College Football Programs with the Weirdest Mascots
College football is a game steeped in tradition. Many fans are born into their allegiances, given their rooting interests by their parents at birth. Six to seven times per year, they head to their stadium of choice, taking the same route, setting up in the same tailgating spot and sitting in the same seats they’ve had for generations.
One important part of those traditions is the team mascot. Mascots play a key role in college football fandom. They adorn the gear fans wear, elicit emotional responses and provide sideline entertainment. While many programs have classic mascots such as Lions, Tigers and Bears (oh my!), others have more of an eclectic nature. While the University of California at Santa Cruz doesn’t offer football, it’d be worth it just to see the Banana Slug mascot (immortalized by John Travolta’s T-shirt in Pulp Fiction) sliding along the sidelines.
Weird mascots make college football fun. Here’s a look at some of the game’s strangest mascots, both by name and by the actual mascots themselves.
Coastal Carolina is a program on the rise. Under the leadership of former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Moglia, the Chanticleers have made an impressive rise from the FCS to FBS status and Sun Belt membership in 2017.
The program has seven Big South titles and six FCS playoff appearances, and has earned a shot at FBS play. The Chanticleers will join FBS this fall and move into the Sun Belt full time in 2017. They’ll carry with them a unique nickname and mascot.
For the uninitiated, a Chanticleer is a proud, smart rooster made famous in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Coastal employs a mascot clad in teal, black and bronze to represent CCU on football sidelines. It is a spirited, interesting character that is somewhat of a cousin to South Carolina’s Gamecock mascot, as Coastal was formerly a member of the University of South Carolina system before breaking away on its own.
The Chanticleers might have a tough transition to FBS, but they’ll do so with a unique mascot.
Delaware has a solid history as an FCS program and is probably best known as the alma mater of Baltimore Ravens quarterback and Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco. Delaware also has one of the most unusual mascots in college football.
The program’s teams are known as the Blue Hens. The blue hen is actually the state bird of Delaware. During the American Revolutionary War, according to Delaware, Revolutionary soldiers carried blue hens into combat with them. Delaware’s mascot, YouDee, sports the university's colors of blue and yellow and is spirited, just like his blue hen ancestors.
Delaware plays football a level below college football’s highest division, but its mascot is a first-class representative.
Ohio State has built an incredible football tradition. Urban Meyer has restored the roar in Columbus, returning OSU to national prominence, winning a national title and putting together an incredible 50-4 record in four seasons.
The Buckeyes are known from coast to coast for successful, hard-nosed football, so much so that you might overlook their nickname. The buckeye is the state tree of Ohio, producing brown nuts with a yellowish/tan center.
Ohio State’s mascot, Brutus Buckeye, has a large buckeye for a head. It’s quite the sight on college football sidelines, and he has a devoted following among OSU fans. It’s weird, to be sure, but it hasn’t affected the program’s success one bit.
Ole Miss has a complicated history with mascots. The school’s athletic programs are known as the Rebels, which has ties dating back to the Civil War. The program’s former mascot, Colonel Reb, was a representation of an antebellum plantation owner and/or a Confederate States Army solider. He was perceived as racially insensitive, and in 2003, Ole Miss removed him from the sidelines at its events.
Seven years later, the school finally chose a replacement from a field that included Star Wars character Admiral Ackbar. The Black Bear became the new mascot, but Ole Miss kept its nickname of Rebels. Former Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat told AL.com's Bob Carlton that it was part of Ole Miss' culture change.
When I came here, the guy on the sideline, the mascot, wore a Confederate soldier’s uniform and had a sword. That was just part of the landscape. Then one year they brought out a horse that they -- they being the students -- named Traveler. Of course, that stirred up a little bit more discussion. So Warner Alford, the director of athletics, had the people who made the Disney costumes create Colonel Rebel, who was with us for probably 15 years or more and really was a harmless Disney character. I think the only racial suggestion or historical suggestion made by that figure was that he was called Colonel Rebel. He didn’t look like a military person. He looked like a Harland Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken kind of guy.
But I guess there was enough furor about it among the athletes -- not our athletes, but people who we were recruiting. . . . Ultimately, Chancellor (Daniel) Jones had a committee of students make a selection, and they selected a black bear.
