After The University of California at Irvine won their elimination game over Arizona State in an 8-7 extra inning affair at the College World Series in Omaha on Tuesday evening, I decided to complete my rankings of the 100 most unique collegiate nicknames and/or mascots of the 334-school NCAA Division I membership.
What's in a name you say? Well, UC-Irvine is known as the Anteaters, which immediately qualifies them for inclusion on my top 100 list. Their fans simply call them "The Eaters" for short. They've been waving stuffed, furry-looking anteaters, and their nickname/mascot is captivating. ESPN has repeatedly shown video of a real anteater in action, or inaction. They don't move real swiftly, as the video clip shows.
UC-Irvine is the Cinderella story of this year's CWS, having only re-instituted their baseball program in 2001 by having the student body vote to determine if they would pay a $99 activity fee each year in addition to their tuition, etc. to pay for the baseball program. They won two NCAA Division II championships in 1973 and 1974, but hadn't fielded a team from 1992 to 2000.
A college nickname or mascot defines the school and the students who attend it, as well as the alumni and fans of each particular institution. It serves 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.
Sales of collegiate apparel, souvenirs and memorabilia have hit all-time highs. Many years ago I visited the office of a Rice University graduate who had over 200 owls (the university nickname and mascot) enclosed in a glass case in her office. There were gold, silver, porcelain, pewter, crystal, wooden and just about any other kind of owl you could possibly think of. That's the kind of crazy, obsessive behavior that college sports fans are famous for. Remember that "fan" is short for "fanatic."
There are only a few rules to be included on my list. A nickname or mascot must be fairly unique, captivating and somewhat imaginative, and/or have some particular significance to the geographic location of a school. I will admit to certain prejudices in my selection process. Names of the following animals, birds, etc. will not be found anywhere on my list, unless the school nickname/mascot has some singularly unique feature(s):
Cats - boring;
Birds - really boring;
Dogs - incredibly boring;
Native American tribal names - I defer to the delicate sensibilities of some tribal members; and
Satanic symbolism, or devils, in various forms.
With only a handful of notable exceptions, schools featuring any of the above as nicknames/mascots have absolutely no imagination whatsoever. They are only masquerading as institutions of higher learning when they can't come up with anything more stimulating than that. Please deliver us from Bulldogs, Eagles, Indians, Devils and Wildcats of most any kind. Boooooor-ing!
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.
Here goes, in descending order:
100 - University of Alabama "Crimson Tide"
The nickname isn't particularly memorable, a reference to the school color, but their fans have a very unique way of expressing it at games. They put a roll of toilet paper on a stick with an empty box of Tide laundry detergent underneath it, to signify their battle cry, "Roll Tide!" I like that, and their mascot is an elephant, though unfortunately, it's difficult to get a fully grown "Dumbo" into athletic events, even at their football stadium in Tuscaloosa. The other thing I like about it is it's a singular nickname, not ending in the letter "S". Only a handful of schools have singular nicknames.
99 - University of Hawaii "Rainbow Warriors"
Although "Warriors" is very trite, adding the "Rainbow" is pretty cool, and I love the big guy who dresses up as the warrior at their athletic events, with the traditional Hawaiian tribal adornment, complete with war paint. He looks like a refugee from the opening of the old, long-running TV series, "Hawaii-Five-O."
98 - Florida "Gators"
Albert and Alberta (the Gators) represent a great American collegiate mascot. Who can deny that the "Gator chomp" (extending both arms and bringing them together rhythmically over and over again) is one of the most familiar antics by the denizens of "Gator Country" and nicknaming their on-campus football stadium "The Swamp" was a stroke of genius.
97 - Florida A&M "Rattlers"
A much misunderstood creature, the rattlesnake, makes a fine collegiate nickname and mascot. You leave them alone and they leave you alone, plus they eliminate a lot of vermin in our world.
96 - Old Dominion University "Monarchs"
A little boring, maybe, but the nickname fits the school, located as it is in Norfolk, Virginia, very near the original Jamestown colony in Virginia, founded in the year 1607. Kings, queens and other royalty have played a big role in Virginia's history, and "Dominion" is certainly a regal term.
95 - University of Mississippi (Ole' Miss) "Rebels"
Not a particularly imaginative nickname, but the Colonel Sander's look-alike who dresses up like a Confederate war veteran is sort of anachronistically cool. To this day, they still think the South won the Civil War. Let them have their fun. Any folks who've still got the guts to wave a sea of confederate flags when their football team takes to the field, despite the recent political correctness movement toward desecration of same, deserve some credit for audacity, if nothing else.
94 - University of Oklahoma "Sooners"
Yes, it was really too easy, wasn't it? But it fits like a glove, and the land rush days of the late 1800's were about the last exciting thing which ever happened in them thar' parts, so their historical identity should be preserved in a nickname. I do love the "Sooner Schooner" (little covered wagon pulled by ponies), but they stole their fight song "Boomer Sooner" from Yale's pre-eminent song writer, Cole Porter, who wrote it for his alma mater, calling it "Boola, Boola."
93 - James Madison University/Duquesne University "Dukes"
The first of several dual school nicknames on my list, which only count as one, even if used by more than one school.
Who's the duke? Samuel P. Duke, to be exact, second president (1919-1949) of James Madison, the state-supported university located in the northern Virginia town of Harrisonburg. It would seem the school's fight song should be that early 1960's rock classic, "Duke of Earl." As for Pittsburgh's Duquesne, the name just fits.
