For two seasons I put together an ultimate NCAA Tournament Bracket Bracket, where I took all the great bracket ideas around the Internet (and a few I made up myself) and put together a bracket of all those brackets. It was a lot of fun, and it made for great fodder for which are the best brackets to fill out. (Note: the actual bracket always wins, but ‘80s cartoons is a strong contender.)
What I didn’t realize when putting together my bracket bracket is just how interested people would be in one particular idea: Which mascots would win in a fight?
Seriously, every radio interview I did during the tournament wanted to debate if a bruin could beat a gator or how to rank a demon and a hurricane—spoiler alert: We eventually agreed that supernatural beings trump natural disasters—which got me thinking that I could actually do this entire bracket with the 2014 NCAA tournament field and people would probably love it.
A few days after we planned to run a mascot bracket this year, this happened.
Call that felt-covered serendipity.
So who would win in an actual fight between mascots, and not just the students who wear the costumes. Can an actual lumberjack beat an actual ram? Could a volunteer outwit a minuteman? And what the heck is a Billiken?
Let’s find out, and while we do let’s see which school will win the 2014 NCAA tournament mascot bracket battle royale.
Before we get to the actual bracket, it’s interesting to look at some mascot history in the NCAA tournament.
Did you know there have been 300 teams in the NCAA Final Four since the event began in 1939? Of those 300 teams, well over half—168 to be exact—have been represented by animals.
It’s worth noting that we included 17 trips by the Tar Heels and five trips by the Hoyas in the animal collection, thanks in part to the iconic ram of North Carolina and bulldog logo of Georgetown, respectively.
Speaking of bulldogs, the Canidae family—and specifically the Canis genus—is severely underrepresented in Final Four history. Even if you include the Hoyas in that group, there have only been 18 dog-related participants in the Final Four, mostly of the bulldog or husky variety.
Cats, however, rule the animal kingdom. Specifically Wildcats.
There have been 43 cat teams to reach the Final Four, including a team using Wildcats as their less-than-unique nickname a ridiculous 27 times, including 10 national championships.
Bears have been well represented too, with 23 teams taking either Bears or Bruins to the Final Four. It’s worth noting that a bearcat—Cincinnati has five visits to the Final Four with that mascot—is neither a bear nor a cat.
There are a lot of mammals, for sure—nine times a member of the Mustelidae family has reached the Final Four in the shape of Wolverines and Badgers—but birds actually make up more than 10 percent of all Final Four participants, thanks in large part to the Cardinals and Jayhawks.
The Indian Conundrum
There have been 60 teams with human mascots to reach the Final Four and 25 of them had or still have Indian mascot names. There has long been a controversy in the NCAA regarding the use of Native American names and mascots to the point where the organization actually tried to ban teams from participation if they continued to use those names.
Many teams changed names—from Redmen to Red Storm or Orangemen to Orange, for example—while others worked with local tribes to maintain their identity. The Illini and Seminoles are two examples of this.
The other human names are pretty fascinating as well. Most—like some of the Indian names—are related to the identity of a state university—Hoosiers and Sooners, etc.—while others are just plain weird.
Explorers, 49ers, Dons, Friars, Deacons, Quakers, Mountaineers and Aggies are a few of the oddest sports mascot names. (Note: With all the teams that have gone by Aggies, only one has made the Final Four.)
The rest of the human names are stronger, as the Spartans, Trojans, Cowboys, Rebels, Minutemen, Pirates and Warriors make up part of the list.
The Supernatural (And Other Things)
There have been 17 supernatural beings in the Final Four, thanks mostly to the Blue Devils, with some help from the Blue Demons. Speaking of blue, a color has been to the Final Four on four different occasions. A color.
Is that better or worse than flora? A Buckeye has been to the Final Four 11 times, with a Sycamore making one appearance. (Stanford’s mascot may be a tree, but we put them under color, not plant.)
With all that history in tow, let’s see how this year’s bracket plays out! Can the Buckeyes or Orange win? (Answer: no.)
The 2014 NCAA Tournament South Region
1. Florida Gators vs. 16. Albany Great Dane/Mt. Saint Mary’s Mountaineers
This game is taking place in Orlando, so there is no way a gator would lose a fight to a mountaineer or a giant dog in its natural habitat.
8. Colorado Buffaloes vs. 9. Pittsburgh Panthers
I think I’ve seen this on National Geographic. Advantage panthers.
5. VCU Rams vs. 12. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
This one is hard because I imagine both man and beast sharing the same woods. I’d probably take the guy with the axe over the animal with curly horns.
