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Behind the Furry Mask -- Strange But True Mascot Histories

Bridget Kulla

June 05, 2007

They perform in front of thousands of screaming fans. Their images appear on t-shirts. No, not the latest American Idol, it’s your college mascot. But do you know the story behind your favorite mascot? What’s a banana slug and why does it cheer for the University of California, Santa Cruz? Why is the University of Texas’ Longhorn named Bevo? Peek behind the furry mask to get the real story on some famous college mascots.

University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) Banana Slug

UCSC’s Banana Slugs are one of the most unusual mascots. The banana slug, a slimy bright yellow mollusk that is common in the campus’ redwood forests, may also be one of the ugliest mascots. So how did this little creature rise to fame?

The banana slug has been the unofficial mascot since UCSC’s early years. Students selected the Banana Slug as a reaction against the fierce competitiveness found at many college campuses. They wanted all students to be able to participate in athletics.

The Banana Slug wasn’t always the lauded mascot it is today. In 1980 five UCSC teams joined NCAA Division III and the university asked student-athletes to vote on a new name. Students selected the sea lions, but most students still rooted for the Banana Slugs. In 1986 another vote was taken and an overwhelming majority preferred the Banana Slug. Despite the initial resistance of the school’s chancellor, the Banana Slug was selected as the official mascot. Today Sammy the Banana Slug appears at UCSC sporting events and other functions. As the shirts of members of UCSC’s tennis team say, "Banana Slugs-No Known Predators." And that includes sea lions.

Saint Joseph’s University Hawk

When St. Joseph’s University moved to its current location outside of Philadelphia in the 1920s, students and professors spotted hawks swooping down around the hilly campus. The hawk mascot was thus adopted.

In the 1950s students attempted to get a live hawk to be displayed at sporting events. The real hawk didn’t happen, but a costumed “hawk” first made its appearance. Today The Hawk is famous for constantly flapping its wings from tip-off to the final buzzer of every basketball game. During time-outs The Hawk makes figure eights around the court. ESPN once measured The Hawk’s flapping with a “flapometer” and estimated that The Hawk flaps its wings about 3,500 times per game.

University of Texas (UT) Longhorns

The UT football team has gone by the name “Longhorns” since 1906, but a mascot didn’t make an appearance at sporting events until ten years later. Stephen Pickney, a UT class of 1911 alumnus, collected $1.00 from each of 124 alumni and purchased a longhorn steer to parade on the field during football games.

There are various stories about how the longhorn gained the name Bevo. The most popular story involves the Longhorns losing to their rivals, the Texas A&M University Aggies. According to the story, Texas A&M fans snuck up on the steer and branded 13-0 on its side. This brand was the score of a 1915 football game where the Aggies defeated the Longhorns. UT students changed this brand to read “Bevo,” which was the name of a popular nonalcoholic beer at the time, and the UT Longhorn mascot Bevo was born. The original Bevo died in 1920, but students didn’t mourn for long; they enjoyed a Bevo barbeque.

Bevo officially became the school’s mascot in 1966. Today Bevo XIII presides at UT sporting events.

University of Notre Dame Leprechaun

The Leprechaun became the official mascot of the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish in 1965. While the Leprechaun is a well-recognized mascot today, it wasn’t always that way. Before the Leprechaun, a series of Irish terrier dogs served as the school’s mascot after football head coach Knute Rockne was given one in 1930. The dogs went by the name Clashmore Mike and last made an appearance as mascot in 1963.

The Leprechaun brandishes a shillelagh, which is an Irish fighting stick, and is supposed to bring good luck to the Irish team. Being selected to be the Leprechaun is no easy task. Potential Leprechauns must go through a rigorous try-out process where candidates go through mock media interviews, perform sequences to be used during pep rallies, and complete physical fitness tests. An “Irish heart” is said to be a characteristic of the mascot, but you don’t have to have Irish blood to perform the part—the 2006 squad Leprechaun is a native of Mexico City.

Not only do college sports mascots get to enjoy the cheers of the crowd, but many are also awarded scholarships. Mascots win even when their teams don’t.

For more information about college mascots, check out The Handbook of Mascot and Nicknames.

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