This morning, I began my countdown of Division I-A teams with lame histories of live mascots.
With only a handful of noteworthy exceptions, no school outside of the University of Georgia seems to know how to do the live mascot thing right, as virtually every other institution somehow manages to pick a pitiful symbol, kill off its representative animal, or give up altogether and go with some guy in a costume his mother made for him.
If your mascot looked like this, wouldn't you expect to lose four road games a year in S.E.C. stadiums by 42-7 margins?
Picking up where I left off, here are the next schools to appear on the lame mascot countdown:
- Kentucky, like many teams with the ubiquitous "Wildcat" nickname, has a live mascot . . . only the E.S.P.N. College Football Encyclopedia reports that the creature "resides with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife."
- The Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns used to be known as the Southwestern Louisiana Bulldogs and the school's live canine mascot survived the demise of the football team's former nickname. When the bulldog also perished in the late 1970s, the university opted for a series of costumed sideline characters that included the tuxedo-clad Cajun Chicken, his successor Cajun Man, and, ultimately, Cayenne the Cajun Pepper.
They'd have been better off sticking with a bulldog.
- L.S.U., of course, has Mike, the live Bengal tiger who stalks the sidelines in Baton Rouge. The Bayou Bengals' mascot stopped going on the road with the football team after his cage overturned on Airline Highway and the squad's fortunes have waxed and waned with the animal's over the years: Mike I died of pneumonia during a six-game losing streak in 1956 and Mike III passed away after the Fighting Tigers went 5-6 in 1975, marking the only losing campaign of that particular mascot's 18-year tenure.
- Marshall used to bring a live buffalo to games, but, in 1971, the mascot managed to get out of his cage at halftime, whereupon he proceeded to try eating the new turf. That incident convinced the Thundering Herd athletic administration to switch to a papier-mache costume worn by two students simultaneously, which sounds more like a "Laverne & Shirley" episode than a football mascot.
- In 1927, a pair of Alaskan wolverines from the Detroit Zoo were taken to a game in Ann Arbor as mascots for the Michigan football team. The animals displayed a degree of ferocity that persuaded school officials not to invite them to a second contest.
Apparently, he's a little too nasty to take to a game in the Big House.
- For a single season in 1909, Michigan State had a brown bear for its live mascot, but the Spartans evidently believed "Brewer's Bruin" was too cool for their school and decided to turn over the sideline duties to a guy in a fraternity-designed costume perhaps best described as Dudley Do-Right meets the Village People.
- Mississippi State began keeping live bulldogs for mascots in 1935, when Bully I assumed the post following M.S.U.'s win over Army at West Point. Bully I ended his run "when a campus bus cut short his career" in 1939. The Starkville school currently is represented by Bully XIX . . . that's 18 live mascots in the last 67 years, which averages out to fewer than four years per Bully.
- Between 1894 and 1904, the U.S. Naval Academy was represented on the sidelines by a dog, a cat, and a carrier pigeon before the Midshipmen finally came to be symbolized by a goat.
- Soon after the New Mexico sports teams came to be known as the Lobos in 1920, a government trapper snagged a wolf near Mount Taylor and the animal became the U.N.M. mascot. The wolf was brought to football games on a leash and he remained on the sidelines until a child teased the mascot and was bitten, prompting the school to get rid of the animal "for fear other ill-bred brats might become tempted to play with the wolf and bring a damage suit." Speaking of suits, costumed characters named Lobo Louie and Lobo Lucy since have taken the place of the lone wolf.
The threat of civil litigation forced Claude Akins from the New Mexico sideline.
- North Carolina State used to have a live coyote to represent the Wolfpack, but that tradition has given way to a male student in a wolf costume and a metal wolf . . . who, in the eyes of N.C.S.U., are married.
- Northern Illinois once kept live dogs for mascots. Now, however, N.I.U. has gone the costumed sideline character route and the school presently trots out Victor E. Huskie. Laura Schlembach, who served as Victor E. Huskie for the 2002 season, had this to say about her first day on the job: "They just handed me this large bag . . . and it was the worst smell ever. The next game I came prepared. I brought Febreze. I brought dryer sheets. I made that thing smell so nice."
- Do you believe that Northwestern used to keep a bear caged on the sidelines? It's true; in 1923, prior to the adoption of the "Wildcat" moniker, N.U. fielded Furpaw, a cub from the Lincoln Park Zoo who was brought to home games. Northwestern went 2-6 that season and Furpaw was banished, based on the belief that he had brought the team bad luck. If so, the animal was a particularly powerful talisman, as the Wildcats have had just 26 winning seasons in the 82 years since.
- From 1965 to the present day, Notre Dame has been represented on the sidelines by that irritating and culturally insensitive leprechaun, but, before that, the Fighting Irish were symbolized by a series of terriers, commencing in 1930 with Brick Top Shaun-Rhu. Yes, that's right . . . a terrier named Brick Top Shaun-Rhu.
"Brick Top! Shaun-Rhu . . . rusted! Love Shack, baby, Love Shack. . . ."
To be continued. . . .