92 - George Washington University/Robert Morris College "Colonials"
Another dual school nickname. It's OK if the name is unique enough. Of necessity, GWU has a mascot who dresses and looks like the father of our country himself, which is very cool.
91 - United States Naval Academy "Midshipmen"
It's obviously a singularly unique nickname, but forget about that. The real reason they make my list is their mascot, a billy goat. Legend has it that once upon a time, the Army cadets stole their arch rival's mascot and secreted it away on some farm in upstate New York. That is, until the farmer who owned the farm called the Naval Academy and told them he had their goat. He said, "I had to call you about the goat. You can come and get it anytime you want. That goat stinks to high heaven, and I don't want it around here anymore!"
90 - Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi "Islanders"
What else are you going to call a school located in a beautiful setting on North Padre Island, with palm trees swaying in the breeze and beautiful, powdery, white sand beaches about one minute away? Who could possibly go to classes and study in those surroundings?
89 - Rutgers University "Scarlet Knights"
Yes, knights is overused, but the school was founded in 1766 as the privately-owned "Queens College" and later became "The State University of New Jersey." As one of the oldest colleges in America, and the alma mater of James Gandolfini of "The Sopranos", the school deserves some recognition for it's very cool-looking, medieval, armor-clad knight who rides a white horse at its football games. Football began there in 1869 when the first collegiate football game ever was played against Princeton.
88 - Southern Utah University "Thunderbirds"
Are they named after the car manufactured by Ford, or the bird manufactured by God? Wait a minute, there is no such thing as a real thunderbird, is there? I like that.
87 - Saint Bonaventure University "Bonnies"
OK, this one does seem rather silly. It's just a play on the school's name, but Bob Lanier, he of the size 22+ shoes enshrined along with him at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., played there. They once made it all the way to the Final Four. Plus, nobody else has the courage to call themselves the Bonnies, so the name is definitely unique, and puts tiny Olean, New York on the collegiate map.
86 - State University of New York at Stony Brook "Seawolves"
What's a seawolf? A wolf that likes swimming in salt water? Get back to me on that.
85 - University of Eastern Kentucky "Colonels"
What is this obsession that Kentucky has with colonels? Can anybody explain it? Is everybody in Kentucky a colonel? It was also the name of their short-lived pro franchise in the long ago defunct ABA. I don't get it. Colonel Sander's Kentucky Fried Chicken should definitely have the inside track for the on-campus fast food franchise rights at this school.
84 - Indiana State University "Sycamores"
While trees aren't all that unique as nicknames, "Sycamores" does seem to be pretty unique. After many years of failed attempts to match a mascot with their rather unique nickname (a tree and Indian chief named "Quabachi" were used), they finally settled in 1995 for a blue-and-white colored animal of unknown species named "Sycamore Sam." Just imagine the problems a tree had against opponents like the Butler Bulldogs and Ball State Cardinals. Very embarrassing, and enough said. The Indian chief was a victim of political correctness in 1989, after 20 years of service. Larry Bird did play there and take them to their only Final Four appearance ever, losing to Magic Johnson's Michigan State team in the 1979 national championship game. The name of their hometown, Terre Haute, is much more unique.
83 - Saint Francis College (PA) "Red Flash"
Plebian, but there aren't any other red flashes among NCAA D-I schools, just a golden one (see No. 81 below). It's also another singular nickname, of which there are only a few.
82 - St. John's University "Redmen"/"Red Storm"
This should get all the "red" schools out of the way. They used to be called the Redmen until the political correctness craze swept America, but actually their new nickname is a bit more unique. Where they got the storm from is anybody's guess, but then the largest enrollment Catholic university in the country, located in the borough of Queens in New York City, can call itself most anything it wants to. Also, another singular nickname.
81 - Kent State University "Golden Flashes"
Let's get the golden-colored flashes out of the way as well.
80 - Austin Peay University "Governors"
Yeah, I know, Austin Peay was probably a governor, ya think? What I really like about this school is nobody knows how to pronounce the school's name. Is it "pee" or "pay"? It's the former. They sneak into the NCAA basketball tournament out of the Ohio Valley Conference every once in awhile.
79 - Mississippi Valley State University "Delta Devils"
I'm breaking my own rules here, since there are many schools which use Satan as a symbol emblematic of evil intentions regarding their athletic opponents, but for some reason, Delta Devils just sounds really cool. Also, one of the NFL's all-time stud wide receivers, Jerry Rice, played there.
78 - Murray State University "Racers"
What's a racer? It could be a lot of things, like a car, a runner, etc. Actually, they're talking about thoroughbred horse racing, which makes a lot of sense in a state famous for it (Kentucky). They also sneak into the NCAA basketball tournament every so often. The school is located in far western Kentucky. I wonder why they're not called the "Western Colonels"?
77 - University of Texas at El Paso "Miners"
They wouldn't have made this list, but when their football coach, Mike Price, started driving a pick axe into the stadium turf before each game, that sold me on their nickname. It's the school formerly known as Texas Western, recently immortalized in the movie "Glory Road" about their 1966 NCAA men's basketball championship. It's the only Texas school to ever win that title.
76 - Vanderbilt University "Commodores"
What's a Commodore? I'm just kidding. If you put up the money to start the school, why shouldn't they name it after you and your maritime military title? It's definitely unique, and it's a very fine academic institution in an unlikely location (Nashville, Tennessee).
75 - University of Dayton "Flyers"
The airplane inventing Wright Brothers were apparently from Dayton.