4. UCLA Bruins vs. 13. Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Even golden, a major weather event would destroy any kind of bear.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes vs. 11. Dayton Flyers
I hope the Wright Brothers landed their plane on a runway made of hatless acorns.
3. Syracuse Orange vs. 14. Western Michigan Broncos
A color will never, ever defeat a giant horse.
7. New Mexico Lobos vs. 10. Stanford Cardinal
A lobo is a wolf. Cardinal is another color. Please.
2. Kansas Jayhawks vs. 15. Eastern Kentucky Colonels
This one is hard because a colonel would destroy a small bird, but if the Jayhawk in question was the AQM-37A missile with a motor built by the Harley-Davidson company, well, things might be different.
The South Region Final Four Participant is…
I’d have to stick with the gator over the panther in Florida, while a lumberjack wouldn’t stand a chance against a hurricane. A flyer could outpace a bronco, while a colonel probably has some kind of weapon that could dispatch of any Spanish wolves that need dispatching.
Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, and while the state is still thriving, I don’t think an individual gator would survive very long. On the other side, I’d take the flyer over the colonel, setting up an Elite 8 battle between a hurricane and a plane. Um…
Final Four: Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
The 2014 NCAA Tournament East Region
1. Virginia Cavaliers vs. 16. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Did you know a Chanticleer is a small chicken-like fowl? I only know that because Rutgers was once called the Chanticleers before someone wised up and changed the mascot to something a tad more intimidating. Cavaliers in a bloodbath, perhaps literally.
8. Memphis Tigers vs. 9. George Washington Colonials
This is a situation where circumstances may dictate outcome. Does the colonial have a musket? Is the colonial George Washington himself? If that’s the case, I’d probably take George Washington over a tiger. Any other colonist would get eaten alive.
5. Cincinnati Bearcats vs. 12. Harvard Crimson
Small ferocious animal against a color. Sorry, Harvard.
4. Michigan State Spartans vs. 13. Delaware Blue Hens
This isn’t even fair. I imagine the Spartan eating its kill for lunch before using the feathers for a helmet plume.
6. North Carolina Tar Heels vs. 11. Providence Friars
This is a situation where I’d take a ram over a human in that I don’t know if a Friar would even defend himself on principle.
3. Iowa State Cyclones vs. 14. North Carolina Central Eagles
Natural disasters made primarily of spinning wind against flying birds? I’m so sorry, poor eagles.
7. Connecticut Huskies vs. 10. Saint Joseph’s Hawks
This one isn’t easy. Have you ever seen Connecticut’s mascot? It’s the wimpiest looking dog in the world. I think I’d pick an angry hawk over that specific huskie any day.
2. Villanova Wildcats vs. 15. Milwaukee Panthers
In a fight between a small cat against a big cat, always take the big cat. Advantage panthers.
The East Region Final Four Participant is…
I’m taking a colonial over a cavalier—I’d take George Washington over Thomas Jefferson any day as well—and a Spartan over a bearcat. The cyclone would rip apart anything in its path, be it a ram or panther, who I’d take over the hawk.
A Spartan would finally thwart the colonial, but again, weather wins, as a cyclone would get to the Final Four over any mortal, even one in armor.
Final Four: Iowa State Cyclones
The 2014 NCAA Tournament West Region
1. Arizona Wildcats vs. 16. Weber State Wildcats
I’m picking the wildcat.
8. Gonzaga Bulldogs (Zags) vs. 9. Oklahoma State Cowboys
A cowboy against an ugly dog? How rugged is the cowboy? I bet he’s pretty rugged.
5. Oklahoma Sooners vs. 12. North Dakota State Bison
This was the perfect matchup for anyone from Oklahoma. They’d probably cook up the bison just for kicks.
4. San Diego State Aztecs vs. 13. New Mexico State Aggies
The Aztecs, who probably originated as a nomadic tribe in northern Mexico, arrived in Mesoamerica around the beginning of the 13th century. From their magnificent capital city, Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs emerged as the dominant force in central Mexico, developing an intricate social, political, religious and commercial organization that brought many of the region’s city-states under their control by the 15th century. Invaders led by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes overthrew the Aztecs by force and captured Tenochtitlan in 1521, bringing an end to Mesoamerica’s last great native civilization.
They were beaten by the Spanish, but I bet they could take an American farmer.
6. Baylor Bears vs. 11. Nebraska Cornhuskers
I can’t stop imagining a bear angrily stomping through a cornfield right now.
