Tuesday, December 7, 2010

College mascots and nicknames

A buddy of mine and I consistently discuss why certain schools carry certain nicknames and debate which mascots are the best in collegiate athletics. We also wonder why certain schools choose to call their teams one thing, but have a different mascot.

For example, in the Big 12 we have the Iowa State Cyclones. Their mascot, however, is a Cardinal named "Cy." (Get it?) Out west, Stanford is the Cardinal (singular--not plural) but their mascot is a tree. Yep, a dude dresses up as a tree given the evergreen that is part of Stanford's brand identity.

Back in the Big 12 are the Oklahoma Sooners. They trot out the "Sooner Schooner" horse-drawn wagon at football games yet have a mascot which has evolved from a dog ("Top Dog") to an animal which appears to be a horse with a bad mullet.

Down Alabama way, the University of Alabama teams are called the Crimson Tide, yet we have an elephant there as the mascot. Huh!? Down the road at Auburn, we have the current #1 college football team, the Auburn Tigers. On their sidelines, though, you'll find an Eagle, as the team is also known as the War Eagles and fans like to shout "War Eagle." For good measure, there's also a person at Auburn who runs around in a Tiger outfit.

Which brings up the question of the nickname "Tiger." There are the Missouri Tigers, the Memphis Tigers, the Auburn Tigers, the LSU Tigers, the Princeton Tigers and Clemson Tigers. If you go down a level or two in college sports, the Tiger name is used by a variety of schools, e.g., Grambling State, Idaho State, Jackson State, and Texas Southern.

What then distinguishes one Tiger from another? In Missouri's case, the Tiger nickname originated during the Civil War era, similar to the origins of the Jayhawk nickname for the University of Kansas. The home guard units in Columbia, MO, who protected the citizens of the town from the guerrilla activity of the time, were dubbed "The Missouri Tigers." In Kansas' case, the Jayhawkers were marauders who battled for free state rights prior to and during the war. The name evolved when the governor of Kansas raised a regiment called the Independent Mounted Jayhawkers during the Civil War. A mythical bird--part blue-jay, part hawk--became the symbol of this group and, ultimately, the mascot of the University of Kansas.

Tonight's opponent of Kansas, the Memphis Tigers, got their Tiger nickname from the play of the school's football team. In 1914, a parade honored the team and a student shouted out "We play like Tigers!" The name stuck and pre-empted the former "Blue and Gray" name used for Memphis' sports teams.

The other feline name used frequently is "Wildcat" and is featured at Kansas State, Northwestern, Kentucky and New Hampshire, plus a variety of smaller schools. At KSU, the nickname started in 1915 when football coach John "Chief" Bender gave his squad the descriptor--a significant change from the previous name of "Aggies."

Care to guess what is the most common nickname across college sports? It's Eagles, followed by Tigers, Bulldogs, Panthers, Knights, Lions, Bears, Hawks, Cougars, Pioneers, Warriors and Wildcats. (This, of course, ignores descriptors like "Nittany" or "Purple.") The least common is the previously described Jayhawks and other one-use names like Cornhuskers, Zips and several others.

For a comprehensive list of school nicknames, go to the following site:


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