With the collegiate football season steaming toward a 2011 national championship game, which is played in 2012, go figure, my thoughts turn to my favorite part of these championship and other bowl games: the team mascots. These mascots are often live or semi-live animals–the latter nicely illustrated by the nearly comatose Uga, the University of Georgia’s bulldog mascot–but more often, these mascots are actual people or an anthropormorphized version of some animal or thing made semi-real by a student in a costume.
In the “people” category for instance, the Florida State Seminoles have a male student, dressed in native American garb, astride a painted pony. The faux-Indian and the real pony prance along the sidelines striking fear into the opponents’ hearts and leaving little piles of horse apple surprises for the FSU cheerleaders. The fact that the FSU Seminole is dressed like a character out of a 1940s John Ford western doesn’t seem to bother the faithful. Real Seminoles, however, aren’t amused and they are really chapped about the Washington Redskins.
The University of Southern California Trojans also have a real person mascot, outfitted as a classic Trojan Warrior. Apparently, his costume is rented from the same time-warped company that dresses the FSU Seminole. It’s a well-known fact that the USC student body actually wanted their mascot to be a large and threatening-looking condom named Tickler but cooler heads in the administration prevailed.
In the anthropormorphized animal category, examples abound. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, with a mascot known affectionately as “Buzz”, is one. Yellow jackets, in nature, don’t buzz as much as they whine at a high pitch. However, naming your mascot “Whiny” doesn’t send the competitive message demanded by most fans. Buzz is given life by a student inside of a larger-than-life yellow jacket costume because if the costume were life-sized it would require a very tiny student and the mascot would be hard to spot even in a small crowd.
Another example is the University of Maryland Terrapins (turtles). The mascot, “Testudo“ is, once again, a student inside of an over sized costume. Earlier this fall I attended a U of M football game and watched as Testudo frolicked along the sidelines. Frolic is not a word normally associated with turtles but frolic he? she? (It’s damned hard to tell with turtles) did. At one crucial point in the game, Testudo did a turtle version of break dancing to urge the players to play better, I assume. Unfortunately, as with real turtles, the kid in the turtle get-up found it impossible to get off of his/her back once the break dance got to that classic move. Some helpful bystanders rolled Testudo back to a more dignified position, if one can call being dressed as a turtle “dignified”.
I, my-own-self, as an undergraduate, attended Wichita State University, a school often referred to as the “Princeton of the Prairie”. Our nickname was and is the Shockers and the mascot is the “WuShock”. Many of the uninitiated and ignorant across this hallowed land think that the Shockers are somehow related to electric jolts or sparks, which could be seen by opponents as a threatening and thus make sense. This, however, would be incorrect.
Shocker is actually a shortened version of “Wheat Shock”, the historic forerunner of a bale of hay. You see, before mechanical wheat harvesting became possible, the crop was brought in by hand, including the gathering and bundling of the hay stalks. These long stalks were gathered and then tied around the middle with twine and set upright in the harvested wheat field. They looked, from a distance, like truncated hour glasses. To the livestock, they looked like lunch.
Now, if a person were to take this wheat shock, add little odd-looking legs and arms plus a glowering, menacing face above the mid-section, that person would have spawned the WuShock, the country’s sole college mascot based on a cereal grain by-product.
Of course there are the Nebraska Corn Huskers but this monicker refers to the people who shuck corn (rip the husks off the ear) not the actual ear of corn. Making a mascot out of an ear of corn by adding little odd-looking legs and arms with a glowering, menacing face near the top would just be silly. Apparently, for U. of Nebraska opponents, the mere vision of a farmer’s wife and children violently ripping the husks off of ears of corn can be disconcerting; troubling even.
As I researched college nicknames and mascots further, I realized that it would be interesting to create competitive leagues based on the category of the nickname or mascot. Instead of the Big 10, the SEC or the ACC, there would be the such groups as the Odd Animal Conference (OAC); no Tigers, Panthers, Wildcats or Eagles allowed as they are far too common. No, the OAC would include such existing colleges as: the Horned Frogs (Texas Christian U.), the Anteaters (U. of California at Irvine), the Geoducks, pronounced “goo-ee-ducks” (Evergreen State College), the Lemmings (Bryant & Stratton College), the Battlin’ Beavers (Blackburn College), the Banana Slugs (U. of California at Santa Cruz), the Sugar Bears (U. of Central Arkansas), the Blue Hens (U. of Delaware) and (my personal favorite) the Black Flies (College of the Atlantic). Surely, and soon, some school will become the Honey Badgers (HBDGAS).
There could be the Theology Conference. It could include these existing U.S. college teams: the Battlin’ Bishops (Ohio Wesleyan), the Friars (Providence U.), the Evangels (Mid-American Christian College), the Missionaries (Whitman College) the Demon Deacons (Wake Forest U.), the Hustlin’ Quakers (Earlham College), the Prophets (Oklahoma Baptist College) and the Monks (St. Josephs College). I might also include colleges whose nickname is the Cardinals, but only if it’s clear that it references the guys in funny hats at the Vatican. Let’s face it, a guy in a funny hat would make a better sideline mascot than a student in a bird suit.
Any college that wanted to compete in the Theology Conference would have to change its nickname to something appropriate. Here are some new nickname suggestions for existing U.S. colleges: the Hustlin’ Healers (Oral Roberts U.), the Powerin’ Pastors (Bob Jones U.), the Rumblin” Rabbis (American Jewish U.), the Maraudin’ Mullahs (Islamic American U.) or the Stompin’ Swamis (Hindu U. of America). If I were the Demon Deacons I would schedule the Stompin’ Swamis for homecoming. Just a thought.
If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I want to return as the sideline mascot of the College of the Atlantic Black Flies. During lulls in the games, I could rest atop some giant horse apples.
Observoid of the Day: If it weren’t for thin skin, some folks would have no skin at all.