74 - University of Northern Arizona/Stephen F. Austin University "Lumberjacks"
Not particularly original, but the image is what makes it what it is, a huge, burly guy wearing the classic red-and-black plaid flannel shirt chopping down big trees with his axe. It doesn't get much more testosterone-loaded than that. The funny thing is SFA, located in the piney woods of deep East Texas, has a largely female student body. Go figure. Wouldn't that make their women's teams the "Lumberjackettes" or maybe "Lumberjills"? No, they're the "Lady Lumberjacks." We live in a world gone mad!
73 - University of Minnesota "Golden Gophers"
It cracks me up every time I hear or see it. To be named after subterranean vermin is hysterically funny!
72 - University of Vermont/Western Carolina University "Catamounts"
OK, I know, this one violates my previously stated "No Cats Rule" however, I must explain. There are some folks who've never heard the term, and don't know what it means. For the feline-challenged or ailurophobes out there, a catamount is nothing more than a cougar, mountain lion, wildcat, puma, panther or any of the other names attributed to those pesky big cats which roam North and South America, devouring many smaller mammals. I just think catamount is a very cool sounding name for them.
71 - University of Tulsa "Golden Hurricane"
Apart from the school being located in the only livable large city in the entire state of Oklahoma, I like those singular nicknames. Besides that, how often does Tulsa, several hundred miles from salt water, ever get hit by a hurricane? Tornadoes yes, hurricanes, no.
70 - College of William and Mary "Tribe"
I like the name of their school, and it's another singular nickname. Very classy.
69 - University of Alabama at Birmingham "Blazers"
This is a school with a real identity crisis. Many years ago, its mascot was a big rooster, which I believe is what the term blazer refers to. Southern schools are very big on roosters, as you will see later on this list. But sometime more recently, it was apparently decided that a guy or girl dressed up looking like a big chicken wasn't very dignified, so UAB chose to change their mascot, without changing their nickname. Now it's a dragon. Further study is needed here. Former NBA and Auburn basketball star Charles Barkley is from the Birmingham area. Maybe he can help us understand this metamorphosis.
68 - College of the Holy Cross/Valparaiso University "Crusaders"
I like this one, shared by a Catholic college (HC) and Lutheran university (Valpo). It brings back fond memories of singing one of my favorite church hymns, "Onward Christian Soldiers." It's nice to see that both Protestants and Catholics can share the same nickname/mascot in peaceful coexistence.
67 - Pennsylvania State University "Nittany Lions"
Another violation of my own "No Cats Rule" but the qualifier here is they used a geographic reference to the school's central Pennsylvania location. Actually, a "Nittany Lion" isn't a lion at all, but rather a mountain lion, which, as previously discussed (see "Catamounts" above) is the same as a cougar, wildcat, panther, etc., not to be confused with the African version, the unquestioned king of beasts.
Anyway, I digress. It's a really cool nickname, and I love how they get in a reference about the surrounding area where the school is located.
66 - University of Notre Dame "Fighting Irish"
It's a classic, complete with the shamrocks and shillelaghs, although I could do without the stupid-looking dancing leprechaun.
65 - University of San Francisco "Dons"
Is the whole student body in training to become Mafiosos like Vito Corleone and his pals in "The Godfather" trilogy of movies?
64 - Virginia Military Institute "Keydets"
What's a Keydet? I know what a cadet is, I think, so I guess it must be similar. I have a friend who graduated from VMI, and he's not even sure he really knows what a Keydet is, but it does have something to do with the military part.
63 - University of Tennessee "Volunteers"
I don't know. They volunteered to get slaughtered by Mexican General Santa Anna's forces at The Alamo. Why you would want to proudly proclaim that Davy Crockett and his coonskin cap wearing friends all left Tennessee and rode off happily to certain death in Texas is beyond me. It's also another school which stole one of Cole Porter's Yale fight songs, this one being "March, March on Down the Field" (fighting for Eli Yale, not Davy Crockett), although more recently, they've adopted the moonshiner's ballad "Rocky Top" as their school fight song, for some unknown reason.
62 - University of Massachusetts "Minutemen"
Certainly appropriate for a school located in the state famous for the beginnings of the American Revolutionary War, and it's unique. They went politically correct long before any of the other schools, changing their nickname from "Redmen" a long time ago.
61 - San Diego State University "Aztecs"
What native Mexican anthropology has to do with modern-day San Diego is beyond me, but the Aztecs were a highly developed society in their time. If you want to go far enough back historically, California was once a part of Mexico until the evil gringos stole it away from them as a result of the Mexican-American War of 1848. San Diego is also one of the best cities in America to live in, if you can afford to, that is.
60 - University of Pennsylvania "Quakers"
Their mascot looks just like the dude pictured on the side of those round tubs of Quaker Oatmeal. It's another marketing marriage made in heaven. The oatmeal company should have exclusive rights to sell their products on the Quaker's south Philadelphia campus.
59 - University of Portland "Pilots"
We're talking about riverboat pilots here, since the city of Portland, Oregon is located at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Their mascot is named "Wally the Pilot" and a ship's wheel is the school emblem.
58 - University of Virginia "Cavaliers"
It just goes together, doesn't it? A classy nickname for a classy school founded by none other than Thomas Jefferson himself. I love the orange pompadour the Cavalier mascot wears.
57 - Iowa State University "Cyclones"
At least "cyclone" is the scientific term for what happens inside a tornado, which happen quite frequently on the plains around Ames, Iowa. They got it right, while Tulsa got it wrong. I'm still having trouble understanding what the red bird of unidentified species at the top of the funnel cloud has to do with it, though.