3. Creighton Bluejays vs. 14. Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
I bet that Cajun could cook up some mighty tasty pot of gumbo with the right number of blue jays. Don’t eat the bones, though. Blue jay bones must be tough to swallow.
7. Oregon Ducks vs. 10. BYU Cougars
Take a woman 15 years your elder out to a nice dinner, order the duck and you see what happens. Wait…
2. Wisconsin Badgers vs. 15. American Eagles
The American eagle is endangered for a reason, and that reason is probably not because of a barrage of badger attacks over the years. Still, I bet if they were forced to fight, that little angry badger would do enough damage to win.
The West Region Final Four Participant is…
A cowboy would beat a wildcat and an Aztec would continue its run over any Sooner. I imagine more than one ragin’ Cajun finding himself in a fight with a bear and I bet he lived to tell the tale about it. A cougar would probably eat a badger in one bite. The claws might hurt going down though.
Look, I know there’s probably some historical context that suggests otherwise, but if there was a one-on-one fight between a cowboy and an Aztec, I’m taking the Aztec. And while I have no doubt a ragin’ Cajun can handle a cougar if he thwarted a bear, I’m struggling to decide between an Aztec and said Cajun.
Final Four: San Diego State Aztecs, in a fight everyone would love to witness.
The 2014 NCAA Tournament Midwest Region
1. Wichita State Shockers vs. 16. Cal Poly Mustangs/16. Texas Southern Tigers
Three-way fight between anything wheat related, a horse and a tiger. I’m taking the tiger.
8. Kentucky Wildcats vs. 9. Kansas State Wildcats
I’m taking the...
5. Saint Louis Billikens vs. 12. North Carolina State Wolfpack/12. Xavier Musketeers
The Billiken was born Oct. 8, 1908, when Kansas City art teacher and illustrator Florence Pretz patented a design for an elf-like creature with pixie ears, a mischievous smile and a tuft of hair on his pointed head. Reportedly, the image came to her in a dream.
The legend is that the Billiken is supposed to provide luck: good if you buy one, better if it’s given to you and best if it is stolen.
Okay then. I’m picking the guy with the gun.
4. Louisville Cardinals vs. 13. Manhattan Jaspers
The unique nickname of Manhattan College’s athletic teams, the Jaspers, comes from one of the College’s most memorable figures, Brother Jasper of Mary, F.S.C., who served at the College in the late 19th century.
A native of Ireland, Brother Jasper came to Manhattan College in 1861 as the head of resident students. During years at Manhattan, he founded the school's first band, orchestra, glee club, various literary clubs, and became the school's first athletic director.
Brother Jasper is credited with inventing the seventh-inning stretch. I’ll take that over a small bird.
6. UMass Minutemen vs. 11. Iowa Hawkeyes/11. Tennessee Volunteers
Two men with guns and a hawk? Would the men shoot each other, leaving the hawk to survive? I imagine the hawk perched just between the two men, then flying away just as they both fire a shot, hitting each other in an accidental standoff.
Yeah, let’s go with that.
3. Duke Blue Devils vs. 14. Mercer Bears
Beings from another realm trump bears every time.
7. Texas Longhorns vs. 10. Arizona State Sun Devils
They trump cows/bulls too.
2. Michigan Wolverines vs. 15. Wofford Terriers
Poor little terrier would get ripped to shreds by a wolverine. Man those suckers are vicious.
The Midwest Region Final Four Participant is…
The tiger beats the wildcat, badly, but loses to the Musketeer who would have no problem getting by Brother Jasper.
The bottom half of the bracket is more interesting. The Blue Devils are on a collision course with the Sun Devils, and it’s pretty obvious either would beat a simple man with a gun. I’ll take the Sun Devil over the Blue Devil, mostly because the Blue Devils were actually named after the Chasseurs Alpin, who were French soldiers nicknamed “les Diables Bleus.”
Yes, Duke is actually named after soldiers from France. That is so Duke.
Final Four: Arizona State Sun Devils
The Final Four
On one side of the bracket we have the Golden Hurricane against the Cyclones and on the other we have the Aztecs and the Sun Devils.
I’m leaning toward the Cyclones, in that the Tulsa mascot is clearly singular—they are no Miami Hurricanes—and I bet multiple cyclones could do more damage than one hurricane. (I cannot actually believe I just wrote that sentence with an attempt at rational thought.)
It doesn’t matter, because nobody beats the devil, particularly a devil made from the white hot fire of the sun. The 2014 Mascot Fight National Champion is the Arizona State Sun Devil.