Just kidding! This isn’t a college football preview as much as a discussion of college football mascots, although I fear I may have alienated the vast majority of the potential readers with a title and topic as plebeian and regional as college football. Bear with me – there is something for everyone here: corruption, animals, the South being portrayed in a poor light.
College football is unlike any other sport in the sense it is profoundly unadorned with any logic or reason. You root for your favorite baseball team because that’s where you live, but your favorite college football team is so much more than that. It is an essential descriptor of the type of person you are, of your family personal history, and something innately within you beyond literary characterization. With a few tidbits about a few teams, maybe you’ll get an idea about the types of people involved in the stupidest sport to ever exist.
Alabama Crimson Tide: OF COURSE we start with Alabama. Eternal #1, perpetual distributor of curb-stompings, and owners of an elephant mascot. Well not currently, but they did previously! Up through the 1950s, the University of Alabama kept a real, live, elephant as a mascot. You may be asking ‘what type of elephant exactly did they keep as a mascot?’ or ‘where did they get an elephant in Alabama?’, and you would be showing a fundamental lack of understanding of the University of Alabama, the state of Alabama, and college football as a whole by assuming any of this was according to a larger plan or more than flamboyant pageantry. The elephant’s name was Alamite, and was originally brought to games and carried the homecoming queen onto the field, but was given up as it became too costly. With that in mind, consider Alabama’s current coach makes over $11 million a year, had his home paid off by boosters, and recently stated they were going to upgrade their football facilities to the tune of $600 million. Do not rule out a future resurrection of a live elephant mascot in Alabama.
Texas A&M Aggies: A&M is an agriculture school with a strong ROTC program, so obviously their mascot is a rough collie named Reveille. Reveille is the highest-ranking member of the Texas A&M Corp of Cadets, making her the Air Bud of the armed forces. There have been nine official Reveilles, with the deceased priors buried at the field. Texas A&M is a weird place, like if a military outpost hosted Burning Man.
Baylor Bears: Baylor has two bears they keep on campus: Judge Joy and Judge Lady, two sassy old broads who sound like they’re on a Golden Girls-Judge Judy spinoff. Up until 2010, they were brought to games on leashes. Live black bears, on leashes, during a sporting event with tens of thousands of noisy fans – Texas as hell. I saw one report that they originally were given lots of Dr Pepper before they realized, “hey wait a second – bears probably shouldn’t drink carbonated sugar water!” Again – Texas. As. Hell.
Auburn Tigers: So Auburn is nicknamed the Tigers, but their mascot is a live eagle. Why? There’s some half-assed story about how a wounded eagle flew over a field in 1898 while Auburn was driving against Georgia, but that seems to be mostly bullshit. Auburn has kept an eagle on hand despite this limp-wristed excuse for history since 1930. They are their seventh official golden eagle. I went to a game in Auburn once, and before the game, they set this enormous dog kennel up on one of the outer rims of the upper deck. The camera zooms in and projects to the largest videoboard in college sports (suck it Saban!) a scene of a college kid rattling the cage. As the fear of being witness to the most horrific display of animal abuse I could imagine, this eagle crawls out and takes off around the stadium. The crowd goes WILD. It circles a few times before descending on the arm of a handler at midfield, with the crowd still screaming. Somewhere in front of me in my section, a man cries out above the roar, “AIN’T EVER SEEN NO ELEPHANT DO THAT! WAR EAGLE!” It remains one of the highlights of my life.
University of Tennessee Volunteers: Tennessee is named after their citizens willingness to leap to a call to action in the Battle of New Orleans from Andrew Jackson, and less so their enthusiastic for the support of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Yes, the Civil War was almost one hundred and fifty years ago, no it does not matter one bit in the realm of college football (Ole Miss still calls themselves the fucking Rebels. Give up your participation trophy already losers). Who cares about that – they have a bluetick coonhound named Smokey who sits on the sidelines during games, and he is delightful. Tennessee is on Smokey X, who gets wrapped up in blankets during night games, and on especially chilly nights, dons a coonskin hat. It’s precious. Smokey IX is forever regarded as the greatest Smokey, as he repeatedly nipped (Tennessee’s words) or bit (opponents’ words) players during games. Look at this dog. I would die for Smokey.
