With the bowl season upon us and the college football TV takeover about to commence, one of the great mysteries of the sports world becomes a more frequently asked question: Where in the heck do some of these schools come up with their mascots? It is quite the question.
Despite the number of schools with the same mascot — we all know LSU isn’t the only Tiger — other institutions’ representative symbols leave fans and viewers scratching their heads. Ahem, the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. No, these costumed creatures on the sidelines of some games seem to have nothing to do with the school at all — or at least a decent explanation is hard to find. Here we explain the six weirdest NCAA mascots.
1. Virginia Tech’s Hokie Bird
If there was a college course called “Explaining Mascots 101,” then this turkey would be one of the first topics of discussion. In the wide world of fictitious creatures-turned–mascots, the Hokie Bird appears to be the least likely because it sounds like it could be a real animal. In fact there is no such thing, and the long road that Virginia Tech‘s mascot took to become the Hokie Bird is quite developed and is also disputed at certain points in time.
Deep inhale. The “hokie” part comes from the school’s spirit cheer, “Old Hokie,” written by Virginia Tech student O.M. Stull (class of 1896). Stull submitted the battle cry in a contest held for the student body to find a new cheer after the school changed its name from Virginia Agricultural and Mechanics College to Virginia Polytechnic Institute. When asked later on what a “hokie” was, Stull said something about it being “a product of his imagination” (aka he made it up).
Dating back to some undocumented point in the early 1900s, a giant turkey called Gobbler served as the school’s mascot. But according to the school’s website, a football coach in the ’70s wasn’t a fan of the term “Gobblers” and started using “Hokies.” Needless to say, it caught on. The turkey costume evolved, and Virginia Tech introduced the official Hokie Bird in 1982. Exhale.
2. Delta State University’s angry veggie
Delta’s official mascot is the Statesman. But apparently a group of students in the ’80s decided the school needed an “unofficial” mascot; enter The Fighting Okra, stage right. (For those who are more familiar with the takeout menu than the kitchen pantry, an okra is an edible green plant of Northeast African origin. You can roast, sear, and serve it with other veggies. For the uber healthy crowd tired of kale, okra can be sliced up and thrown in the oven to make chips.)
Now, according to DSU’s website, the school doesn’t recognize the angry veggie as its mascot. This is quite interesting given the high profile of the Fighting Okra, including promo videos and a legit online store with some wearable merch.
3. Texas A&M’s “Reveille”
Maybe having a piece of food to represent the “agriculture” part of the Aggies just didn’t sound appealing at the time that Texas A&M was in the market for a new mascot. But that doesn’t explain why their mascot is a real-life dog, either.
The tradition dates back to 1931 when a group of A&M cadets found a stray dog on their way home to campus. While many different accounts chronicle how they found the pup and how they cared for it at the dorms — the school did not allow dogs — it appears well-documented that the dog first started leading the band onto the gridiron for football games in 1932.
The tradition of Reveille the First Lady of Aggieland lives on in the 21st century, with pedigreed pups representing the last few appointed Reveilles. Fans know the current standing mascot as a lovely collie named Reveille IX, or “Miss Rev” — with her own website and, yes, a Twitter account.
4. Auburn’s battle cry
It is a question asked for decades now. Auburn‘s official mascot is Aubie the Tiger, and everyone knows what a darn tiger is. The question here: Why it is Auburn’s mascot? After all, their battle cry is “War Eagle!”
The school’s website declares: “To the Auburn Family, it’s very simple. We are the Tigers who yell War Eagle!” Sure, except it isn’t that simple because people still mix the two up. Heck, USA Today published a piece a couple years back on Auburn’s “two” mascots.
While multiple sources confirm that Auburn has been the Tigers since their first football game in 1892, there is a slightly more vague account of how the battle cry came about. A couple different renditions tell of a war vet bringing an eagle to an Auburn football game and it flew over the field as the Tigers made some triumphant comeback victory. But even the details of that game are hard to come by.
The most logical explanation is that the mascot and battle cry are two separate entities, regardless of what the real backstory is, and the two animals have nothing to do with one another. Either way, the Auburn family seems content confusing the rest of the college football kingdom with their traditions.
5. Iowa State: Who’s this Cy character?
The background for why Iowa State Cyclones’ mascot is a cardinal is actually pretty straightforward. The 1954 Iowa State Pep Council was in charge of creating the school’s first mascot. They thought it’d be too difficult to depict the cyclone in costume form. So, they chose a cardinal as their spirit animal because the bird matched the school’s colors. Then they held a vote to pick the mascot’s name, and “Cy” won the majority vote.
Honestly, as far as head-scratcher mascots go, we give Iowa State credit for having a thorough backstory. For a story that’s not so clean cut …
6. Stanford’s tree
Here is possibly the most notorious “what the heck is that?!” mascot. It seems like even the non-football-watching crowd knows that the Stanford Cardinal is represented by what looks like a Christmas tree that hit the champagne on New Year’s Eve too hard. To make the situation even more odd, the nightmare-inducing tree, according to the Stanford, isn’t actually the school’s mascot at all.
History time: “Cardinal” refers to the school’s color, not a bird. The nickname reportedly stuck when, according to GoStanford.com, “local sportswriters picked up the ‘Cardinal’ theme after Stanford defeated Cal in the first Big Game (March 19, 1892). The headlines read, ‘Cardinal Triumphs O’er Blue and Gold.'” As for the mascot, Stanford was the Indian until 1972, and there hasn’t been an official replacement since. The tree, which is supposed to be a representative of the timber in Stanford’s hometown of Palo Alto, Calif., is part of the marching band.
Until the school appoints some kind of “official” mascot, it looks everyone will mistake the darn tree for Stanford’s mascot. Or they will get a legit mascot and everyone will still mistake the tree for the real one. Then the level of mascot confusion will take on all new heights.