56 - Drexel University "Dragons"
It's not particularly relevant, but I once covered a basketball game at their on-campus gym. Drexel Dragons just sounds kind of neat. The two names go together.
55 - University of Richmond "Spiders"
I guess for all you arachnophobes out there, spiders are really scary, but in truth, they are very much misunderstood. They eat many undesirable insects, so they should be left alone to do their work. They do send a chill up the spine of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose No. 2 seeded Orangemen lost to the 15th-seeded Spiders in the first round of the 1991 NCAA men's basketball tournament.
54 - Providence College "Friars"
Not too original, although their mascot is a riot, dressed in his Friar Tuck outfit.
53 - Youngstown State University "Penguins"
Although not a particularly unique bird, except for being flightless, and a violation of my "No Birds Rule", penguins aren't exactly indigenous to northeastern Ohio. However, some folks would argue that the winter weather there would be perfect for them. I think the Pittsburgh NHL franchise stole the name from Youngstown. They should have sued.
52 - University of Tennessee at Chattanooga "Moccasins"
Or the "Mocs" for short. What most people probably don't realize is this nickname is derived from the bend in the Tennessee River adjacent to Chattanooga, known as the "Moccasin Bend." It could also refer to the water moccasin, or cottonmouth, a very poisonous snake indigenous to the southern US. I love nicknames that can have dual meaning.
51 - University of Texas - San Antonio "Roadrunners"
A classic, straight from "Looney Tunes" by Warner Brothers. They've also got the perfect villainous opponent, "Wile E. Coyote."
50 - University of Cincinnati and State University of New York at Binghamton "Bearcats"/Sam Houston State University "Bearkats"
This nickname/mascot rocks on several levels. First, there's really no such animal as a Bearcat, unless an insane bear and cougar decide to mate with each other. Second, in Cincinnati's case, the name is actually derived from an ancient chant directed at a member of the football team's backfield in the early 1900's. They apparently had a runner named "Behr" in their backfield, and the Cincinnati student section popularized the nickname when they would chant, "Behr-cat" at their home football games when he carried the ball, because his quick movements were reminiscent of cats. They voted to adopt it as the school's nickname and mascot.
Sam Houston State, located in Huntsville, Texas, about 70 miles north of Houston, spells it with a "K". Huntsville, named for the city by the same name in Alabama, was the home of ole' Sam himself, and was once seriously considered as a possible site for the state capital of Texas. They had to settle for getting the original state penitentiary instead, which was considered a consolation prize when they got it. It's still there, along with several other state prisons. The famous Texas Prison Rodeo used to take place each October at the state pen, until they decided it was a security risk.
49 - Loyola University (Chicago) "Ramblers"
No, they're not named for the automobile once manufactured by American Motors. They were briefly known as the "Grandees" which was a reference to the origins of the school's namesake, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, but the nickname failed to stick. In 1926, a local Chicago-area sportswriter, referring to the many long road trips the football team endured that particular season, began calling them the Ramblers. Even though football was dropped in 1930, the nickname lives on. Loyola won the NCAA men's basketball title in 1963.
48 - La Salle University "Explorers"
This Catholic school located in Philadelphia is described on the school's website as a "legacy" of St. John the Baptist de La Salle, a 17th century educator and founder of the Christian Brothers. The school nickname associates it with French explorer Rene' Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle a/k/a Robert de La Salle. La Salle the Explorer only lived for about 44 years (1643-1687) but during his time managed to explore vast regions of what is now the U.S., including the Great Lakes, Mississippi River basin, the Gulf of Mexico and environs. He claimed the entire Mississippi Basin and what became the Louisiana Territory for France.
47 - Pepperdine University "Waves"
A no-brainer, thanks to the school's location. It's located in Malibu, California, and the campus has one of the best locales in America - overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Going to classes and studying is probably optional, and you might be able to major in surfing. Wow!
46 - Ohio State University "Buckeyes"
What's a Buckeye you say? It's some kind of bud or seed that grows on a tree in Ohio. Their mascot "Brutus" is a real scream. He wears a red-and-gray striped rugby shirt, and his head is supposed to look like a buckeye. It looks more like a flattened, giant black-eyed pea that somebody dropped an anvil on.
45 - Manhattan College "Jaspers"
Named for Brother Jasper of Mary, F.S.C., who back in the late 1800's started the baseball program at the small Catholic college located in New York City.
44 - Xavier University (Cincinnati) "Musketeers"
The name was suggested by the late Reverend Francis J. Finn, S.J., a Xavier trustee for many years until his death in 1928. It's a tribute to the era of chivalry, recognizing Xavier's strong ties with French origins and culture. Their colorful Musketeer mascot has an even more colorful name: "D'Artagnan." His costume was made over for the 2004-05 season.
43 - Indiana University "Hoosiers"
"Hoosier" is a term nobody seems to agree on the origins of. It's generally used as a word to describe persons who live in Indiana, but it really began as a derogatory slur, defined in the dictionary as, "an awkward, unhandy or unskilled person; esp.: an ignorant rustic."'
Indianans take pride in being called Hoosiers, which to them means "friendly."
It may be derived from the word "hoozer" which meant a person living in the hills. Hillbilly probably comes pretty close to being a synonym for Hoosier. There are as many theories about the origin of the word as there are bends in the Ohio River, which forms Indiana's southern border.
