow creature in the sketch to become the fuzzy whatever-that-is who now prowls the sidelines.
Interesting trivia: this relatively obscure college mascot came from some fairly accomplished hands. The original Gorlock, who was covered head-to-toe in blue fur, was designed by a team that included Teri McConnell, also responsible for designing the St. Louis Cardinals' legendary Fredbird.
Gorlock made his official debut in 1988. Once the whole glam look died down, Gorlock lost the blue fur in favor of his more natural gold mane. Since then, this beloved symbol of the Webster community has never looked back (presumably because his head doesn't pivot all the way around).
Artie the Artichoke — Scottsdale Community College
Scottsdale Community College is the only two-year institution with an entry on this list, but I think you'll agree it would be wrong to overlook their contribution to the world of mascotry. Since we recently discovered that the okra (as in the Delta State University's Fighting Okra) is technically considered a fruit, we can say that the SCC Fighting Artichokes benefit from the best pugilistic-vegetable-themed character in the game today.
Though SCC is named for the nearby Arizona suburb of Scottsdale, it's actually situated on Maricopa Indian land in a town called Salt River Pima. None of this has anything to do with American artichokes, however, the vast majority of which are grown in the state of California.
So, what's with Artie the Artichoke? In fact, this winsome grinning thistle was borne out of controversy. In the 1970s, SCC gave its students the opportunity to vote on a suitable mascot and nickname for the school's emergent athletics program. The student body used this vote as a platform to express discontent over the school's budgetary priorities. Artie the Artichoke was created with the intention of embarrassing an athletics program that students viewed as diverting funds from remedial education.
The move totally backfired. In the years since his inception, Artie has become a treasured member of the SCC community, beloved by faculty, alumni, athletes, and students alike. While we're not certain who would win in a celebrity cage match between the Fighting Okra and the Fighting Artichoke, we can say that only the latter is the officially recognized mascot of his university.
HokieBird — Virginia Tech University
Turkeys aren't generally known as the strongest flyers, which is probably why HokieBird likes to get around the Virginia Tech stadium by crowd-surfing. This, and the fact that he can often be seen cruising around campus on rollerblades, suggests that HokieBird is a child of the 1980s.
This is true, but the story of his evolution goes back more than a century. It was in 1909 when Virginia Tech Coach Branch Bocock began referring to his football players as Gobblers for the voracious manner in which the student athletes consumed their rationed meals. In the years immediately thereafter, a university employee ran with the nickname, training a live turkey to perform tricks prior to game time.
The turkey (and presumably any number of successors) made weekly appearances on Virginia Tech's sidelines well into the 1950s. 1962 marked the first time that a student made the transformation, though most accounts hold that he looked more like a plump cardinal than a turkey. Over the next decade, The Gobbler, as he was known, grew to seven feet in height (most of it through an ever-lengthening neck). By the time he reached full proportion, he had become known by the more pugnacious moniker, the Fighting Gobbler.
With the passage of another decade, and the arrival of 1981, the school's athletics program saw fit to replace the Fighting Gobbler with somebody named Hokie (mostly because the coach at the time didn't care for the image of his players binge-eating). A gradual evolution led to the 1987 debut of HokieBird, a happy-go-lucky poultry who looks like he'd be as much at home on an Arby's billboard as in a football stadium.
As a campus tradition, the identity of Hokie is kept secret throughout the school year. The true masked man or woman is permitted to reveal his or her identity by walking at graduation in Hokie's trademark orange feet.
As it turns out, HokieBird has also been a tremendous springboard to even greater mascot fame. Among those who have donned the suit are Curtis Dvorak, who has served as Jaxson de Ville for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars since 1996, and his immediate successor Todd Maroldo, who has since served as Sir Purr, mascot to the NFL's Carolina Panthers.
Sammy the Slug — University of California Santa Cruz
On its slimy, slow-moving surface, the banana slug would appear a strange choice to represent an athletics program. But this mollusk is no slouch. Not only does the banana variety hold a distinction as the second largest land slug on earth, but experts say that its mating ritual can last for as long as eight hours!
Behold, therefore, the impressive staying power of Sammy the Slug, who has represented U.C. Santa Cruz in one capacity or another since the 1960s. Sammy's story is told by the stately redwoods that surround the Northern California campus. Since the school's founding in 1965, its students took notice of the striking yellow slimers patrolling the forest.
It is no accident that the school's students chose this gentle creature as their unofficial totem. The banana slug shared the student body's relative indifference toward fierce athletic competition. The good-natured mollusk proved a perfect fit for the idiosyncratic campus. Sammy was born in 1986, and, in 1992, earned top mascot honors from the National Directory of College Athletics.
