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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.

I am an MBC alum, and once donned the Gladys the Fighting Squirrel mascot for a pep rally. As far as I am aware, there is no reason why her name is Gladys.
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The first college I went to was university of Akron (Ohio). Mascot...The Zippers. Currently I go to Columbia College. The Claim Jumpers refers to the areas history...this is the Motherload. 1849, goldrush, Mark Twain and Brett Hart.
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The Delta State (MS) University Fighting Okra is the best I've seen--the pic of the okra with his fists raised like a boxer is priceless. Too bad they fashion themselves the Statesmen and Lady Statesmen (not Stateswomen, oddly enough.)
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I am also a ISU alum. Graduated in 1986. B.S. in journalism/mass communication. And I'm the troll conservative that likes to comment on the political posts. (Just so you I'm not holed up in a shack in Montana.)
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My BIL went to Oglethorpe, who are the Stormy Petrels. He played basketball for them and they went to the NCAA tournament, where the ESPN announcer called them the Salty Pretzels. Salty Pretzels is a much better mascot than Stormy Petrel.

I went to Tulane, where our mascot is a pelican, affectionately refered to as Pecker by the students. Not surprisingly, the adminstration doesn't approve of that nickname. Roll Wave!
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The University of California at Santa Cruz boasts the Banana Slugs, arguably the finest mascot ever. John Travolta even sports a UCSC Slug t-shirt in Pulp Fiction.
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I go to Brevard College in Brevard, NC. Our mascot is kind of weak (Tommy the Twister for a school in the Appalachian mountains), so my friends and I think the mascot should be changed to the Fighting White Squirrels to represent the population of white squirrels on campus and around town.
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I went to the University of Delaware, and we were the Fighting Blue Hens. Because General Lee used to love fighting blue hens. I am oh so proud...
Also known as the "ass-kickin' chickens" to many of the students...
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Evergreen Grad here representing. Not only is Speedy the Geoduck the most awesome of all mascots, he is also the MOST PHALLIC. When they debuted the new mascot costume while I was at school, the giggling would not end.

Lyrics from our fight song (although, being a notorious hippie school, we don't fight, really),
"Go, Geoducks go,
Through the mud and the sand,
let's go.
Siphon high, squirt it out,
swivel all about,
let it all hang out.

Go, Geoducks go,
Stretch your necks when the tide
is low
Siphon high, squirt it out,
swivel all about,
let it all hang out."

And yes, I want to remind everyone that it is an accredited college.
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Stanford use to be the Indians, until that didn't work so well anymore. They changed it to Cardinals, because weird color names were in for about a month and a half in the seventies. This got changed to the singular Cardinal, because, well, just because people like to be difficult. The Tree is a totally unofficial mascot, and is part of the band.
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When my mother attended Rosary College their teams were naturally enough called the "Rosary Beads" with an unofficial 'mascot' of a giant Rosary that some of the girls would bring to games.
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I'm another ISU grad ('85). Personally I wished they just tried harder to make the Cyclone the mascot. Sure it would be difficult to do costumes & such but at least a cyclone is a powerful, scary, overwhelming force of nature (IMHO, a lot better than the Ohio State Buckeyes - a nut - ooo scary). The cardinal - while a very nice bird - just doesn't compare. Sure you can give it a fierce expression, bared teeth and put it in farmer boots but it's still a pretty songbird.

A few years ago, a cyclone touched down on central campus in the middle of the day. Many trees went down and IIRC a couple of backpacks were lifted off students and whisked away (providing an excellent excuse for not turning in homework). Having our mascot visit in "living form" is not so great actually.

Go 'clones
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Nothing can beat Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Puckman! A giant hockey playing hockey puck. Go RPI!
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I graduated from Alpine High School in Alpine, TX... home of the Fightin' Bucks! Not only is it a great Spoonerism, the girls' teams went by the confusing title of the Lady Bucks.
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Another ISU grad here (82) I knew there was a reason I liked this web site!

Let's hope we don't have another perfect season in football this year.

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Athletics are not the focus of campus life but do provide a rare sense of school spirit. RISD sports have fluctuated over the years with the RISD archives containing photos of football, baseball, and basketball teams spanning the very early 20th century. Yearbooks and alumni reveal the RISD Student Association funded basketball teams throughout the 1950s and 1960s that were called the 'Nads'. An ice hockey team formed soon after using the same name, 'Nads'. The ice hockey team played through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s with little record of other athletics. In 2000, a new basketball team was formed under the name 'Balls' to complement the ice hockey team, each with its own slogan: "When the heat is on, the Balls stick together", and "Go Nads" (deliberately sounding like "gonads"). Currently, these are the two most active and organized sports teams at RISD, with basketball the only sport played at varsity-level competition. Together, both teams provide a rally ground for students, faculty, administration, and staff alike. Intramural level teams round out the offering in rock climbing, men's and women's soccer, volleyball, frisbee, skiing and snowboarding.
In 2001, the Nads created the infamous, and unofficial mascot, "Scrotie," a man-sized penis wearing a red cape. RISD students claim Cooper Union and Pratt Institute as their archrivals in sporting events, and the two hold an annual basketball match in both Providence and New York.
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how did Rhode Island College get on the List and the Rhode Island School of Design?! Our mascot is a giant penis, Scrotie!!! the Hockey team is the Nads. GO NADS! and the basketball team is the balls, in the heat of the game the balls stick together! also when risd had a swim team combined with brown we were the Wet Dreams the list goes on. RISD wins with Scrotie!
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I went to VPI (now usually called VA TECH, since the school changed its name to Virginia Polytechnic Institute AND State University and VPISU has less appeal) where the mascot was a turkey. The teams would be called the Fighting Gobblers or the Hokies. I remember the story in the Alternative Newspaper saying that hokie was slang for turnkey feces. Never had this confirmed, however.
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Try to picture the mascot for Tivy High School Fighting Antlers in Kerrville, Texas -

Go, AC Roos! Two high schools in Texas - Killeen and Weatherford - also have kangaroo mascots, but only one other university in the U.S. - U Missouri-Kansas City My Australian friends are a bit mystified by the mascot concept...
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I still think it's funny that Duke and Wake Forest, two schools with religious backgrounds, have a Devil and a Demon as mascots. Nice article.
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More than one Quaker college has had the paradoxical "Fighting Quakers" nickname. My alma mater, Earlham, switched to the less glorious "Hustling Quakers."

