I’ve always felt the first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament might be the finest 4 days sports has to offer.
Upsets and nail-biters are the norm, rather than the exception.
Often times, the big powerhouse schools get their comeuppance by a smaller, lesser-known program (See UMBC and Virginia).
But what I also like are the mascots which can sometimes be as obscure as some of the schools in the tournament.
Right off the bat, though, I need to school you on my favorite college team…THE Ohio State Buckeyes.
A “buckeye” is the fruit of the tree species “Aesculus” and in places outside of Ohio, you might hear folks call them “horse chestnuts”.
These nuts, which sort of look like a deer’s eye, are not edible to humans unless they’re roasted to break down the tannic acid and esculin.
Native Americans turned “buckeyes” into a paste and biscuits for pain relief.
The “Big Buckeye”, Brutus, is hardly someone or something that invokes fear or trepidation among foes.
Truth be known, 76 schools have some form of “Eagles” as their mascot, with 46 opting for “Tigers” and and another 40 claim “Bulldogs”.
So, right off the bat, I like “Buckeyes” because it’s unique.
But so is the University of California/Santa Cruz.
Their mascot is a yellow banana slug called “Sammie”.
The University of California/Irvine athletic teams are called the “Anteaters”. Fans attempt to rattle opponents with cries of “Zot! Zot! Zot!” in honor of Johnny Hart’s “B.C.” comic strip anteater who made the same sound while zapping ants.
Cal State University/Long Beach calls itself “The Dirtbags” in honor of their late 80’s baseball team which practiced on a field with something less than luscious natural grass adorning it.
Then, there’s Stanford. There was a time they were the “Indians”. Ask Cleveland baseball fans how that works. Stanford is known as “Cardinal”, the color, not the bird and their actual mascot is “The Tree” which looks to me like an elementary class designed it before a mid-December recess.
Have you noted all these schools I’ve cited are to the west…the far west?
Can this have something to do with fear of earthquakes? Or too much sun??
Actually other parts of the country have schools with unusual mascots.
North Carolina School of the Arts sets foes to trembling with their mascot, “The Fighting Pickle”
Concordia College took a dig from a rival school and turned it into their mascot. They’re the “Cobbers”, thefor an ear of corn, and when the game gets tight, “Kernel Cobb” and fans dressed in “Fear the Ear” shirts rally their team.
Down South, Delta State has been officially known as “The Statesmen”. But, since the 80’s, they’ve been “The Fighting Okra”. No doubt, okra gets used in a lot of dishes in Delta State country but I’m not certain the limp stalk of a vegetable is what I want to rally around in a close contest.
Not to be outdone by the University of California/Santa Cruz, Evergreen State College has “Speedy the Geoduck” which is a large mollusk that has a long body protruding from its’ shell.
“Fear the Slime” perhaps?
“Artie the Artichoke” leads Scottsdale Community College to victory and the University of Arkansas/Monticello rallies around “The Boll Weevil”.
Now, in northern Washington, don’t think that the Grey Harbor team can’t win the big one. “Charlie Choker” carries a “choker” belt which is used to wrap around logs, making it easier to transport the lumber which is big business in that part of the country.
Dartmouth College is officially known as “The Big Green” but students opted for “Keggy the Keg”. School officials aren’t real hot on the concept but the students like it. Just imagine, College students and kegs. What will they think of next?
I’ve always liked the University of Vermont. They’re the “Catamounts” which is defined as a “medium-sized or large wildcat, especially a cougar.
So how come that Mercury I drove years ago wasn’t called a Catamount?
Akron University, from my home state, in what was once the “Rubber Capital of America” has a head-scratcher for a mascot.
A steel-belted radial tire? An all-terrain mud and snow?
The Akron Zips have “Zippy the Kangaroo”.
Why not “Skid Marks”?
Auburn University has a tiger mascot named “Aubie” but Auburn fans also do the “War Eagle!” cheer and a large bird with talons flies into Jordan-Hare Stadium. Jordan, by the way, is pronounced “jer-dun” after coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan. “Shug” sounds like the first syllable of “sugar”. (I spent a couple of years in Alabama so I know these things!) So, are they “Tigers” or “War Eagles”? The tiger is a mascot. “War Eagle” is a chant that goes back to Civil War times.
.Saint Louis University has a unique mascot, the Billikens, in honor of a popular toy at the turn of the 20th century that was to compete against the growing popularity of the teddy bear.
Guess who won that contest!
Then there’s the Georgetown Hoyas with Jack the Bulldog.
I thought a “hoya” was a climbing, sprawling evergreen shrub.
But Georgetown apparently owes its nickname to a student studying Greek and Latin who came up with the cheer, “Hoya Saxa” which roughly translates to “What Rocks”. It apparently stuck.
Penn State lays claim to “Nittany Lions” which is connected to the tragic legend of Indian princess “Nita Nee”. There’s a majestic peak in central Pennsylvania named in her honor that was home to an elusive, now extinct Eastern cougar, or mountain lion.
Hence, the Nittany Lions.
There’s one school that may have the only x-rated mascot and that’s the Rhode Island School of Design.
The basketball cheerleaders call themselves “The Jockstraps”.
You figure it out.