Big 10 Background Checks: The Origins of Every Team's Nickname and Mascot

J FCorrespondent IMarch 30, 2011

Big 10 Background Checks: The Origins of Every Team's Nickname and Mascot

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    TUCSON, AZ - MARCH 17:  The mascot for the Penn State Nittany Lions performs during their game against the Temple Owls in the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at McKale Center on March 17, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Chris
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Hoosiers? Cornhuskers? Boilermakers? Like every major NCAA conference, the Big Ten has its fair share of odd nicknames and comical mascots.

    Despite its name, the conference now has twelve members since Penn State joined in 1990 and the University of Nebraska's membership will become effective in July of 2011.

    Each team has a rich history that reveals the reasoning behind their traditions, and for the curious college fans, I have done a background check on the 12 schools in the Big Ten.

    Note: If you are interested in other NCAA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA nicknames, check out my profile for the articles.

Illinois Fighting Illini

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    CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 16: Controversial symbol 'Chief Illiniwek' of the University of Illinois performs during the half-time show of a game between Illinois and Michigan at Memorial Stadium October 16, 2004 in Champaign, Illinois. Michigan defeated Illi
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The school's newspaper was named The Illini and often used the term in its articles.

    The Illini's mascot used to be Chief Illiniwek until it was retired in 2007 due to controversy over Native American stereotypes.

Indiana Hoosiers

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10:  A young fan supports the Indiana Hoosiers against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 10, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo b
    Chris Chambers/Getty Images

    Hoosier is the official nickname for residents of Indiana, which is known as the Hoosier State.

    The team has no mascot.

Iowa Hawkeyes

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    IOWA CITY, IA - OCTOBER 30: Dressed as Captain American Univeristy of Iowa mascot Herky the Hawk celebrates with fans after Iowa defeated the Michigan State Spartans at Kinnick Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 37-6 over Michigan St
    David Purdy/Getty Images

    The official nickname of Iowa is the Hawkeye State in reference to Chief Black Hawk of the Black Hawk War in 1832.

    Herky the Hawk is the team's mascot and received his name from the legendary Hercules.

Michigan Wolverines

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    ANN ARBOR, MI - DECEMBER 11:  Michigan fans gets ready for the start of the game between the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines at the Big Chill game at Michigan Stadium on December 11, 2010 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    A land dispute between Ohio and Michigan in 1787 led to Ohioans calling the people of Michigan wolverines.The people saw the Michiganians as the ugliest, meanest, and fiercest creatures from the north.

    It is said that Native Americans also gave them this derogatory nickname that also became one of the state's official nicknames.

    The school does not have an official mascot, but it has used a live wolverine in the past.

Michigan St. Spartans

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    TAMPA, FL - MARCH 17:  Sparty, the mascot for the Michigan State Spartans performs against the UCLA Bruins during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at St. Pete Times Forum on March 17, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meri
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    The school held a naming contest in 1925. Michigan Staters was the original winner, but local sportswriters sought for a shorter and more heroic nickname.

    Spartans was chosen and quickly grew in popularity.

    Their mascot is Sparty, a Spartan warrior.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 11:  Goldy Gopher, mascot of the Minnesota Golden Gophers performs during the game against the Penn State Nittany Lion in the first round of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 11, 2010 in Indianapol
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Minnesota became the Gopher State in 1857 when a political cartoon placed gopher heads on local politicians.

    The "golden" part of the nickname derives from the all gold attire that the team wore in the 1930s.

    Goldy Gopher is the team's official mascot.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 09:  Nebraska Cornhuskers mascot, Herbie Husker, performs during the first round game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2011 Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 9, 2011 in Kansas City, M
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Before a newspaper article brought about the Cornhuskers nickname, Nebraska's teams were known as the Hawkeyes, Antelopes, Bugeaters, and Mankilling Mastodons.

    Herbie Husker, pictured above, and Lil' Red, a costumed child with a backwards hat, are the school's two official mascot.

Northwestern Wildcats

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    INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 11:  Mascot 'Willie the Wildcat' of the Northwestern Wildcats performs during the game against the Indiana Hoosiers in the first round of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 11, 2010 in Indianapolis,
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Orginally known as the Purple and Fighting Methodists, before a newspaper article which described the team as wildcats popularized the new name.

    The team's first mascot was a caged bear, but in 1947 a costumed Willie the Wildcat took over.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 25: Brutus the Ohio State Buckeyes mascot walks on the court during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats in the east regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Prudential Center on March 25, 2011 in Newark,
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Ohio's state tree is the Buckeye.

    Brutus the Buckeye is the team's mascot and his head is the nut of a Buckeye tree.

Penn State Nittany Lions

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    TUCSON, AZ - MARCH 17:  The mascot for the Penn State Nittany Lions performs during their game against the Temple Owls in the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at McKale Center on March 17, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Chris
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Penn State's nickname refers to mountain lions that once lived locally on Mount Nittany near the college.

    The mascot is also the Nittany Lion.

Purdue Boilermakers

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    WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - JANUARY 09:  Purdue Pete the mascot for the Purdue Boilermakers performs against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Mackey Arena on January 9, 2011 in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue own 75-52. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
    Chris Chambers/Getty Images

    Newspapers popularized the nickname as they often dubbed the football team "boilermakers" after big victories.

    It was used in reference to the engineering program at Purdue in the late 1800s that involved hands on courses in the forge working with hot metal.

    Blacksmiths was also a common early nickname, but Boilermakers stuck.

    The Boilermaker Special is the official locomotive mascot of the school, but Purdue Pete, as seen above, is present most often at sporting events.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Bucky Badger of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on during the game against the TCU Horned Frogs in the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Wisconsin is known as the Badger State because early miners had to burrow into hillsides like badgers because they lacked shelter from the harsh winter.

    Buckingham U. Badger, Bucky for short, was chosen in a contest to be the team's official mascot.

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