42 - University of New Orleans "Privateers"
Founded as Louisiana State University at New Orleans in 1958, the student body chose the school colors of silver and blue and the nickname "Privateers." What's a Privateer, you say? It's a term used to describe a pirate that was pardoned by the government for his crimes, and then enlisted by the authorities to catch and dispose of other pirates. The school became known as UNO in 1974. Their mascot is named "Lafitte the Instigator," in honor of Jean Lafitte, a famous privateer around New Orleans during the 1800's.
41 - University of New Mexico "Lobos"
"Lobo" is the Spanish word for coyote, an apt nickname for this school located as it is in Albuquerque, the state's largest city. Albuquerque, a former desert watering hole along the Rio Grande, features the convergence of three distinct cultures: Mexican, Native American and Anglo-Saxon.
40 - University of Delaware "Fightin' Blue Hens"
This nickname has a very interesting origin. It's derived from activities of a Revolutionary War military unit formed as part of a battalion that included eight companies from three counties along the Delaware River. Troops in the Kent County, Delaware unit often staged cock fights for recreational purposes, featuring a breed called the Kent County blue hen. These birds became well known for their ferocity in combat, just like the Kent County unit did against the British. The Blue Hen Chicken was named the official state bird of Delaware in 1939. Delaware's mascot also has a catchy name, "YouDee." Get it?
39 - Southern Illinois University "Salukis"
It's imaginative, and one of collegiate sports' more captivating nicknames, although there are still folks who have no idea what a Saluki is. It's a dog which is probably related and looks similar to an Afghan hound. It is reputedly one of the world's oldest pure breeds, dating back to ancient Egypt (3600 B.C.)
Legend has it that southern Illinois became known as "Egypt" when an early 1800's drought in the northern part of the state caused a mass migration southward. It reminded folks of the stories told in the Book of Genesis in The Bible, when people from nearby drought-stricken lands went to Egypt to buy corn. It makes sense. The southernmost town in Illinois is named Cairo.
Their most famous athlete alumnus is Walt "Clyde" Frazier, star of their 1967 NIT championship-winning basketball team, who later went on to lead the New York Knicks to NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.
38 - Stanford University "The Stanford Tree" (not really a mascot, according to them)
Trees can't dance? This one can. Stanford's dancing tree mascot, according to the school's official athletic website, is not the school's official mascot. It's supposedly a band member. The redwood tree is a symbol of Palo Alto, California, where Stanford is located. It also adorns the school logo. Why then would I feature it on this list? Because regardless of what the school says, this ridiculous-looking monstrosity of a California redwood is the de facto school mascot, whether Stanford wants to admit it or not. Personally, I wouldn't claim it either if I were them.
You would think an academically excellent institution such as Stanford, sometimes referred to as the "Harvard of the West," would be able to come up with something better than this. In the past, the school's nickname has been "Indians" (1930-1972) and "Cardinals" or "Cardinal" (a reference to the bright red color, not the bird), the singular version since 1981. Imagination appears to be in short supply on the Stanford campus, despite all those brilliant minds.
37 - Wichita State University "Wheatshockers"
What a name! Wheatshocking is something that happens during the processing of wheat stalks. How appropriate for a school located on the great plains of southern Kansas, in the state's largest city. Call them the "Shockers" for short.
36 - University of Nebraska "Cornhuskers"
What else would you call a team from America's great plains corn belt? It's such a great nickname, they used it for the loosely-based-on-fact but fictional high school basketball team in the movie "Hoosiers," the "Hickory Huskers."
35 - Florida State University "Seminoles" and "Chief Osceola"
OK, I know it's the name of a Native American tribe, but my rules are made to be broken. Chief Osceola is one of the most recognizable of all American collegiate mascots. He rides his painted war horse at all Seminole home games played at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, and drives a flaming spear into the turf at midfield prior to game time. He's a classic, and a representative of one of America's proudest and fiercest fighting tribes, which was actually an amalgamation of several smaller tribal groups in Florida.
34 - University of Kansas "Jayhawks"
The late Jim Valvano, when coaching at North Carolina State, once wondered what the Kansas student section chant, "Rock, chalk - Jaaaaay-hawk" meant. The term "Jayhawk" was used as far back as 1849. During that year, a pioneer group migrating westward called themselves "The Jayhawks." It was thought the idea for the name was from two birds indigenous to the western U.S., the blue jay and the hawk. The same folks later discovered California's Death Valley.
What gets me is if they were crossing through Nebraska, what's it got to do with Kansas? Perhaps Nebraska and Kansas should switch nicknames? Nah, Nebraska Jayhawks and Kansas Cornhuskers just don't sound right. I don't know, though. I kind of like Kansas Kornhuskers.
33 - University of North Carolina "Tar Heels"
What's a tar heel? It's a nickname for persons who live in North Carolina. The exact origins are unknown, but it's believed by linguists to derive from the fact that tar pitch and turpentine produced from North Carolina's huge stands of pine forests were once important state exports, particularly to Great Britain before the revolution.
It began as a derisive slur (like "hoosiers" or "poor white trash"), but the state's inhabitants have embraced it as a source of pride.
32 - San Diego University "Toreros"
What's a Torero? It originates from "Toro" which is the Spanish word for "bull" and "torear" which means "to fight bulls." Torero is therefore a general term describing a bullfighter. Prior to 1961 the school nickname was "Pioneers." How boring!
