A team's mascot would never be a deal-breaker for a real sports fan.
But a great mascot can certainly sweeten the deal, while a terrible one (or the terrible way a team employs it) can be an annoying distraction.
Of course, not all mascots are created equal, which makes Xavier's people-eating interpretation of the Blue Blob all the more impressive and any team that slaps a cowboy hat on some dude...less so.
However, one truth that cannot be questioned is that the absolute best mascots are actual, living animals―your dogs, cows, buffalo and...condors.
Animals can simply do no wrong―America loves its living mascots.
They behave and everything goes as planned? Adorable and entertaining.
They go rogue and mayhem ensues? Not only is it even better, but the episode almost always becomes a YouTube moment.
Whereas a couple of weirdos lurching around in big, heavy costumes―with a frozen smile made all the more menacing by their eternal bug-eyed gaze―may occasionally go hilariously off script, usually their ceiling is set at "funky."
With the real animal deal, there's no wondering about who's behind the suit and why they're engaging in such shenanigans; their dumb, cute or crazy antics are all authentic.
A team's mascot would never be a deal-breaker for a real sports fan.
Plushie Mascot: Cam the Ram
Colorado State’s Cam the Ram plushie mascot has an intense stare which helps his cause a little, but he’s still no match for the real thing.
Live Animal Macot: Cam the Ram
This guy is also Cam the Ram, but he bests his synthetic counterpart based on horns alone. Those things are epic.
Plushie Mascot: Hairy Dawg
Georgia’s Hairy Dawg is trying way too hard to look tough. That oversized head makes him look crazy, and the name sounds like something that originated at a frat party after midnight, when everything is more entertaining than it would be in the light of day.
Live Animal Mascot: Uga IX
Uga more than makes up for Hairy Dawg’s substantial shortcomings. How ridiculously adorable is he sitting on that bag of ice during hot weather games? The only drawback with Ugas is that they’ve gone through them at a pretty good clip recently. Uga IX is the fourth Uga since 2008.
Plushie Mascot: Bill the Goat
Although the name isn’t particularly inspired, Navy’s mascot Bill the Goat is sassy with soulful eyes. This guy does the Midshipmen proud, but not nearly as proud as…
Live Animal Mascot: Bill the Goat
This guy! The real-life Bill the Goat definitely has at least two legs up on his plushie counterpart—both in the style department. That out of control curly mane is perfectly accented with always-decorated horns. Plus, he's way more intimidating.
Plushie Mascot: Big Red
Arkansas’ Big Red actually has bits and pieces working for him—the menacing unibrow is a very nice touch. And apparently he’s got a whole family down there in Fayetteville, including wife, Sue E., child Pork Chop and crazy uncle Boss Hog, who is a nine-foot-tall inflatable razorback hog.
Live Animal Mascot: Tusk
Big Red and the family aside, there’s no substitute for the real thing. Tusk III is a Russian boar, which is like a razorback hog, but not. So I guess it’s almost the real thing. Tusks live large on campus, with 16,000-square-foot of indoor/outdoor living in which to frolic.
Plushie Mascot: Bruiser
Baylor’s mascot Bruiser has a name that is far more intimidating than its face, which looks like it's smiling. He looks like an overgrown teddy bear.
Live Animal Mascot: Judge Joy Reynolds and Judge Sue Sloan
Baylor’s live bear mascots both came to campus as cubs more than a decade ago and are named in honor of the wives of two former university presidents. Obviously they’re awesome, but especially so when you consider the school’s mascot could have been an antelope, frog, ferret or bookworm. They really dodged a bullet, since those were the other options when students voted in 1914.
Plushie Mascot: Harry the Husky
Washington’s Harry the Husky is pretty chill for a mascot—must be the West Coast vibe. Overall though, he’s actually not too bad, he’s just got too much to live up to.
Live Animal Mascot: Dubs
Look at that face! Dubs is actually an Alaskan Malamute, not a Siberian Husky as most people would likely assume. Dubs isn’t just another pretty face who only works the crowd once a week—he’s very active on campus and even has his own blog.
Plushie Mascot: Aubie
Auburn’s Aubie definitely has the moves—his second-place finish in the College Mascot National Championship a few years ago proves that. Unfortunately, that cheesy costume does him no favors in terms of credibility. Then again, do any costumed mascots have credibility? But I digress.
Live Animal Mascot: Tiger
Sadly, Auburn's golden eagle Tiger, who flew at home games for nearly 30 years, died in June 2014. She was 34 years old, one of the oldest golden eagles ever in captivity. She has been succeeded by Nova, War Eagle VII and Spirit, an American bald eagle, who both fly during pregame events.