Fight, fight, Inner Light,
Kill, Quakers, kill!
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We're so used to it, since it's a big 10 school, that one really thinks of it as odd, but the Ohio State Buckeyes IS a weird college mascot. I'm an alum, and I've never quite understood why the mascot is an inedible nut.
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Charlie- a "hokie" is a castrated turkey, not turkey poo.

David G.- our mascot was a friggin kangaroo named "Moe." Our team name was/is the "Keydets" and the only thing I can see these two sharing is their first letter. I have yet to see anything in the historical works of the Virginia Military Institute to explain why a kangaroo and why "Moe." The closest I can come up with is a large fan base of Three Stooges fans (hence "Moe") and someone trying to get a free trip to Australia to round up a fitting marsupial.
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You forgot to mention the University of Irvine Anteaters. They were like, some of the weird mascots you mentioned, chosen in a poll where the students voted for a joke candidate.

I went to grad school at USC, which has an odd mascot, the Trojan. It was not named after the condom... they got the name because Cecil B. DeMille recruited the band to play a marching band in an epic about the Trojan wars, and they kept the uniforms afterwards. (It was a silent movie, ironically.) The nickname previously was the Wesleyans.

I did my undergrad at Columbia who have a fairly generic nickname the Lions. It doesn't fit the name of the school, which is the Latin word for "pigeon." But it does fit the original name of the school, Kings College. The pigeon would have been a better mascot, I think: it even fits the school colors, which are a greyish blue and white, much the same colors as a typical pigeon.
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The Stanford Cardinal makes sense because the school colors are Cardinal & White... except USC's colors are Cardinal and Gold and the two school's colors are very different shades of red. Stanford's cardinal is very close to a primary red, much like the bird. USC's cardinal is a deeply saturated purpleish-red, much like the robes worn by the old single dudes in Rome.
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The Long Beach State Dirtbags (according to the site):

The unofficial nickname of Long Beach State 49er baseball team refers to the program’s style of play and success against higher profile programs. The moniker was first coined for Coach Snow’s first team in 1989 which was comprised of nearly all new players. Playing without a home field (LBCC, Cerritos JC and Blair Field), and practicing at a local all-dirt Pony Field, that team won its first 18 games and advanced to the 49ers first College World Series appearance. Then-infield coach Dave Malpass would take his infielders to the all-dirt field for their rigorous workout. The infielders would return to the regular practice field after their sessions covered in dirt. Thus the name “Dirtbags” was born. The name resurfaced again in 1993 when the 12-12 49ers rallied to win 34 of their next 41 games and finish three outs short of the National Championship game. The “Dirtbags” were once again a fan favorite at the 1998 College World Series as the country received a lesson in “Dirtbag” baseball.

Even though it says "unofficial", there's not a fan in the stands at Blair that knows them by anything other than the Dirtbags. Except occasionally the D-Bags when they're losing.
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Allow me to add my old high school's mascot to the list: The David H. Hickman High Kewpies.

'Cause few things in life feel better than telling a defeated opponent that "you've just been beaten by a bunch of naked androgynous baby-dolls."
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@kebhouse -

Interesting story on the Oglethorpe University mascot:

The Stormy Petrel is an extinct, seafaring bird. Similar to a seagull. It would land on the masts of ships back during the age of exploration.

Not sure that it's true, but the story I've often heard is that the birds developed an oily substance on their wings, which was quite flammable.

Upon the appearance of a stormy petrel on their deck, sailors would know that land was near. They'd wait until dark, take a match to the bird's wings, and watch the direction it flew in order to follow it to shore.

Again, not sure if it's fact or fiction...but it makes for an interesting story behind a landlocked University whose mascot is an extinct bird.


I'm also a big fan of the Purple Cows from Williams College, and the Fighting Christians from Eloy. Nothing to strike the fear of God into a rival football team like a Fighting Christian.
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The mascot for the NC School of Science & Math in Durham, NC is...

The Unicorns!

When I went there, we also went by the Unis. Also, before we chose the Unicorns, the TI-83 was a potential candidate.
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How about the University of North Carolina School for the Arts Pickle. Or the AMDA Panda (American Music and Dramatic Academy). Or the Randolph Community College Armadillos (in NORTH CAROLINA).
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When the story is told of how the Artichoke became the mascot for SCC they always overlook the fifth choice students were offered, the Granite Reefers (for the Granite Reef Conversion Dam on the Salt river)
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Did you know there realy is a minor league baseball team the TOLEDO MUDHENS and then theres the MIAMI(FLA)HURICANES their mascot is a ibis named SABASTIAN and theres the GREAT LAKES LOONS and the BAKERSFEILD CONDORS
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The University of Akron has a kangaroo mascots so UMKC is not the only other University. U of A is also ncaa division 1 in all their sports.
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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.
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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
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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!)
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