31 - University of Wisconsin "Badgers"
Another no-brainer, particularly when Wisconsin's nickname is "The Badger State." These ornery little critters, which look sort of like flattened beavers with black-and-white markings, must be wall-to-wall in the cheese head state. After all, the phrase "to badger" someone comes from the disposition of these ill-tempered little varmints.
30 - University of Michigan "Wolverines"
What is the obsession these northern states have with nasty, furry little carnivorous beasts? Michigan is "The Wolverine State" so I guess it's populated by an army of these nasty little meat eaters. The dictionary describes them as "rapacious" from the word "raptor," which means they like to bite anything that moves. Stay away from these little critters!
29 - Iona College and St. Mary's College of California "Gaels"
A "Gael" is any person of Irish - Gaelic ancestry. The Gael is a reputedly spirited character and embodies strength.
28 - University of Iowa "Hawkeyes"
The name "Hawkeye" was originally applied to a hero in "The Last of the Mohicans", the novel written by James Fenimore Cooper. It was the name of an Anglo scout who hunted with the Delaware Indians.
The name was first used as a reference to people from Iowa in 1838. In 1948, a cartoon character named "Herky the Hawk" was created by U of I journalism professor Richard Spencer, III. Herky served as the insignia of the 124th Fighting Squadron during the Korean War and has presided as the sideline mascot at Iowa sports events since the late 1950's.
27 - Tulane University "Green Wave"
This academically prestigious New Orleans institution has a proud athletic history. Tulane's first mascot was a pelican riding on a surfboard. The pelican is the state bird of Louisiana. Since the school's colors at that time were olive and blue, in 1920, Earl Sparling, editor of the school newspaper "The Hullabaloo" wrote a football song entitled, "The Rolling Green Wave." The name stuck, although after years of mascots dressed to look like some sort of green wave, in 1998 the pelican mascot was re-introduced. One other interesting thing about Tulane - the school didn't use to have a marching band at its home football games. They played the school fight song over the P.A. system at the Superdome every time the football team scores.
26 - Indiana Purdue University at Fort Wayne "Mastodons"
Mastodons, an elephant-like beast (only larger) were indigenous to the area now known as the southern Great Lakes region over 10,000 years ago. While digging on his property in 1968, an Angola, IN farmer named Orcie Roustsong uncovered a very large bone. He knew it was too large to belong to a horse or cow, so he called Jack Sunderman of the IPFW geosciences department. Roustsong's farm became an archaeological dig site, which unearthed about two-thirds of a mastodon's skeletal remains and the skull of a baby mastodon. Most of those remains are still on display at IPFW.
In 1970, the IPFW student newspaper "The Communicator" began a drive for the student body to pick a mascot. Choices included Boiler-Hoosiers (a combination of Purdue's and Indiana's nicknames, see Nos. 43 and 18 herein), Warhawks, Marauders, Hobbits and Frontiersmen. Steve Pettyjohn, IPFW student body president (1968-69), penned a letter to the editor promoting the Mastodon. "Let's have the courage to be a little different," he wrote.
During the following academic year, the school Geology Club convinced Mark Souder, then student body president and current U.S. congressman from Indiana, to support the Mastodon. Souder appointed a committee which voted in favor of the prehistoric beast, a distant cousin of our present-day elephant.
That's one of the best mascot origination stories in all of college sports.
25 - University of Maryland "Terrapins"
Why would any school deliberately name itself after an incredibly slow, plodding, dim-witted turtle? Their battle cry is, "Fear the turtle!" Are they kidding? Not only that, but the dictionary describes them as "any of several North American edible tortoises of fresh or brackish waters." So we have a creature here which is not only slow and stupid, but is also a delicacy among those who like to eat turtles. The folks at College Park might want to re-think this one, although it makes this list due to originality.
24 - Western Kentucky University "Hilltoppers" and "Big Red"
The nickname is pretty ordinary (yeah, we get it, the school's on a hill overlooking Bowling Green, Kentucky) but what's with their mascot? It looks like a nondescript, big, red, furry blob of nothing! It's one of the funniest collegiate mascots to look at. "Big Red" as he's called, was the creation of WKU student Ralph Carey. He debuted during the 1979-80 season. Since then, "Big Red" has won numerous awards at collegiate cheerleading competitions, including the "Key to Spirit" award, then the top award given, in 1980, 1981 and 1983. He was again honored as one of the top three All-America mascots from 2002-2004. He's also been featured in numerous ESPN promotional messages.
23 - Western Illinois "Leathernecks"
The "Fighting Leathernecks" are represented by "Rocky" who looks like a bulldog, one of my least favorite college mascots, but their nickname is very distinctive.
22 - Wake Forest University "Demon Deacons"
A Baptist church-related institution, Wake Forest scores some major points with this one. Normally I don't care for the boring, satanic nicknames, but this one's a classic oxymoron, with both good and evil represented. It was coined by student newspaper editor Mayon Parker, in recognition of what he termed the football team's "devilish" play and fighting spirit in a win over Trinity (now Duke) in the early 1900's. Their nattily-attired mascot, in tails and top hat, once rode North Carolina's ram mascot (the real one!) into the stadium prior to a UNC - Wake football contest.
21 - University of California at Santa Barbara "Gauchos"
Mexican cowboys on the Pacific coastline - a great name for a school located in former Mexican territory.
20 - University of Arkansas "Razorbacks"
According to the dictionary, a "razorback" is a lean, long-legged, half-wild hog, common in the southeastern U.S., but that's not the only definition. What many don't know is it also refers to the rorqual, a species of whale. What I'd like to know is what's a half-wild hog? One that only likes to party every other evening?