Plushie Mascot: Cocky
Honestly, Cocky is one of my favorite costumed mascots in college sports. He’s got personality and it always amuses me when he manually operates his beak. The costume’s hoop skirt bottom means Cocky is almost always in motion.
Live Animal Mascot: Sir Big Spur
Cocky is good at working the home crowd, but it’s Sir Big Spur that always gets attention from the television cameras. Perched near the end zone, sometimes on the goal post at halftime, this stately guy obviously isn’t a chicken when it comes to crowds.
Plushie Mascot: Hook’em
UT’s mascot Hook’em is really boosted by the presence of the pretty girls in that photo—on his own he’s far less impressive. And that cowboy hat is just not working for him.
Live Animal Mascot: Bevo XIV
Bevo is where it’s at. Those massive horns are the most definable feature of a longhorn steer and the costume doesn’t even come close with his. Bevo has long achieved celebrity status in Texas—Bevo XIV attended George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2005 and has won his share of awards at livestock shows and rodeos.
Plushie Mascot: Smokey
Tennessee’s costumed mascot Smokey looks like he got lost on his way to play poker with his buddies or like he pays rent by working as a dog butler. Sometimes this guy wears a jersey (and no pants), but he seems to favor a more formal look—he’s the only mascot in sports with a closet full of suits.
Live Animal Mascot: Smokey IX
The superior Smokey is a Bluetick Coonhound that has been patrolling the sidelines in Knoxville for decades. This mascot is not to be trifled with. Smokeys have been involved in a number of unpleasant incidents over the years—he was accused of biting an opposing player in 2006 and again in 2012. And that’s nothing compared to an incident at the 1956 Sugar Bowl in which Smokey barely survived an altercation with the Baylor bear.
Plushie Mascot: Mike the Tiger
LSU’s tiger mascot costume is the best of an ugly bunch in college sports, which really isn’t saying much. Mike the Tiger has some personality, but his antics don’t hold a candle to those of head coach Les Miles.
Live Animal Mascot: Mike the Tiger VI
LSU has had a live Mike the Tiger mascot on campus since 1936. Although the university has been criticized by animal rights organizations for the decision, they’ve remained dedicated to this practice and are always raising money for improvement and upkeep of the tiger’s habitat. No matter where you land on the issue, there’s no denying Mike is one majorly majestic mascot.
Plushie Mascot: Hink
Hink is named after famed Butler coach Paul “Tony” Hinkle. With a menacing stare, saggy jowls and a prominent underbite, Hink is actually my pick for the best costumed bulldog mascot in sports.
Live Animal Mascot: Butler Blue III
Hink is solid, but Butler Blue is definitely his better half. There are a lot of Bulldog mascots out there, but none are quite on Blue’s level. She’s got her on Twitter page, is surprisingly athletic and doesn’t seem to mind rocking team gear. And they don’t go through Blues like Kleenex, like they do with Ugas in Georgia.
Plushie Mascot: Chip
Colorado’s Chip may know how to snowboard, but there are few mascots in sports that fail to capture the essence of the actual animal they’re based on more than this guy. Take the horns off Chip and you’d have no freaking clue what that thing is.
Live Animal Mascot: Ralphie the Buffalo
Now this is a mascot with serious star power. Ralphie running the length of the field with an army of overmatched handlers before every Colorado home game is one of the greatest spectacles in college sports.
Plushie Mascot: Bernie Brewer
Milwaukee’s mascot Bernie Brewer isn’t terribly imaginative—presumably just a brewer of beer named Bernie. The mustache is great, of course, but that’s really all this guy has to offer.
Live Animal Mascot: Hank the Dog
According to AZCentral.com's Scott Craven, Hank the Dog started the season as a stray found wandering during Cactus League play in Arizona. He was adopted by Marti Wronski, the Brewers vice president and general counsel, and has since become the team’s unofficial mascot and one of the most beloved members of the team.
Plushie Mascot: Human Peruna
SMU’s costumed Shetland pony mascot pales so much in comparison to the real thing that they probably had to add “human” before the name to curb crowd expectations. In this case, “human” basically means “lesser.”
Live Animal Mascot: Peruna IX
In fairness to lesser Peruna, look at that inexplicably adorable Shetland pony! There’s no way a dude in a costume could ever measure up to nonhuman Peruna. Usually ranked among the best mascots in college sports, Peruna has been delighting the home crowds in Dallas since 1932.