The Stanford Tree — Stanford University
Never has a single tree managed to get itself into so much trouble as has the Stanford Tree. Though the mascot is embodied both by a different student and a new design every single year, it always manages to look like somebody who got kicked out of a Christmas pageant for swearing at children.
The Stanford Tree has been the source of some controversy over the years, if only for the fact that it routinely finds itself ranked highly on lists of both the best and worst mascots in the business. Suffice it to say that affections for the Stanford Tree are sharply divided.
Like many mascots on this list, the Tree owes its initiation to growing sensitivity over derogatory characterization of Native Americans in college sports. Stanford discontinued its use of the Stanford Indians nickname under the pressure of student protest in 1972. This same year saw the retirement of associated mascot, Prince Lightfoot.
For the next decade, the red-clad Stanford athletes were simply referred to as Cardinals (in reference to the color, as opposed to the bird). This left the team with no mascot (though in retrospect, nobody would have faulted them for simply going with a cardinal [the bird, not the color]).
Indeed, it was this power vacuum that paved way for the rise of the tree. In 1975, the school's marching band openly mocked its university's failure to select a replacement mascot by auditioning a few of its own, including a French Fry, a steaming manhole, and the very first Tree. Among them, only the Tree generated a true following within the student body. Through a series of subsequent appearances, the Northern California fir gradually rose to popularity. Soon thereafter, the right to design and wear the costume became the object of strenuously fought and occasionally dangerous on-campus competitions.
These competitions might be seen as training for the role. Volunteering to become the Tree comes with a guarantee that students from Stanford's arch-rival University of California, Berkeley will occasionally administer a beating. Both the Tree and UC's mascot, Oski the Bear, have engaged in frequent altercations with one another. This is largely considered part of the Tree's job description.
In spite of the Stanford Tree's more-than-four-decade reign, he has yet to earn official recognition by college brass. Nonetheless, the troublesome Tree is a beloved institution among both students and alumni.
Peter the Anteater — University of California Irvine
Peter the Anteater is tough to categorize. He's definitely funny. But if we had a category for terrifying, he'd be in that one too. This guy is the stuff of childhood theme-park nightmares. When you think about it, anteaters are already creepy looking. Make one of those things walk erect at seven-feet tall in basketball shorts, and you're looking at pure pulp horror.
Peter goes back to 1965, when a student vote made the eccentric creature the face of its organization. Inspired by the characters that populated Johnny Hart's long-running B.C. comic strip, Peter the Anteater is famed for his battle cry. Students and alumni will traditionally join Peter in declaring “Zot!” during sporting events, because, y'know, that's probably what anteaters would yell if they played sports.
Through much of his early life, the fuzzy and be-snouted Peter was a benign aardvark. Evidence suggests that the once-slender mammal had let himself go quite a bit by the mid-‘80s. The fairly plump incarnation of Peter the Anteater that rallied crowds in 1985 might have made a perfect stand-in for Sesame Street's Snuffaluffagus.
Then Pete spent the '90s hitting the gym. Today, the lean, muscle-bound mammal is quite the intimidating presence, whether on the hardwood or the football field. Don't let Peter get in your head though. One look at his dance moves and you can see that he's more funk than fight.
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Rufus the Bobcat — Ohio University
On the surface, there's nothing particularly off-the-wall about Rufus. In fact, as a Bobcat, he's part of a pretty long and uninteresting history of jungle-cat mascots. However, Rufus stands out for being quite the eccentric cat.
We'll get to this bobcat's checkered past in a minute. But first, a little on its pre-history. Way back in 1925, Ohio University's players were unofficially referred to as “The Nameless Wonders,” which was obviously a morale-killer. It was thus that, during a meeting of the Ohio Athletic Board, the name Bobcats was selected in tribute to the natural heritage of the surrounding Appalachia.
1960 marked the very first game-time appearance of a student dressed as a Bobcat. The team would go on to enjoy an undefeated season, earning the NCAA's National College Division Championship. Obviously, this meant that the bobcat was a permanent fixture from then on. Still, like the team, the bobcat would spend its first several decades without a name.
In 2006, the name Rufus was selected from a bevy of student submissions. Along with the new name, Rufus got a tougher image. Old photos reveal a somewhat sleepy looking cat likely more content curled up on an old shag than prowling the sidelines. By contrast, Rufus looks like he's had way too much coffee.