I once received a business letter from a guy in Arkansas who had drawings of two little pigs with curly tails printed on his business stationery letterhead at the bottom of the page. Below one were printed the words, "Woo Pigs, Sooey" and beneath the other, "Go Hogs Go." There's something seriously wrong with those folks in Arkansas, where one out of every six people are involved somehow in the poultry processing industry. You'd think they'd all be slopping hogs instead of raising chickens.
19 - Hofstra University "Pride" formerly known as "The Flying Dutchmen"
The new university seal was designed to look like the royal Dutch emblem in 2005, when the school changed its nickname from "Flying Dutchmen" to "Pride." The new one refers to a pride of lions, which are prominently displayed on the university seal. The seal also carries the motto of the royal family of Holland, the House of Orange-Nassau, in Old French: "Je Maintiendray" (I stand steadfast).
The Dutch heritage comes from William F. Hofstra, a native of Holland, who died in 1932. His wife Kate died 16 months later, establishing the school when she bequeathed in her Will the establishment of an institution for a "public, charitable, benevolent or scientific purpose," as a memorial to her late husband. Hofstra's campus, located in Hempstead, New York on Long Island, occupies the property that was once the Hofstra estate.
18 - Purdue University "Boilermakers"
A well-reknown engineering school academically, it makes perfect sense that they'd pick a nickname which features their most prestigious major field of endeavor.
17 - Texas Christian University (TCU) "Horned Frogs"
Or horny toads, as they are affectionately referred to locally by some. Actually, they're not really frogs, they're spiny lizards. TCU players noticed they had a certain feisty spirit while dodging them on their athletic fields during the 1800's.
16 - Campbell College "Fighting Camels"
Campbell Camels is a classic. The origins of this unique nickname are cloaked in mystery. To date no one is quite sure, but according to historian J. Winston Pearce, author of the book "Campbell College - Big Miracle in Little Buie's Creek" the nickname may have originated in the early 1900's, when all but one of the school's original buildings burned to the ground. After the fire, Z.T. Kivett visited the school's founder and president, Dr. James Archibald Campbell. While Campbell lamented his plight, Kivett said, "Your name's Campbell; get a hump on you!" We've got work to do." Campbell thought Kivett said, "You're a camel, get a hump on you!" Once known as the Hornets, the name was changed in 1933 or 1934.
15 - Marshall University "Thundering Herd"
Marshall has one of the more unique nicknames in all of college sports. The "thundering herd" refers to a herd of stampeding buffalo. The school, named for the fourth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall, is unfortunately known for the airline crash which tragically killed most of its football team and the entire coaching staff, returning from a game against East Carolina on a Southern Airways charter flight in 1970.
Despite a terrible football losing streak from 1964-1983, Marshall rebuilt the program and became a top team in NCAA Division I-AA during the mid to late 1990's. Marshall has since upgraded its program to Division I-A, now known as the Bowl Subdivision, and currently is a member of Conference USA. Their mascot's name is "Marco the Buffalo."
14 - University of Akron "Zips"
"Zippy" the kangaroo was officially named as the university mascot on May 1, 1953. Bob Savoy, an All-American diver on the school team, recommended the name while serving as chairman of a committee formed to name a mascot. "Zippy" wasn't originally welcomed with open arms by the Akron community. His defenders extolled the virtues of a kangaroo as being fast, agile, powerful and possessing unyielding determination. Zippy first appeared as Akron's mascot during the 1954 football season.
13 - Georgetown University "Hoyas"
Who knows what a "hoya" is? It's not a person, place or thing, it comes from an ancient Latin expression, "hoya saxa" which literally translated means something akin to "what rocks" in modern-day English. The legend is that the Georgetown student body used to chant these two words at their football games, in appreciation of the linemen. Other than the singularly unique nickname, forget their mascot, the ubiquitous and tremendously overused bulldog.
12 - Elon University and University of Wisconsin at Green Bay "Phoenix"
The only thing better would be The University of Phoenix "Phoenix." I'm a sucker for mythical creatures, especially birds rising from the ashes. In Egyptian mythology, the phoenix was a bird which lived for 500-600 years, lit itself on fire and then rose from its own ashes to live again, a symbol of immortality. It makes for a great collegiate nickname/mascot.
11 - Jacksonville State University and University of South Carolina "Gamecocks"
Ooooh, just barely missing the Top 10. So close, but they get edged out by an even better name for the same creature. Yes, we're talking about those lovable (well, maybe not) birds known as roosters. These roosters are trained for the deplorable "sport" of cockfighting, not something which should be glorified, but it's a really distinctive collegiate nickname and mascot.
10 - Coastal Carolina University "Chanticleers"
Not to be outdone by their fellow state-supported university in Columbia, Coastal, located near Myrtle Beach, decided to honor the same bird with a slightly different variation of its name. According to the dictionary, a chanticleer is simply "a cock", which would be a gamecock again. See No. 11 next above for further explanation.
9 - Virginia Polytechnic University (Virginia Tech) "Hokies"
According to the folks at VT, a "Hokie" isn't anyone or anything, other than a supporter of VT. In 1896, the school's name changed from Virginia A&M to VPI. In honor of the name change, a student contest was held to come up with a new cheer for the athletic teams. O.M Stull won for his "Old Hokie Cheer." Stull indicated the name "Hokie" meant nothing, and was only designed to be a word which attracted attention. Soon afterward it became the nickname for all VT teams.
