Most of the people reading this article have heard of the Tennessee Volunteers, the Vanderbilt Commodores, and hopefully the Ensworth Tigers. However, this article is not for the popular or common mascots. Last year the NCAA had 46 different teams with a tiger as their mascot, second only to the eagle (74). This article is dedicated to the six oddest mascots in the nation.
6. Big Red (Western Kentucky)
Western Kentucky’s nickname is the Hilltoppers simply because the university is located on a hill. The administration decided a Hilltopper would be a terrible mascot however, so Big Red was created in the fall of 1979. It is described as a “huge, furry, lovable creature.”
As odd as it may be, Big Red is considered by many to be one of the best college mascots in the nation. It won the Universal Cheerleading Association award for best mascot in 1980, 1981, and 1983, and reached the final four in the competition in 1990. It also reached the final four in ESPN’s “Battle of the Mascots” in 1996. In 2002, 2003, and 2004 it was named to the Capital One All-American Mascot team. Big Red has also had various media appearances. He was part of an ESPN Sports Center commercial, and has even appeared on NBC’s Deal Or No Deal.
Any school with a mascot named Big Red is full of tool bags though, so that’s why I didn’t rank it higher.
5. WuShock (Wichita State)
Wichita State is unique to this list because its mascot is actually somewhat understandable. Wichita State’s nickname is the Shockers because in 1904, when the nickname was first used, many of the school's athletes paid for college by harvesting wheat, which was known as “wheat shocking.”
For awhile, this mascot was simply a shock of wheat until a student contest resulted in the creation of WuShock. Although the mascot does not have a crazy name, and is not known for crazy exploits, it is odd-looking (named one of college sports ugliest mascots in 2005 by Sports Illustrated), original, and unique.
To be honest it is the ugliest looking thing I have ever seen.
4. Billiken (St. Louis University)
There are two reasons why this mascot is fourth on this list of oddest college mascots. First, it would be a miracle if anyone reading this article had any idea what a Billiken is. Second, a Billiken has absolutely no connection whatsoever to Saint Louis University.
For the record, a Billiken was invented by an artist named Florence Pretz in 1908, and is described as “a chubby character with pixie ears, fat cheeks and an ear-to-ear grin.” For some unknown reason, people started to associate the Billiken with good luck. Due to the randomness of this mascot, there are numerous different stories of how St. Louis University became the Billikens.
The most commonly accepted one states that in 1911 two sports writers noticed that SLU’s football coach, John Bender, looked like a Billiken when he was happy with his team. One of the sportswriters then referred to the team as Bender’s Billikens, and the name stuck. The Billiken is also the only mascot on this list that has not been interviewed by Playboy Magazine.
3. Banana Slug (UC Santa Cruz)
Before 1980, UCSC did not have any college sports programs to speak of. The school joined the NCAA Division III in 1980 for five sports, and therefore needed a mascot. The University Chancellor suggested the Sea Lions, but after a vote by the student body the banana slug, a slug found in the trees of the redwood forest, won out.
In 2004, Reader Digest voted the Banana Slug the best college mascot ever, and in 2008 ESPN named the Banana Slug one the top ten college nicknames. An actual banana slug has two sets of genitalia, one of which is bitten off by the partner during copulation.
2. Keggy the Keg (Dartmouth College)
Dartmouth College was originally nicknamed the Indians, but the name was dropped after a protest by the school’s Native American students (all three of them). It was then renamed the Big Green, a name that remains today. The university did not have any mascot until 2003. After a vote was held in which the choice of “no mascot” won, a student-run humor magazine known as The Jack-O-Lantern argued for a mascot that represented the underlying party culture of the school. Their creation became known as Keggy the Keg.
According to Dartmouth College’s website, after his inception in 2003 Keggy instantly became a national sensation. Lauded by ESPN's Pardon the Interruption host Michael Wilbon as "some stupid beer thing," interviewed by Playboy Magazine, mentioned in the Washington Times, discussed by Sports Illustrated On Campus, featured on CollegeHumor.com, and written up in several Ivy League newspapers including the Yale Herald, and the Daily Pennsylvanian. Although the mascot remains completely unofficial, it is considered one of the oddest and coolest mascots in the nation.
1. Stanford Tree (Stanford University)
The Stanford Tree may be the most famous and oddest mascot in the list. Though Keggy the Keg has a better name, the Stanford Tree is famous/notable for its unbelievable and sometimes troubled past. Originally, Stanford was nicknamed the Indians, but similar to Dartmouth a protest by a Native American student group forced the name to be changed to the Cardinal. The idea for the tree came about because it is on the official seal of the university and Palo Alto, the city in which it is located.
Initially the student-body was not particularly fond of this mascot, but after votes, debates, and even rallies, the tree became Stanford’s “unofficial” mascot in 1986.
Since then, the mascot's on-and-off the field antics have become something of legend. In 1995, the tree engaged in a fistfight with Oski, the mascot of hated rival UC Berkley. In 1996 two Cal students jumped out of the stands during a football game, tackled the tree, and began ripping off its limbs (the fake ones). It was even engaged in a kidnapping when the suit was stolen in 1998 by five Cal students, and held captive for two weeks.
In 2006, the Tree had two police run-ins in the course of one season. In March, the mascot was suspended because the person wearing the costume was seen drinking out of a flask during a basketball game, and was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .157 (think Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory). The woman inside the suit was fired, but her replacement did not last long either. In April, after reportedly “dancing in an undesignated area” the man inside the costume attempted to escape security by riding a rolling office chair across the school's basketball court during a game, confirming that the Stanford Tree is the best and oddest college mascot in the nation.
College mascots are just as much a part of college culture as the sports teams that use them. Some are common like the Eagle or Tiger, but it is necessary to recognize those mascots who aren't particularly popular, but just as important.