I am prejudiced when it comes to college nicknames and mascots. Nicknames and mascots serve as a rallying cry and source of pride to all those affiliated with the school. Some schools only have a nickname, others have a nickname and mascot which are different, while the majority have a nickname and mascot which are the same. I love the ones dripping with folklore and traditions. Every time I hear some crazy idea, like oh the students have voted to change the colors or the mascot, I think… they’re missing the point. They must have no soul or school spirit. Most people don’t realize that nicknames were created by the press in the early days of organized sports. The nicknames came from an either inspiring moment or a coined phrase that gained popularity over time. Though not a college team, a great example are the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were just plainly the Pittsburgh Baseball Club until they pioneered the art of buying out another players contract to “steal” them from another team. Hence the Pittsburgh Pirates.
My Nickname / Mascot Criteria:
- Penned by writer, journalist as a characteristic about how they’ve played, or reference to folklore in their region.
- Regional Folklore.
- Stories that gathered a following and taken on power of its own.
- Mythical beasts or apparitions rate very highly with me, as well as ordinary creatures with extraordinary names, particularly when the names aren’t readily identifiable by most people without reference to a dictionary or encyclopedia.
Criteria for Soul-less Nicknames for institutions that feign as impostors of higher education.
- Any decision voted on by students in any given year. Since when did a poll taken from one body of students represent the whole body of the community who embrace the ideals, and have contributed to the identity of the university?
- Any ferocious animal that doesn’t have regional/cultural significance or folklore.
- Native American Tribal names – I defer to the delicate sensibilities of some tribal members; , but don’t get me wrong I don’t think the NCAA’s championship rule was right.(This could be a whole other blog. I’ll leave for another day.)
It’s a matter of pride and celebrating who you are, rather than trying to create a moniker for things you think are cool, or things you’d like to be.
History, Traditions, Real History and Evolution.
The Alabama Crimson Tide
The origins of the Crimson Tide first developed with Alabama’s first football teams. Dressed in crimson attire and described as malnourished, they were known as the Thin Red Line or the Crimsons. Two former writers are credited with the name evolution to Crimson Tide. Hugh Roberts, the sports editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald is said to have first used the nickname when he described Alabama’s efforts in a muddy 6-6 tie against Auburn in 1907. During a World War I experience, Zipp Newman noted how the “tide incessantly pounded on the seashore”; When he returned to cover Alabama Football he made the comparison of how the team was a “Crimson Tide” that continue to pound on their opponents. It was this 1919 description that many say was the catalyst for the name’s popularity.
The University of Wisconsin, Badgers
The team’s nickname originates in the early history of Wisconsin. In the 1820s and 1830s, prospectors came to the state looking for minerals, primarily lead. Without shelter in the winter, the miners had to “live like badgers” in tunnels burrowed into hillsides. As a result, the territory was dubbed the “Badger State,” and the team took its name from that.
Louisiana State University Tigers
Although LSU adopted the Tiger nickname in the same time period that many other schools were selecting ferocious animals as their nickname source, the Tiger term lept into LSU tradition as a tribute to a group of State Civil War heroes. The LSU “Tiger” nickname first roared into existence in the midst of the school’s undefeated 1896 season. The name reflected the honor once achieved by another band of Louisiana men that had distinguished themselves on the field of battle during the “War Between the States.” The Confederate soldiers consisting of New Orleans Zouaves and Donaldsonville Cannoneers were dubbed as the fighting band of Louisiana Tigers by other Southern troops thanks to their fighting spirit displayed at the Battle of Shenandoah. LSU’s nickname became more closely matched with the state’s military heritage in 1955 when it evolved into the “Fighting Tigers.”
University of Michigan, Wolverines
If you’re ever watching the television program “Unsolved Mysteries,” don’t be surprised if the University of Michigan nickname isn’t examined. Since the earliest memories of Michigan athletics, its teams have been known as the Wolverines. However, there is no known reason why this animal was ever associated with the university. There has never been a verified trapping of a wolverine inside the state, nor have there been any skeletal remains of a wolverine found that would suggest a history with the state.