United States Naval Academy Rams: Obviously, a live ram shows up during games. His name is Bill the Goat, because the Navy doesn’t overthink these things. Navy is on Bill the Goat XXXIII, with the first appearing in 1893. Navy does not fuck with tradition. Animal welfare agencies have been heavily involved with Bill the Goat, as ultimate rival Army has kidnapped Bill prior to their annual face-off on multiple occasions, and left him in inopportune locations. (FYI – no Bills were hurt, although a few have been mildly inconvenienced by being rerouted to animal shelters on game day).
University of Colorado Buffalo: Ralphie V is a live buffalo they run out onto the field before games. This is a delightful tradition, until Ralphie decides his handlers are going for a wild, nationally-televised ride should he remember he is a 1,200 pound animal that four hungover assholes with ropes could never hope to contain. There are multiple instances of Ralphie breaking lose, with handlers getting shed with others nearly being trampled (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEVVKi35lRM). In a list of terrible ideas for a live mascot to wrangle on the sidelines, Ralphie is pretty high.
University of Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs, surprisingly, have a bulldog as a mascot named Uga. Not because he’s ugly but because of the University of Georgia is abbreviated as U of GA… get it? It’s very clever. We are on Uga X after the first appeared in 1956. In the most college football/SEC/Georgia part of this entire list – the fondness with which each Uga is remembered by directly correlates to the football team’s winning percentage while he was active, lest you forget what this is all about.
University of Florida Gators: Had a live gator on the sidelines starting in 1957 (sorry, no pictures), but eventually decided a prehistoric swamp monster was probably not an ideal candidate to be roaming around the chaos of a football game. The school swapped in a costumed version of an alligator in 1970. Cowards, although Albert is a pretty great costumed mascot. He wrestled Steve Irwin one time! He got a wife!
Florida State University Seminoles: Florida State is what most people like to refer to as “problematic” – they have had multiple incidents of sexual allegations against players that were swept under the rug or “mishandled” by local police. A professor had the AUDACITY to demand that her students/players actually attend and show effort in class – she was promptly fired and blackballed from academia. Florida State isn’t so much of a school as a vehicle for football.
You’ll be shocked to hear they have a tandem live mascot – Osceola, a Seminole rider, on top of Renegade, an Appaloosa horse. The rider is a white guy with face paint carrying a flaming torch – the school has had the approval of the local Seminole tribe that this is totally not racist, you guys! – but people insist this is wildly inappropriate, to which alumni suggest “you should have seen what it was before” (a white guy in red face dancing around the middle of the field). So obviously, it will never die.
University of Southern California Trojans: The Trojans have a horse (Traveler!) with a nameless Trojan rider, so a massive improvement on Florida State. We are on Traveler IX. I really only added this to prove that they have football on the west coast, albeit it is vastly inferior in terms of the full-only stupid displayed by the south.
University of Arkansas Razorbacks: The Razorbacks have a live boar on the sidelines for their games named Tusk. Apparently, a wild boar is called a tusk, so having a domesticated boar and calling him “Tusk” is technically inaccurate, but “technically correct” has never been a selling point in Arkansas. We are on Tusk IV (Arkansas was late to the game on actual live mascots), with Tusk II repeatedly jumping out of his four-foot cage despite being a 500 pound big. Suddenly, Robert Baratheon’s death seems far more realistic than originally presumed.
University of South Carolina Gamecocks: I’ll be damned if that isn’t a beautiful chicken (FYI – for a good time, Google ‘beautiful chickens’)! South Carolina goes by the “Cocks”, because they have no sense of irony and/or a wise understanding of teenage boys willing to buy apparel with “COCKS” splayed across the front. They have a giant chicken-man in a costume named Cocky that no one gives a shit about, but they also have an enormous chicken (actually from a gamecock breed) named Sir Big Spur. This is AWESOME until you realize handlers and fans frequently shoehorn how Sir Big Spur is “bred to fight”, which seems like an unusual way to describe something that has been outlawed for decades in America.
/double checks laws on cockfighting
//sees its only been outlawed since 2008 in South Carolina
Well what the fuck do I know.
