The Stories Behind 10 Weird College Mascots

1. Cy the Cardinal, Iowa State University Cyclones. I have to put this one in here, ‘cause I’m an ISU alum and still like to tailgate it up during football season. So why is a cardinal the mascot of a team named after a force of nature? Because it’s kind of hard to make a mascot out of a tornado, Cy the Cardinal was chosen by students in 1954 to represent the school colors of cardinal and gold. The “Cyclones” moniker came in 1895, when the ISU football team trounced Northwestern and a reporter noted, “"Northwestern might as well have tried to play football with an Iowa cyclone as with the Iowa team it met yesterday." Photo: ISU Alumni Association  

2. Sammy the Banana Slug, University of California Santa Cruz. When the University decided to get into the NCAA game in 1980, it was decided that the school’s mascot would be the venerable sea lion. But students at UC Santa Cruz had grown attached to the colorful slugs that populated the redwoods on campus and had sort of adopted them as an unofficial mascot, so when the university announced their sea lion decision, students rallied together to lobby for the hermaphroditic Ariolimax columbianus. They won, and Sammy has been one of the most recognizable college mascots ever since.

3. The Boilermaker Special, Purdue University. Some background: the first reference to the Boilermaker name came in an 1890s newspaper article that called the Purdue team “Burly Boiler Makers,” which was a nod to their engineering roots. Even so, the university had no official mascot until 1937, when a student suggested a “mechanical man” or something similar as a mascot. The idea snowballed into building a train that could be driven like a car, which showed off the school’s prowess in the engineering realm while giving them a meaningful mascot at the same time. The train would then carry fans to other cities for games, and became known as Boilermaker Specials. Today, Purdue is on Boilermaker Special V and the X-Tra Special VI, a mini version that can go indoors. Purdue also has Purdue Pete, a human Boilermaker who carries around a hammer. Photo from Purdue Reamer Club.

4. Gladys the Fighting Squirrel, Mary Baldwin College in Virginia. The school’s mascot is the squirrel because Mary Baldwin had a squirrel in her family crest. I can’t find a single thing on why they named her Gladys. Any Neatoramanauts know the story? My research did turn up another interesting fact, though: Tallulah Bankhead was a Mary Baldwin grad.

5. Artie the Fighting Artichoke – Scottsdale Community College. The school needed a new mascot in the 1970s, but at the time, the student government was mad at the administration for steering funding toward athletics instead of academics. So they picked three unorthodox mascots and let the students vote. The choices? The Artichokes, the Rutabagas or the Scoundrels. Former college president Art DeCabooter says the artichoke won out because it’s got heart. Ha. Photo from JamesStephanieKayley

6. Boll Weevil, University of Arkansas Monticello. This name comes courtesy of former school President Frank Horsfall, who noted in 1925 that “the only gosh-darned thing that ever licked the South was the boll weevil.”

7. John Poet – Whittier College, California. This one is pretty easy - the school is named after poet and abolitionist John Whittier. The town the college is in is also called Whittier. Richard Nixon is probably Whittier's most famous Poet (although it has lots of notable alumni, including the actress who played Kimmie Gibler on Full House) - he was an accomplished football, basketball and track runner for Whittier. Photo from Whittier.

8. Speedy the Geoduck, Evergreen State College, Washington. Surely an inspired mascot if I’ve ever heard one. The geoduck (gooey-duck) isn’t a waterfowl, as you might suspect, but a mollusk. It’s native to the Pacific Northwest, which explains why the college chose it as a mascot. Sort of. Also notable: Matt Groening was an Evergreen State Geoduck. Here’s Speedy doing his thing:

9. The Anchormen, Rhode Island College. I'm not even going to lie - I was totally picturing a mascot that looked similar to Ron Burgandy. It turns out by "Anchormen," they mean "sailors." Dang. As for the inspiration - one of the nicknames for Rhode Island is the Ocean State, so it really does make sense when you think about it. But I still prefer to think of a mascot running around in a suit and big hair, carrying a microphone and talking about his "guns."

10. The Student Princes, Heidelberg University, Ohio. Prior to 1926, the team was known as the Cardinals. But then the university's alumni director saw a movie called The Student Prince, which was about a prince who went to the Heidelberg University in Germany. He was inspired to start calling his students the same thing, and it caught on. At first it was just an unofficial, on-campus thing, but quickly grew to sports writers and the media. Others that I was interested in but couldn't find a good backstory on? The Long Beach Dirtbags (baseball only) and the Columbia College Claim Jumpers.

What are your favorite weird mascots? I have a friend who was a Fighting Pretzel in high school.

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

Our college mascot was the Yeoman Farmer—essentially a colonial farmer holding a rifle. Then again, Oberlin did have the worst football team in the country (officially!)
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Theres SABASTIAN THE IBIS for the UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI HURRICANES and KANSAS JAYHAWKS this gose a long way back in KANSAS history and legend and then theres the DLEWARE BLUEHENS
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
When I first walked into the student union and saw the big teeth on school sweatshirts, I wondered "Why do they have Francis the Talking Mule on the merchandise?" A graduate of CMSU, now UCM - mascot the MULES. Now that I see some of these others - I'm not quite as embarrassed for them.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"The Stories Behind 10 Weird College Mascots"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More