The nickname topic has been debated through the years. Legendary Michigan football coach shared his theory when he wrote about the subject in the 1944 Michigan Quarterly Review. Yost thought the nickname evolved from the trading of wolverine pelts at a Sault Ste. Marie trading station. The fur
traders may have referred to the Michigan trappers as “Michigan Wolverines.” This fact would have
led to the state nickname and eventually to the University. Albert H. Marckwardt described another theory eight years later in the 1952 Michigan Quarterly Review. His thoughts focused on when the French first settled Michigan in the late 1700s. Their appetites were so gluttonous or “wolverine-like” that the wolverine name was given to them. A border dispute between Michigan and Ohio in 1803 is the catalyst for the third nickname theory. While the two sides fought over the proper establishment of the state line, the Michiganders were
said to have called themselves wolverines for their fierce negotiating skills. The Ohio version leaned
more to the wolverine name being more associated with gluttonous “wolverine” habits of the
University of Nebraska, Cornhuskers
The term husker might confuse college football fans that lack an
understanding of an ear of corn’s anatomy. If your only acquaintance with
corn has been the canned variety, then you might know that the starchy
vegetable comes complete with a husk. A husk is a thin dry covering of a
seed or fruit and a husker is something or someone that strips the husk
away. While Nebraska grows its fair share of corn, it was the University of Iowa’s
football teams that first were labeled the Cornhuskers. However Iowa
followers preferred Hawkeyes, opening the door for another school to adopt
the name. Sure enough the nickname finally ripened in 1900 when former Lincoln
sportswriter Charles S. (Cy) Sherman grew tired of Nebraska’s nicknames
that included Antelopes, Old Gold Knights and Bugeaters. Sherman was
aware of the Cornhusker nickname that Iowa had used and began applying
it for his Nebraska stories. The Cornhusker name grew tall in Nebraska
circles and eventually became the state’s nickname as well.
The Ohio State University, Buckeyes
One of college football’s most puzzling nicknames is the term “Buckeye.” Unless you hail from Ohio, you might have driven yourself “nutty” by wondering where this nickname “sprouted” from. Have no fear, you’ll “leave” this page with a new understanding. A buckeye is a tree that is common in Ohio. The tree’s “standing” in the state is so tall, that Ohio citizens have been referred to as buckeyes and Ohio is know as the “Buckeye State.” The buckeye tree produces an olive sized mahogany colored seed and leaves that are replicated on OSU football helmets for player achievements.
University of Southern California, Trojans
The Trojan nickname took its first steps when Warren Bovard, director of athletics and son of university
president Dr. George Bovard, asked Los Angles Times sports editor Owen Bird to choose a more suitable
nickname. Bird was later quoted by USC sports officials on how he selected Trojans to symbolize the
“At this time, the athletes and coaches of the university were under terrific handicaps,” explained Bird.
“They were facing teams that were bigger and better-equipped, yet they had splendid fighting spirit. The
name ‘Trojans’ fitted them.” “I came out with an article prior to a showdown between USC and Stanford
in which I called attention to the fighting spirit of USC athletes and named them ‘Trojans.’ From then on,
we used the term ‘Trojan’ all the time and it stuck.”
The University of Idaho
The Vandal team adopted their moniker in 1921 after sportswriters had said that Idaho basketball team had “Vandalized” their opponent. The story of the actual Vandals are that they sacked Rome in 455 A.D. A story not so well known these days, is more reminiscent of a Trojan rather than the common thief most people associate with the word today. In July of 2009 “Joe” Vandal was ranked fifth in the nation by sports page magazine among the 100 top most unique mascots in the NCAA.
University of Indiana, Hoosiers
The Hoosier term certainly has received vast exposure through the years. The Indiana Hoosier basketball team has long been a household name in college basketball circles. Despite the common usage of the word, it seems there have been more theories of its origin dribbled around by historians than
basketballs in Indiana.One theory that was fostered by Indiana historian Howard Peckman, was that the nickname might have resulted from the work performed by crew that was directed by either Samuel Hoosier or Hoosher. The men, most of which hailed from Indiana, were building a canal on the Ohio River in 1825 and were referred to as “Hoosier’s men.” Perhaps the most popular “Hoosier” tales is the one that echoes a response to a knock on the door. Apparently when early Indiana settlers were alarmed by a knock on their cabin door, they would respond with the question: “Who’s there?” Eventually according to the theory, “Who’s
there,” evolved into “Hoosiers.”
I cite my sources: