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By Matthew Ichida-Marsh Summer Staff Writer
A Spartan, a Badger, and a Buckeye all walk into a bar, what do they have in common? They all hate Michigan of course! They are all also mascots, however, and represent their school in the best way that they can. The following list, set in no particular order, has been created to delve deeper into the history and current cultures surrounding the 15 best and most iconic college mascots today.
15. LSU’s Mike the Tiger
LSU has both a live mascot, as well as a costumed mascot.. What sets LSU’s live mascot apart from other institutions, however, is their commitment to the safety and protection of their live mascot. In order to keep current mascot Mike VII, as well as many former Mike Tigers safe and healthy, LSU has a USDA-regulated tiger habitat facility that abides by national guidelines and quality annual check-up. The Tiger Athletic Foundation at LSU hopes to provide awareness about the for-profit tiger breeding business and illegal trade. Additionally, LSU’s Tiger Athletic foundation and location provide recreation, education, research, and conservation programs. LSU also provides a live viewing service for Mike the Tiger at https://www.mikethetiger.com.
14. Louisville’s Louie the Cardinal
There is no known reason why or when the black and red Cardinal came to represent the university, however sources find a general consensus dating back to 1912 to the then Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Louisville, Mr. John L. Patterson. An FAQ by anyone who have seen a bird before is “Why does the Louisville Cardinal have teeth?” According to official sources at the University of Louisville Library, there is no accurate information that pinpoints this decision to add teeth to “Cardinal Bird” any one person or time, but there is a general consensus that it was a weird idea. Louie, from Louisville, is also believed to have come spontaneously from witty fans who thought “Cardinal Bird” was too unoriginal of a name.
13. Minnesota’s Goldy the Golden Gopher
While the Land of 10,000 Lakes has long been known as the Gopher State, the golden representation of the University of Minnesota, was earned. The Golden Gopher came to be in the 1930s in reference to their all-gold uniforms, as well as their consecutive national football championships in 1934, 1935, and 1936. Goldy has since then won numerous college mascot competitions, and in 2013, a bronze statue of Goldie has been constructed whose teeth are regularly rubbed for good luck
12. Georgia Tech’s Buzz the Yellow Jacket
Interestingly, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets refer originally to the yellow jackets that students would frequently wear to games, and not to the swarms of bees surrounding the Coca-Cola headquarters. Requirements for prospective Buzzes include a stature of no more than 5’4” and the ability to do Buzz’s notorious front suicide flip, the “Buzz Flip”. One of the most involved and spirited mascots on this list, Buzz does more than just hype up the crowd. In addition to the “Buzz Flip,” Buzz is known for crowd surfing, doing push-ups every time Tech scores (about 22 in the 2019 season), conducting the band, and has even rappelling himself down a 40-story building in Atlanta. Along with Buzz comes a second and equally iconic mascot, the “Ramblin Reck,” a 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe that drives around the field. Together, the two have inspired thousands of Georgia Tech students to be proud of being a Yellow Jacket.
11. Alabama’s Al the Elephant
While “Crimson Tide” may be best associated with Alabama’s athletics programs, Al the Elephant has become an additional symbol of the dominance of Alabama sports. In 1930, sports writer Everett Strupper wrote in reference to Alabama’s football team against Ole Miss “Hold your horses, the elephants are coming, and out stamped this Alabama varsity,”and Alabama was changed forever. Well, until almost 2 decades of live elephants being kept in Tuscaloosa and widespread elephantal support, then Coach Bear Bryant finally gave in despite the elephant’s undesirable qualities for an Alabama football player, “slowness and clumsiness”.
10. Kansas’ Jay the Jayhawk
Surprisingly, the University of Kansas’ mascot is the only mythological creature on this list. The Jayhawk is not a Kansan animal; rather it is a combination of two common birds: the hawk and the bluejay. After the “Independent Mounted Kansas Jayhawkers” fought to keep Kansas a free state during the Civil War, Jayhawks eventually became a proud representation of the state, and likewise the university. While not being based on any real animal, the Jayhawk varied in design before standardization in the 1960s of the modern Jayhawk, whose colors came from two Ivy League alumni’s Just-Outside-of-Boston crimson and Yale blue.
9. TCU’s Horned Frog SuperFrog
When thinking of the quirkiness of college mascots, the TCU Superfrog consistently comes to mind as a college being able to successfully turn its unique heritage into something grander. Before being a frog that is technically a lizard, the mascot has ranged from dogs, almost a cactus, and even for a two decade period, a young boy. The SuperFrog emerged as a mascot that “the crowd could laugh with instead of laugh at,” and to this day holds a special place in everyone’s heart as one of the nations most unconventional icons that TCU fans can laugh with, while others laugh at.
8. Florida’s Albert Gator
Unlike any other mascot on this list, the Florida Gators were not founded in their hometown or state, nor by an alumnus. The idea for a Florida Gator came from, of all places, Charlottesville, Virginia by the father of a UVA student in 1908. Upon going to Charlottesvillian printing service for a pennant of UF, Phillips Miller realized that a mascot did not exist, so he decided on the spot that the alligator should be the symbol, as it is a uniquely Floridian animal, unused by any other institution. Being from UVA, who had another 111 years before their first bowl appearance in Florida, the printer used a photo of an alligator for reference.