Rufus established his bad boy image by roaring into his inaugural appearance atop a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and he reinforced it by savagely assaulting The Ohio State's good-natured Brutus the Buckeye.
As the team took the field for a September 18th contest against the Ohio State Buckeyes, Rufus turned his fury on the poor nut. Barreling into Brutus, then grabbing him from behind and beating him about the head and back, Rufus had to be restrained by security.
The offending Rufus — one Brandon Hanning — revealed that this had been his master plan from the start, that he had dedicated a year of his life to becoming the bobcat, entirely in the interests of ultimately confronting and beating the tar out of Brutus. Though Hanning was terminated, the long con had paid off.
Since then, Rufus has reformed his ways and is a contributing member of society noted for his work opposing bobcat hunting and endangerment.
Keggy the Keg — Dartmouth College
In addition to its vaunted academic reputation, this Ivy League community also enjoys considerable prestige in the world of recreational drinking. The capacity of its students for high-volume consumption is the stuff of legend. To say that this is a point of pride for the Dartmouth community seems an understatement when one considers their mascot.
The imaginatively named Keggy the Keg is precisely what you'd hope. It's a guy (whom we presume is in some state of intoxication), dressed in an empty keg with googly eyes and a pair of gloves that he almost certainly stole from Mickey Mouse's locker. Though Keggy is not yet of legal drinking age, the path toward his creation was paved in 1971.
It was in this year that the campus recognized the racial insensitivity of its Indian mascot and removed him from his post. Nothing was placed in his stead until 2003, when the Dartmouth Student Assembly conducted a student poll in search of a new icon. Though an anthropomorphic moose placed first in the vote, there was no clear student favorite. Writers at the school's Jack-O-Lantern humor magazine stepped heroically into the breach and offered a mascot that they felt could be at once race- and gender-sensitive but still "unacceptable" enough to properly represent the student body.
Keggy proved wildly popular among the school's students, who identified closely with his irrepressible and fun-loving disposition. Though an unofficial mascot for the New Hampshire institution — and one who has occasionally been denied entrance into major sporting events — Keggy has received an official endorsement from the Student Assembly and has been referred to by the dean of the college as an "imaginative and creative idea."
Super Frog — Texas Christian University
So, you're probably thinking that the TCU Super Frog got his start as an end-of-level bad guy in a Sonic the Hedgehog video game. In fact, this pixelated amphibian has been with the university for quite some time. The school's 18 varsity teams are known as the Horned Frogs. The most famous of Horned Frogs made his debut on the cover of the school's very first yearbook way back in 1897.
In spite of the fact that this dude looks like he stepped straight out of mid-‘90s after-school television programming, he was already a century old by the time Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers was even a thing. It was just after World War II that he made the leap from the TCU seal onto the field. The original costumed mascot was known as Addie the All-American Frog and sported a truly haunting papier-mâché head that was clearly surplus from a recent Chinese New Year Celebration.
Starting in 1949, Addie inspired the Horned Frogs to victory and probably moved more than a few young children to hysterics. In 1977, Addie met the ignoble demise preserved for the least fortunate of mascots. During an overzealous victory celebration, a football player from the visiting Southern Methodist University put a cleat through poor Addie's face.
It was no accident then, that in 1979, the new, improved, and borderline extra-terrestrial Super Frog made his triumphant debut against SMU.
Well, the Frog was triumphant, but TCU lost. Considering this was one of 15 consecutive defeats at the hands of their arch-rival, Super Frog could hardly be blamed.
Over the ensuing years, Super Frog has evolved with the fashion, moving from the bulkier form popular in the '80s heyday of steroids and Arnold Schwarzenegger to the leaner, low-carb inspired look of today.
Billiken — St. Louis University
Ok. So, at first glance, this mascot looks a bit like a vampire bat with mild digestive issues. But he represents the lovable and ebullient spirit of the mythical Billiken, a monkish pot-bellied fella who is said to bring hope and good fortune wherever he goes. The first known Billiken was in fact a briefly popular household kitsch item in the early 1900s.
Its designer, a Missouri art teacher named Florence Pretz, envisioned the smiling and cherubic gnome as a symbol of luck and good cheer. Indeed, well before prowling the sidelines at SLU, the Billiken's visage graced everything from dolls and belt buckles to candies and hood ornaments.
Its association with St. Louis University began with the man who assumed head coaching duties for the school's football team in 1910. Though there are variations on who first noted the association, most versions suggest that an individual who frequented the same drugstore as Coach John Bender observed his resemblance to the Billiken.
