5 College Sports Mascots That Are Just Real, Very Confused Animals
Mascots are a beloved tradition of sports. Whether it’s a cool-looking character in a suit doing acrobatics or… whatever the Stanford Tree is supposed to be, they’re a delightful part of the game-day experience. They’ve given us centuries of fun, of good spirits, and incredible GIFs. Watching your team score is good. Watching an anthropomorphic bull do the Carlton afterwards makes it great. In simply debuting a new hockey mascot in Gritty, Philadelphia took over the national news cycle and created an unlikely folk hero.
When it comes to any tradition in American sports, it’s hard to beat college football. Colleges began duking it out on the gridiron in 1869, outdating even professional football leagues. When you’ve had a sports identity that long, it’s no surprise that college football is full of bitter rivalries, long histories, and, of course, iconic mascots. Some of these mascots, however, involve no Goldeneye-style big heads, or decorative suits. Some of them are real-life, genuine animals that have absolutely no idea what’s going on or that they are the flagbearer for a storied institution.
Here’s 5 of the best.
Visit Louisiana State University, commonly called LSU, and you’ll notice one particular campus structure that’s not common to every college campus. That being a tiger enclosure, enclosing a tiger named Mike. The pet tiger is usually the domain of the Vegas magician or the cocaine distributor, but this one is instead owned by a university. Some university mascots reflect local history or fauna. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is not particularly known for its tiger population.
The current Mike is Mike VII, the seventh in a long line of LSU tigers that started in 1936, when a group of LSU staff collected 25 cents from every student in order to buy a goddamn tiger from the Little Rock Zoo. Apparently, not only were old zoos allowed to just sell animals, but tigers only cost $750. Up until 2017, not only did LSU keep a tiger on campus, but would bring him to games in his own special cage to be paraded around and watch them play on his behalf, like some sort of furry Roman king.
They stopped the tradition of bringing Mike to games because, well, you can’t do that, but I’m not so sure it really counts as cruel. Having tens of thousands of people cheering for you and then gnawing on a bone while watching football from the best, albeit caged, seat in the house? Sounds like a good Saturday.
The Arkansas football team has been known as the “Razorbacks” since 1909, when then-coach Hugo Bezdek described the way the team played against the aforementioned LSU as a “wild band of razorback hogs.” From then on, they picked up one of the coolest names in college football, which would later be followed by one of the most delightful cheers, “Woo Pig Sooie.” However, the introduction of a genuine hog into the festivities wouldn’t come for almost a century.
Part of this may be the fact that genuine razorbacks, feral hogs that roamed Arkansas, were absolutely batshit. They were known for trashing property and farmland, and weren’t exactly something you wanted to toss into a sports environment unless you wanted that sport to be “fighting a feral hog.” The razorbacks of Bezdek’s era are only found now in some parts of Australia. In 1997, Arkansas decided to get themselves a real hog for gamedays, adopting a black Russian Boar that resembled the razorbacks of old and naming it Tusk.
Tusk I, as he’s now known, would not only establish a new tradition but a legitimate mascot bloodline. In the years since, he has been succeeded by his son, Tusk II, whose throne was occupied for a single year by his brother, Tusk III, before the crown was passed to Tusk II’s son, Tusk IV. The whole thing sounds like half-football, half Game of Thrones wiki page. Tusk IV recently passed his duties on to his son, Tusk V, a little child king who is fucking adorable.
He’s got a pretty sweet gig to look forward to, attending Razorback home games and being fed his favorite food (Tusk IV’s was grapes) every time they score a touchdown.
Biff And Bennie (Michigan)
Short-lived but memorable was the reign of Biff and Bennie as mascots for the Michigan Wolverines. Wolverines, as an animal, are known for their ferocity and willingness to take on enemies of any size. We’re talking about a creature that, at only a few dozen pounds soaking wet, has been known to attack wolves and small bears. So, it’s only slightly surprising that when Michigan acquired two wolverines from the Detroit Zoo in 1927 to parade around in a cage before games, it only lasted one year. Over that year, Biff and Bennie only got bigger and more furious, and the job of carrying them got a whole lot less appealing. The practice ended quickly, with Michigan coaching legend Fielding Yost remarking, “It was obvious that the Michigan mascots had designs on the Michigan men toting them, and these designs were by no means friendly.”
Bill The Goat (Navy)
Some mascots are inspirational, regal animals, that inspire feelings of courage and strength. Some are goats. That’s the case for the mascot of the Navy Midshipmen, Bill the Goat. Goats have a history with the Navy, with some old vessels keeping them aboard as livestock. Their role as mascot, however, starts in 1893, with a surely very confused goat named El Cid. El Cid lived aboard the USS New York, and when its sailors attended the fourth Army-Navy football game in Annapolis, they brought El Cid with them. Navy won, and El Cid found himself as an unlikely champion.
Like it or not, El Cid was now part of the team, receiving his own uniform, in the form of a blue and gold blanket, and was eventually renamed “Bill.” So began a long tradition and a series of goats that would suddenly find themselves thrust into the spotlight and showered with either praise or insults, depending on whether they brought the team wins or losses. Despite the public scrutiny, it was good to be Bill the Goat. One goat, Bill VIII, was provided with his own New York hotel room filled entirely with straw. If you see a goat in a lovely blue blanket at Navy games today, you’re looking at Bill XXXVII, unknowingly carrying the legacy of 36 Bills before.
The University of Colorado is home to the Buffaloes. Surely, you might think, this can’t be where this is going. Yet, it is. Yes, the University of Colorado are the proud owners of Ralphie, a whole-ass buffalo that they charge around the field before games. Since 1966, a live buffalo has been part of the gameday experience up in Boulder. Unlike other mascots on this list, Ralphie isn’t kept in a cage or shielded from the public, but allowed to demonstrate every bit of her thundering glory, at least for a brief bit of time. She (female buffalo are less aggressive, which seems like small comfort) is led, all 1200 pounds of her, with a top speed of almost 25 miles per hour, by 5 student handlers, all of which I’m sure have signed a stack of waivers you could press a rose with.
Have a personal favorite real-life animal mascot? Longhorns fan who’s furious I left Bevo off the list? Sound off in the comments!