Best Animal Traditions in Sports
Collegiate athletics simply wouldn’t be the same without tradition. Remove tradition from the equation and all of the passion and pageantry that make college football and basketball unique from their pro counterpart—what do you have now? What qualifies as a tradition at one school may be anything but at another, but making the mascot a central part of sporting events is as close to a universal tradition as there is.
While animals—big and small—make up a fair share (perhaps even the lion’s share) of all college mascots, not every school with an animal-based mascot can make a real living, breathing creature part of its tradition…for reasons both obvious and not.
Those universities and colleges that do have a tradition featuring the genuine article on game day, instead of stuffing a sweaty student into a goggle-eyed facsimile, makes the idea of a mascot just a little more special. Not only is a real dog, bird or any of the countless kinds of animals way more fun to watch, but there is always the possibility of unplanned mayhem.
Whether the mascot is a beloved part of a long-held tradition, or just great because it corners the adorability market, these are the best animal traditions in sports.
University of Southern California
Unless you’re a current or former student at USC, there isn’t much to like about the Trojans. A private institution with tuition on par with the Ivies, perhaps the only likable figure they’ve got there is their mascot Traveler, a beautiful white horse that is forced to run around with a grown man dressed as a gladiator on his back.
The majestic steed has been part of the Trojans (not) dog and pony show since 1961, where he first debuted at a home game against Georgia Tech. More than 50 years later, it’s Traveler VII leading the USC football team onto the field at the Coliseum and roaming the sidelines during home games.
University of Washington
The University of Washington Huskies, like many schools, have both a human furry mascot in addition to an actual animal. The school has had different dog mascots dating back decades, but their current is a gorgeous Alaskan malamute named Dubs I.
As for tradition, Dubs is generally one of the first out of the tunnel, leading the football team onto the field at home games. Though he has a family in Seattle, Dubs spends a lot of time on campus, where a team of carefully selected student-handlers cares for him.
But don’t think that Dubs has it easy during the offseason. According to his official blog, which totally exists, he’s one busy dog. He makes appearances all over the area, some official and some just for fun, all of which are meticulously documented.
Wofford College’s mascot is an impressively non-intimidating Boston terrier named Blitz. Until recently, it was Biltz II, who took over for the original Blitz on an interim basis when she died suddenly and sadly in 2008. Blitz II obviously knocked it out of the park, because she was named the official mascot by the athletic department prior to the start of the 2009 football season. Although Blitz is a relatively new mascot—for decades it was actually a pit bull terrier—she has become an integral part of many traditions at the South Carolina school.
According to Wofford’s official website, Blitz II “has received additional attention as the leader of the ‘Terrier Walk,’ which takes place 40 minutes prior to kickoff of every home game.” She also “leads the parade that includes the other Wofford mascots, Boss and Terri, along with cheerleaders, dance team and guests.” The same 2013 profile also announced Blitz II’s impending retirement, which happened at the end of the season.
Blitz III, formerly known as Magnolia, was announced as the successor in May 2014. She was just nine months old at her public debut, and apparently quite vivacious. Hopefully that's a good sign that Wofford won't have to look for a Blitz IV for a very long time.
West Point is the Army’s service academy, and although it doesn’t offer athletic scholarships to recruits, they compete against NCAA competition just the same. Army is known as the Black Knights, but their mascots are actually a pair of impressively dignified mules.
In December 2011, current mascots Ranger III and Stryker took over for a retiring Ranger II and Raider. Their arrival was met with some fanfare, having spent four years training for their new assignment. Though previous mascots were trained to perform various stunts, that’s less of a focus for Ranger III and Stryker, who lead the team onto the field at home games.
They carry flags with the academy’s emblem and spend time interacting with fans. As mascots, the mules are part of countless traditions at West Point, but on game days their biggest responsibility is actually to stay cool, calm and collected through all the firecrackers, gunshots and cannons that echo through the stadium.
Colorado State’s mascot, Cam, is “a domesticated breed of sheep known as a Rambouillet,” according to the university’s official website. Having first made his debut as part of the all-male pep club in 1946, Cam has been an institution and tradition in and of himself for over 60 years.
In addition to being flame retardant (seriously), Cam has nothing short of an entourage charged with his care. Particularly, on game day, when he arrives in a massive trailer, escorted by 10 student-handlers. Cam leads the charge onto the field at home games, patrolling the sidelines throughout, but is also kept busy with various other appearances year-round.
Don’t worry about Cam's workload, however, as it’s not all work and no play for this ram. Recently he fathered the most adorable lot of baby lambs, which apparently was quite the big deal outside Fort Collins, Colorado.
Georgia Southern University
The Georgia Southern Eagles have a deranged muppet mascot named Gus, who leads their football team onto the field before games. Thankfully for fans, the university has another bird that brings some dignity to pregame festivities at Paulson Stadium.
Prior to home games, a majestic American bald eagle named Freedom soars down from high atop the stadium, flying to meet its handler at midfield, much to the delight of fans in the stands. Freedom is so popular that “in recent years, his dramatic presence concludes the university’s spring commencement ceremony.”
Though the events tend to go off without a hitch, back in 2011 something transpired that could most definitely be classified as a hitch. Prior to a game against Chattanooga, Freedom took a detour during his flight, opting instead to bail on the game entirely and fly away from the stadium. Thankfully there were only a few tense minutes, as Freedom was found chilling in the parking lot.
University of Texas
The University of Texas Longhorns mascot is a longhorn steer named Bevo, an animal and an icon in Austin that dates back nearly a century. The very existence of Bevo XIV is a tradition, with the “Silver Spurs Alumni Association [having] maintained [it] through the years by selecting the steers and expanding the UT icon’s access to the public,” per the Daily Texan.