Whether Bender was flattered by the observation is not known, but what is known is that his team soon came to be called Bender's Billikens. Information is actually somewhat scarce on the timeline by which the chubby Billiken transformed into the gaunt Nosferatu-inspired creature that roams SLU's basketball courts today.
Some sources suggest that earlier incarnations of the Billiken mascot more closely resembled the full-figured character of yore. Today, the SLU mascot is lean, stark, and might pass for Kevin Bacon.
Friar Dom — Providence College
If creepy was a category in our countdown, that's where the Providence College Friar would go. But since it's not, let's just call this guy ludicrous.
Students at Providence College have competed under the Friars nickname just about since the school's founding in 1917. Earliest reports on their sporting tradition tell that their first mascot was a live Dalmatian named Friar-of-What-Ho (because that's how people spoke back then). What-Ho made his first appearance at a game in 1935 and quickly became adored among the student body. He was the first of four subsequent Dalmatians (known as Friar Boys I through IV) to serve the venerable post.
In 1963, with the widely mourned passing of Friar Boy IV, a new figure was introduced on the sidelines. This first incarnation of the Friar was a jovial, round-bellied padre closely resembling the mirthful Friar Tuck of Robin Hood legend. The original Friar may have been more lovable, but he's got nothing on the new guy for skills.
Some time in the early 2000s, Providence undertook a major redesign and introduced Friar Dom. Borrowing his look from some of history's best known cult leaders, Dom became the living embodiment of holy terror. Behold, this gape-mouthed nightmare swishing a basketball from half-court.
Decked in a flowing white robe and a disarmingly wide-eyed smile, Friar Dom haunts the dreams of both opposing players and young children alike.
Cayenne — University of Louisiana at Lafayette
The official unofficial mascot for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is what I imagine prop comic Carrot Top would look like with a really bad sunburn. Cayenne is, in fact, a walking hot pepper capable of making wardrobe changes depending on the sporting event at hand. Easily one of the most unique faces in collegiate mascotting, and also probably one of the easiest figures to spot from an overhead blimp, this fire-engine red pepper is said to embody the Arcadian culture of the bayou region.
Indeed, Cayenne is a far more relevant staple at Louisiana games than was its original mascot, a fairly pedestrian bulldog. Starting in 1901 and extending for the first 50 years of its athletics program's existence, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette competed under this spirit animal. It wasn't until 1963 that the school finally nodded in the direction of its geographical heritage. The team transformed from Bulldogs to Ragin' Cajuns. Over the next decade, the characterization caught on. By 1974, the nickname had become official.
While the moniker caught on in a big way, the path to Cayenne was not as straightforward. The following decades saw various attempts at embodying the spirit of the Ragin' Cajun with mixed results. Most attempts were in an animated or illustrated medium, rarely making the leap to the field of play. Predecessors which found themselves on the jambalaya scrap heap include Mr. Cajun and the Fabulous Cajun Chicken.
Finally, in 2000, somebody had the brilliant idea of injecting a hot pepper with human growth hormones and jamming it into a football uniform. In a lot of ways, Cayenne is still playing catch-up with the once wildly popular Fabulous Cajun Chicken. Still, over the last 20 years, Cayenne has carved out his own loyal following at the university.
Speedy the Geoduck — Evergreen State
If you were to read about it on the school's own website, Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington actually seems quite pleased about the fact that its mascot is frequently cited as among the very worst in all of sports. It makes sense though. Evergreen averages fewer than 200 spectators at its men's basketball games. Speedy is the athletics program's greatest claim to fame.
The school's greatest overall claim to fame is alumnus and Simpsons creator, Matt Groening. Perhaps it's appropriate that the school which produced one of the great absurdists of our time also created what is probably the most absurd mascot in college sports.
First, you should know that the Geoduck is neither a low-budget vehicle popular in the ‘80s nor a water fowl. It is one of the world's largest clams, so large in fact that this creature can extend its protuberance more than a foot from its shell. Second, you should know that the word is pronounced “Gooey-Duck.” Finally, it is worth noting that the oldest reported geoduck on zoological record lived to be 168 years old!
Speedy Q. Geoduck is on the younger side, relatively speaking. History on the evolution of this clam is somewhat scarce, but his ill-fitting shiny green and gold costume has a distinct do-it-yourself, fabric-store charm. Evidence suggests that Speedy goes back to the school's earliest days. Founded in 1967 with a unique disposition toward nurturing (as opposed to competition), the steady, slow, but sure survival of the hearty Geoduck seemed a perfect representation for the school's eccentric student body.
Today, Geoduck stands as a firm reminder that when it comes to designing a school mascot, there really are no rules.
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