7. North Carolina’s Ramses
UNC Rams have not always been the Rams. In fact, true to their state’s history, UNC used to have a tar-heeled foot as their mascot. In 1924, head cheerleader Vic Huggins was surprised by a lack of pride for the UNC foot, so he suggested that the new mascot be a ram, named after then-starting football player Jack Merritt, who was also known as the “Battering Ram.” Ramses, however, came into real fame during a cut-throat football game that was tied 0-0 in the third quarter. In a last-minute attempt to break the tie, UNC’s kicker Bunn Hackney rubbed Ramses’ head for good luck, and landed a 30-yard kick for the field goal. The current Ramses came to be in 1989, and since 2015 has also gained a more tame friend “Rameses Junior” or “RJ” to represent the younger crowds, as well the 2019-20’s Men’s Basketball Team. Ramses, however, has not lost his ferocity, leading UNC Basketball into multiple championships over the years.
6. Wisconsin’s Bucky the Badger
Rather unwisely, the original Bucky was a real badger who would attend games and occasionally escape his handlers’ care. With sharp teeth and claws, the original badger unfortunately had to retire, being replaced with a “tamer” Regdab Raccoon (Badger spelt backwards). However, the Wisconsonites could not simply forget their badger heritage, leading to the recreation of a then papier-maché badger sporting his iconic cardinal red sweater in 1949. The name “Bucky” is actually a nickname for the contest-winning name “Buckingham U. Badger.” Bucky used to be an avid boxer, but since the late 1960s, has slowly phased-out the activity, but still remains today as a fierce warrior representing the Cheese State.
5. Michigan State’s Sparty the Spartan
Since Sparty’s beginnings in 1955, he has always been a true representation of the immensity of MSU’s school pride, both literally and figuratively. In Sparty’s original papier-maché design, Sparty’s head alone weighed around 60 pounds and stood over 6 feet tall, or about half the size of a UMich’s student’s head today. Sparty’s role is traditionally filled by an anonymous student who applied with an essay on “Why Sparty?”. Sparty is no stranger to fame and accolade, being named the national champion three times, the “Buffest Mascot” by Muscle and Fitness Magazine, and NCAA Hall of Champions: Mascot Mania after about a decade of unsuccessfully trying for an actual NCAA championship.
4. The Ohio State University’s Brutus Buckeye
The only non-human or anthropomorphic animal on this list (sorry Stanford), is Ohio State’s Brutus Buckeye. Originally hailing from a tree nut from Ohio’s state tree, the Ohio buckeye is also thought to bring good luck because of its resemblance to the eye of a deer. This superstition had been long held before The Ohio State University adopted it in 1950. While the first recorded usage of this term was in 1788 when Ebenezer Sproat was given this nickname by the native American Indian tribe of the area, it eventually spread to the entirety of the Ohio population with whom the tree nut really resonated. Brutus the Buckeye sets himself apart from the rest with the buckeye leaf decal on the team’s football helmets, a classic touch to a symbolic and quintessential college mascot.
3. Georgia’s UGA the Bulldog
The University of Georgia’s “Uga,” creatively named after the abbreviation UGA, is an iconic purebred white English Bulldog wearing a spiked collar that is “a symbol of the position that he holds.” Unlike many mascots that came to be through the student body or state representation, the coming of the bulldog was an organic process, replacing the former Georgia goat. Trillby, a campus pet for the Chi Phi fraternity, was the first Georgia bulldog and would frequently attend morning football practices, eventually becoming the (hopefully) fluffiest member of the team. From there, various bulldogs occupied the position of the Georgia mascot until in 1956, Uga I started the current Uga dynasty that still reigns over the school today. In 2019, Uga won first place Sports Illustrated’s “Mascot Power Rankings” for the greatest college football mascots of all time.
2. Oregon’s Donald Duck
The Oregon Duck has a unique history unlike any other on this list. Originally being known as “the Webfoot State,” the University of Oregon knew from the start that a duck be an ideal mascot to represent thel. The only true Oregon Duck was “Puddles,” a live duck, until numerous urgent complaints from the Humane Society left Puddles as a distant memory. In 1947, however, Oregon’s first Director of Athletics, Leo Harris, made an informal arrangement with Mr. Walt Disney himself to use the one and only Donald Duck as a mascot for Oregon. This lasted until Disney’s death in 1966 when Disney and Oregon realized that there had not been any official printed contracts. Through his complicated legal limbo, however, Donald Duck has persevered, successfully becoming an honorary degree recipient from the university and remaining one of the most iconic mascots in US collegiate history.
1. UConn’s Jonathan the Husky
The story of Jonathan the Husky dates back to 1932, the name coming from American Revolutionary governor of Connecticut, John Trumbull. The mascot costume appeared alongside him in order to prevent large amounts of stress on anxiety-prone dogs. Today, Jonathan XIV stays in a loving home with the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. Through the versatile ability of Johnathan to straddle the necessity of attendance at large sporting events and real puppy-dog wholesomeness, UConn claims a top spot of one of the best college mascots.
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