“He’s a living symbol of the University of Texas, so escorting him around is a huge responsibility,“ according to the association’s executive director, Ricky Brennes. With 13 Bevos serving prior the current, let’s just say an animal that size is occasionally going to flex his muscles, and when he does the results have been kind of a mess.
UT’s irritating “Hook 'em Horns” hand gesture is obviously based on the steer’s horns, so there’s that. Bevo is such an important part of the university’s history that in 2006 a museum dedicated to him opened at Royal-Memorial Stadium. The Silver Spurs Bevo Center honors each and ever Bevo to serve, past, present and future.
Southern Methodist University
Although SMU has a well-known history of some unsavory recruiting practices, one thing that can never be tarnished is their mascot, Peruna. Currently Peruna IX, their mascot is an adorable Shetland pony that has been serving on and off since 1932.
An institution at SMU football games, Peruna is one of the first to take the field during home games. Peruna IX is known to be a “feisty character” with a “strong personality,” both of which make him particularly suited for the job. He doesn’t mind the crowd noise and interacts well with fans.
Peruna is even a regular at summer band practices, which gives him a chance to mingle with the students and readjust to a noisy environment after the offseason.
University of South Carolina
The University of South Carolina has a pretty entertaining mascot in Cocky, but it’s the real-life rooster that tends to steal the show during televised games at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
Sir Big Spur is his name and chilling on a perch near the end zone is his game. A very big deal down in Gamecock Country, Sir Big Spur spends most of his downtime living the quiet life on a “28-acre farm in Aiken County,” per the Augusta Chronicle.
The original Sir Big Spur was named Cocky Doodle Lou, after former football coach Lou Holtz, but was mercifully renamed at some point. Though his presence started out at Gamecocks baseball games, eventually he made his way to football games.
Sir Big Spur is a bona fide celebrity in Columbia, exciting the hometown crowds at sporting events, amusing fans watching on television and even serving as a muse to local artists. He’s also often profiled by local publications, such as this piece from the State in 2008.
University of Georgia
In addition to a furry Bulldog mascot with an uncomfortably square jaw, the University of Georgia has a fan favorite in Uga, an actual bulldog who can be occasionally be seen patrolling the Dawgs sidelines during home games at Sanford Stadium.
Then again, it’s pretty hot in Athens, particularly during those early-season games. And since bulldogs aren’t known to be the most adaptable or healthy dog breed out there, Uga has his own tradition of lounging on large bags of ice to keep cool.
Florida State University
Without getting into any mascot controversy that may or may not exist at Florida State, it’s fair to say that Renegade, the gorgeous Appaloosa that carries Chief Osceola, is a very impressive horse—independently of whatever opinion you may have on their mascot.
Renegade has been a tradition in Tallahassee since 1978, when he began appearing at Noles football home games. At Doak Campbell Stadium, Chief Osceola and Renegade run the length of the field, with players and students cheering them on from every direction.
The pair also gallop into the end zone after Noles touchdowns, which the Orlando Sentinel’s Stephen M. Dowell described as “a very impressive show when you are that close.” He noted, “I felt the earth tremble and a rush of wind as I was nudged a few feet to my right,” as a handler made way for Renegade.
Although Auburn teams are officially known as the Tigers, they have a “War Eagle” battle cry that dates back nearly a century.
As for its origins, even Auburn’s official website has a few different versions, but it’s the reason a golden eagle soars over the crowd before home games at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The bird is an icon down in Alabama. When Tiger, War Eagle VI, died in June at the age of 34, tributes poured out in Auburn.
University of Tennessee
OK, this one might not be an official tradition—at least school officials in Knoxville don’t want it to be—but Tennessee’s mascot Smokey X, a bluetick coonhound, has a history of going after the opposition at Neyland Stadium. Smokey has an entirely different defensive tactic than the Vols on the field, often flaunting a flagrant disregard for the rules.
The first incident came in 2006, when Alabama wide receiver Mike McCoy accused the dog of biting him after he fell on Smokey IX during pregame warmups. McCoy was quite adamant about the incident, as was Smokey’s owner, who flatly denied the claims. His owner said the dog may have snagged a piece of McCoy’s uniform, but only because he was so startled from the contact.
In November 2012, Smokey struck again, this time during a 37-17 win over SEC opponent Kentucky. According to Deadspin, “UT’s Bluetick Coonhound made a run for Kentucky kicker Craig McIntosh, nipping at his leg but not causing any damage.” Back in 1994, Smokey VII was forced into retirement after biting “the same UT tuba player during consecutive games.”
It’s amazing that Smokey has a reputation as such a brawler, considering how adorable and snuggly he looks under a blanket when it’s chilly.
In November 2014, Oklahoma University athletics celebrated a very significant anniversary. It was the 50th anniversary since the first Sooner Schooner emerged from the tunnel at Memorial Stadium and went blazing across the field.
That being said, it seems like the Conestoga wagon is more the mascot than the ponies pulling it. The Sooner Schooner is pulled by two Welsh ponies, not to be confused with their costumed mascots, Boomer and Sooner.
Oklahoma definitely has one of the most easily identified animal traditions in college sports with this spectacle, although there is definitely one school and mascot that has them beat.
University of Colorado
The University of Colorado Buffaloes have a live buffalo mascot known as Ralphie—currently Ralphie V. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to recognize the difficulties in caring for and maintaining a live mascot, let alone a 1,200-pound beast, one that can reach speeds up to 25 mph.
Having Ralphie V on campus somewhere is one thing, but running him across the field before every football home game is something else altogether. Although, he is actually a she, because males tend to have a least 1,000 pounds on females and are a bit more unruly.
It doesn’t matter how much the Colorado football team sucks in a given season (and they usually do suck), the running of Raphie alone is worth the cost of admission.