This seems like a half-measure. Putting a costumed black bear on the sidelines—with no ties to the Rebel nickname—is an odd decision, but it’s a compromise that Ole Miss ran with. Until the school becomes the Black Bears, Rebels fans will have to live with having a split identity.
Purdue has a strong reputation as an engineering and science school, and its teams are known as the Boilermakers. Did you know that Purdue’s actual mascot is the Boilermaker Special, a Victorian-era locomotive installed on a truck chassis?
Outside Purdue’s fanbase, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows that. Outsiders identify with Purdue Pete. And that might not be such a good thing for Boilermakers fans. While Purdue Pete is not the Boilers’ official mascot, he is a highly visible part of Purdue athletics.
Purdue Pete wears an old gold-and-black uniform and carries a large hammer. The body of the costume is normal, but Pete wears a large costume head topped by a hardhat, which gives him a strange, frightening look. Redesigns of the costume have been proposed, but none have come to fruition. Perhaps Purdue should try pushing another one through.
If there is one college athletic program whose mascot appears totally incongruous with the team that it represents, it is Stanford. Stanford changed its mascot from the Indians to the Cardinals in 1972 (and later the Cardinal), but the program’s mascot represents neither of those ideals.
The Stanford Tree is in a class by itself in a lot of ways. Stanford actually has no official mascot, but the Tree is associated with the Stanford marching band. It is representative of El Palo Alto, the Redwood tree that is the official symbol of Palo Alto, California, Stanford’s home.
The Stanford Tree is shabby, with multicolored leaves, googly eyes and a large cartoon smile. And much like the Stanford band, it is known for offbeat antics that can make opposing fans angry. Stanford is a unique place—so perhaps it makes sense that it has a unique mascot.
Frank Beamer will always have a prominent place in Virginia Tech history. Beamer, who retired following the 2015 season, took VT from a college football afterthought to a national name. It was an impressive evolution.
Much like the program itself, Virginia Tech’s image and mascot have gone through several evolutions. The program’s teams were originally known as the Fighting Gobblers, using a costumed turkey mascot. But in the late 1970s, football coach and athletic director Bill Dooley pushed for a change, and the Hokies nickname emerged.
With it emerged the HokieBird, a turkey-like figure with a large beak, a maroon body, large orange feet and feathered arms. What is a Hokie? It’s kind of like a turkey but not quite. HokieBird is quite popular among Virginia Tech fans—and with good reason. VT fans know they have a unique and strange mascot.
For a school with Baptist roots, Wake Forest has an unusual nickname. The school’s athletic teams were originally called the Fighting Baptists, but following a hard-fought victory over Duke in 1923, a local reporter said the Deacons “fought like Demons,” which led to the Demon Deacons becoming the program’s mascot.
The Deacon has since taken on the form of a gentlemanly Southern man wearing a tuxedo, top hat and tails. The idea of a “demonly” deacon is unusual, but Wake Forest makes it work. The Deacon now rides onto the field in a motorcycle before games to fire up crowds. He took an unusual path, but it appears the Demon Deacon is at Wake to stay.
Under Jeff Brohm’s watch, Western Kentucky is becoming one of the better mid-major programs in the FBS. The Hilltoppers put together a 12-2 mark in 2015 and won Conference USA, putting Brohm on the map for Power Five head coaching openings.
The ‘Toppers are on the right track. But they have a long way to go to match the fame of their mascot, Big Red. Big Red, an amorphous red blob, has been a hit with students and fans alike ever since his creation in 1979. He is the inaugural member of the Capital One Mascot Challenge Hall of Game and has been selected to participate in the popular challenge eight times.
He has been featured on several of ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” ads and is a popular figure on sidelines across the nation, no matter your team affiliation. No one really knows what Big Red is. He’s just Big Red, and that’s unique enough, without question.
West Virginia is known for its rugged terrain. The state is small but tough, covered by the Appalachian Mountain range. Its people are hard-nosed, so it makes sense that the state’s flagship university, West Virginia, has athletic teams known as the Mountaineers.
WVU doesn’t use a traditional costumed mascot to represent its teams. Rather, the program picks a student to serve as a mountaineer, clothed in buckskin and carrying a rifle. The university employs a selection committee to scan applicants, who must go through a tryout process that includes performing as the mountaineer at an athletic event.
Male mountaineers typically grow large, bushy beards as part of the process. Using a human mountaineer as a mascot is an unusual step, but West Virginia’s tradition has made it work very well.