The "Hokie Bird" mascot has been referenced as having evolved from a turkey. Legend indicates it's actually a castrated tom turkey. The school's teams have sometimes been referred to as the "Gobblers."
8 - Syracuse University "Otto the Orangeman"
Gender specific for sure, but you've got to have a rather warm spot in your heart for poor Otto. He's survived a recent student body referendum vote to replace him as the sideline cavorter for the Orange, who changed their nickname from "Orangemen" a few years back to be gender neutral, but have stubbornly clung to Otto. The only way to describe him is he's a large orange ball with legs and a smiley face, and he can dance.
Otto is actually pretty lame, but he's definitely unique and sort of lovable in a demented way. I once got into a fistfight with Otto on Beale Street in Memphis at the 1996 Liberty Bowl Parade, after shaking hands with the Governor of Tennessee. You can't hurt Otto. It was like punching a large, orange-colored, empty Hefty trash bag. Otto had a lousy left. He landed zero punches, but it was fun.
7 - University of Southern California "Trojans/Women of Troy"
Not the nickname, which is mundane (except for their women's teams), but their mascot is an absolute collegiate classic. The Trojan warrior mounted upon his faithful white steed "Traveler" is a familiar sight on the sidelines at the L.A. Coliseum on college football Saturdays. They also have the best-costumed show business marching band in America, complete with their Trojan garb and the golden helmets. They've appeared in a number of Hollywood movies, including "The Naked Gun" series.
My favorite remembrance of "Traveler" is a post-game comment by former Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian after the Irish took a drubbing in the second half of a game at the Coliseum, losing by 52-24 or something. Ara said he got sick and tired of watching that stupid white horse galloping up and down the sideline after each USC second half score. Ara had a perfect right to be upset. His team blew a 24-7 halftime lead.
6 - University of Louisiana at Lafayette "Ragin' Cajuns"
A tremendous nickname, which pays tribute to the origins of the Acadian French people, which populated southwestern Louisiana beginning in the mid to late 1700's. They were ostracized and basically forced to leave what are now known as two of the Maritime Provinces of Canada (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), which the French ceded to the British by treaty, along with the rest of Canada except for the St. Lawrence River valley (now Quebec). Since the French still owned Louisiana in those days, they headed south after the British took over.
Somehow the word "Acadian" became "Cajun" in the pronunciation of the Louisiana locals, and it stuck. They are a fun-loving people who love to eat spicy hot food and party. Lafayette has a large population of offshore oil rig roughnecks, and they don't get much time on shore, so they make the most of it by partying hearty while on land.
5 - University of Idaho "Vandals"
Being named for an invading horde of nomadic, warmongering tribesmen is perfect, particularly for this remotely-located (Moscow) institution in northern Idaho, in a city with a Russian name suggestive of the origins of some nomadic hordes.
4 - Furman University "Paladins"
The Paladin became the school's nickname and mascot on September 15, 1961. A Greenville, SC sportswriter coined the term in the 1930's to describe the basketball team. A "Paladin" is defined as "a paragon of chivalry, heroic champion, defender of a cause and any one of 12 peers of French emperor Charlemagne's court. The present Furman mascot, a knight riding on horseback, rides a horse named "Sterling."
3 - Canisius College "Golden Griffins"
Ah yes, half lion (hind part) and half eagle (front part), the Griffin is one of the most unique mascots in all of collegiate sports. They are well known for their speed and ability to fly, with eagle eyes and the strength and courage of a lion. But wait just one minute! They're not real! The concept is thought to have originated in India, of all places. Though the Griffin became the symbol of Canisius in the 1930's, Steve Weller, a sportswriter for the Buffalo (NY) News, wrote in an article dated January 22, 1962, "You can have your Chihuahuas, Piranhas, Horned Frogs and Iguanas. The best all-around mascot in business today has to be the beast adopted by Canisius College - the Golden Griffin." 45 years later, Steve's still about right.
2 - University of California at Irvine "Anteaters"
The school gained prominence by advancing to their first NCAA Baseball College World Series appearance this year (they won the NCAA D-II title in 1973 and 1974), but were previously well-known among college sports fans because of their highly unusual mascot, "Peter the Anteater."
This curious creature is defined in the dictionary as the ant bear, indigenous to subtropical regions of North America. They are not to be confused with the aardvark, an African animal which also eats ants. And boy, do they ever, about 30,000 per day on average. These guys belong on Weight Watchers.
1 - Saint Louis University "Billikens"
Da, da (drum roll, please) for America's No. 1 collegiate mascot, "The Billiken." He was already a rock star before there even were rock stars, in the early 1900's.
In 1908 Florence Pretz, an art teacher from Kansas City, obtained a patent for her creation: a chubby-looking, Buddha-like figure with pixie ears, cherubic cheeks and a wide grin. One year later, the Billiken Company of Chicago adopted the little guy as their corporate symbol.
The Billiken was first made as a statue and also as a piggy bank. It became widely known as a symbol of good luck. It's reputation as a good luck charm is legendary.
The exact moment that Saint Louis adopted the little cherub as its mascot is open to some question. It's generally thought to have happened around 1910 or 1911, when two St. Louis sportswriters, William O'Connor and Charles Z. McNamara noticed that SLU football coach John Bender looked a lot like a Billiken. After a team practice session, McNamara drew a cartoon of Bender as a Billiken, and called the team "Bender's Billikens." The rest is history, and it's still the premier nickname in all of college sports.