The news was nothing but bad for the Cleveland Browns for much of their 10-loss football season, and now it’s turned sad for the fans following the team’s announcement that its beloved mascot has died.
Swagger, the 145-pound Bullmastiff who became their mascot as a puppy in 2014, passed away on Friday. Swagger had been diagnosed with cancer and had a stroke on Friday.
Browns mascot Swagger was a regular at games
Swagger was born on July 20, 2013, at a certified American Kennel Club facility in Rootstown, Ohio, according to the Cleveland Browns.
He ran out of the tunnel at the NFL team’s home games from 2014 through the middle of last season, when he was retired due to his illness and replaced by his son, Swagger Jr., for the Nov. 10, 2019, game against the Buffalo Bills.
As the first live mascot in the history of the Browns, he appeared frequently at community events as a goodwill ambassador, wandered through the team’s training complex, and gained fans nationally when he appeared on the Hard Knocks series on HBO in 2018.
Animal mascots are a staple of college sports
Though many pro sports franchises use animal nicknames, live mascots are more commonly the domain of college athletic departments. Dogs are among the most frequent sideline mascots, and the University of Georgia has one of the most famous traditions in the country.
Uga, an English Bulldog, became the university mascot in 1956. To date, 10 dogs have carried on the tradition and each has been able to trace its bloodlines back to the original Uga. There have been elaborate ceremonies for retired mascots in the line and the university has even constructed a mausoleum near Sanford Stadium.
Other school mascots are more exotic, including lions and falcons.
The University of Texas’ longhorn steer, Bevo, and the University of Colorado cow bison, Ralphie, are in the running for the biggest and most intimidating mascots paraded at college games.
Bevo famously had a confrontation with Uga at the 2019 Sugar Bowl, won by the Longhorns, 28-21.
At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Bill XXXVI is the 39th school mascot overall and the 36th goat to be named Bill. With cadets from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, the frequent culprits, there is a lengthy history of mascot kidnappings leading up to rivalry football games.
The mascot relates to a tradition of goats living aboard naval vessels, originally as a source of milk and meat.
Animal mascots have been a source of controversy
The biggest star among college animal mascots of late has been Mike, the Bengal Tiger representing Louisiana State University. LSU’s run to a national football championship with a 42-25 victory over Clemson to conclude the 2019 season, made Mike VII a national celebrity though he does not travel.
Swagger, the Bullmastiff was pampered by the Cleveland Browns but his home was no match for what the LSU mascot has. The reigning Mike, who has been on the job since 2017 but does not attend games, lives in an elaborate 15,000-square-foot habitat complete with a waterfall and wading pond.
The university has come under attack at times for its tiger mascot. Most recently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals posted a story online chronicling the deaths of LSU’s previous deaths, calling out the University of Memphis for showcasing its tiger at home football games, and naming other schools using what it considers to be inappropriate mascots.
“Big cats, bears, and other live-animal mascots don’t belong on college campuses,” PETA said in its statement. “Even in the best circumstances, subjecting animals to a busy university environment and forcing them into close proximity to crowds of people day in and day out is stressful and cruel.”