University of North Carolina Tar Heels: Tar Heels – surprisingly not rooted in outdated racism! They have had at least twenty-three rams named Ramses – I couldn’t find an official number, but I did find a report that Ramses XXIII was brutally murdered by a drunk guy in 1996. Yeesh. Also – apologies for the enormous balls on Ramses in the above picture, but I thought you should see them.
University of Texas Longhorns: If we want to discuss college football stupidity, we are definitely taking a lengthy detour into Austin, Texas to look at the Longhorns, perhaps the stupidest team in all of college football (Alabama sees you, spends millions to take roughly a hundred yards off of the teams walk from the locker room to the field on game day (this is actually happening as part of that massive expenditure I mentioned above)). No team has had more money involved and a longer history of general “wait, what happened?” than Texas. Evidence A – Joe Jamail, a local attorney who became big shit and decided the most appropriate thing to do would be to finance a football team and fight opposing counsel in depositions (true story! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIxmrvbMeKc).
As incredible as Texas’ endless reserve of boosters is, this is about mascots. ENTER BEVO, a big-ass steer Texas trots on the sideline during games. We are on Bevo XV, direct descendant of the four previous Bevos, including Bevo XIV who famously attended George W Bush’s second inauguration. You know, the guy who grew up in Connecticut, graduated from Yale and got an MBA from Harvard – obviously the 1,800 pound steer would be around for his party. That said, I get it – Bevo is delightful. The Longhorn Network (a University of Texas athletics-only channel – oh, does that seem preposterous to you? WELCOME TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL), runs a five-hour special on Christmas of Bevo standing at his ranch set to Christmas music.
Louisiana State University Tigers: This is what we have been building towards. I may have jumped the gun on calling Texas the most outlandish because LSU is DEFINITELY the dumbest program in sports, which is why I love them unconditionally. Louisiana, if you didn’t know, is currently in the midst of a massive budgetary crisis where the state is struggling to finance its public institutions, but the public school did manage to rustle up $9 million to buy out their last head coach, who had won a national title for them only a few years prior. This is not a new phenomenon – famously crooked governor Huey Long tripled the size of the marching band after being shown up by an opponent, and when the state legislature would not approve funds to be used to build a new, Roman-style football stadium, he built a row of dorms, and added a field to one side of the new dorms, and had bleachers installed adjacent to the field. Free stadium! Louisiana is everything you would think it would be.
Alas! The mascot! We’ve seen other outlandishly named teams, but Louisiana doesn’t shy away from that. Yes, they have a real, live Bengal tiger. His name is Mike. Who is Mike? No one seems to have a great idea, but we are on Mike VII, who is really the eighth Mike (one died and they forgot to jump to the next number) (again, LSU is just stupid as hell, and we should all learn to embrace it). You know how we noted how other mascots have broken loose? Well, Mike’s been loose a few times. Sometimes because he was kidnapped by rivals, because stealing a BENGAL TIGER is something you do when you want to cheat death, but other times he just… got out. I dunno man, why you gotta make such a fuss? He didn’t kill anyone! He was tranq’d and returned unfazed. Mike originally became a mascot once a booster thought “it would be RAD to have an actual tiger for a mascot”, and because it was the 1940s, and it apparently wasn’t that difficult to find a tiger for sale in Baton Rouge, LA. Now, LSU rescues tigers from shitty zoos or subpar habitats, only to wheel their asses out on to a corner of the field during game day. Humanitarianism is one thing, but goddamn if we ain’t playing in-conference this week! LSU embraces everything about Louisiana, the Southeast Conference, college football, and America as a whole, with endless waves of pageantry, flamboyance and excess, and for that reason, I am eternally loyal to them.
(Big hat tip to Spencer Hall/@edsbs and his incredible season opener previews (one on LSU Tigers, Alabama Elephant, South Carolina Cocks and Tennessee Volunteers – this is why I ended up digging in on mascots in the first place. Spencer is one of my favorite writers, and each article is an incredible read even if you know nothing about college football. Strongly recommended if only for the wonderful evaluation of southern Americana. Start here: https://www.everydayshouldbesaturday.com/2018/8/30/17799866/tiger)