The Stories Behind the 68 March Madness Mascots
There are 68 colleges and universities in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, all with their own ambassadors roaming the sidelines and the stands—and each mascot has its own story.
EAST REGIONAL TEAMS:
1 SEED. VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY WILDCATS
Will D. Cat most closely resembles the bobcat, which the Pennsylvania-based university’s official website admits is usually found in the Southwest United States.
2. UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
3. UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA SOONERS
Boomer and Sooner are the anthropomorphic ponies that represent the actual ponies that pull the Sooner Schooner. Technically, the Sooner Schooner wagon remains the official mascot of the University. A “sooner” was someone who managed to legally enter the Oklahoma Territory and pick his or her piece of land early on the day of the “Oklahoma Land Run.”
4. UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
The Cardinal Bird has the nicknames “Louie” and “C.B.” He was created sometime after 1913. The Cardinal is the official state bird of Kentucky.
5. UNIVERSITY OF NORTHERN IOWA PANTHERS
TC Panther became better known as “The Cat” in the mid-1980s—hence the TC. Initially, in the 1930s, his first name was Pericles.
6. PROVIDENCE COLLEGE FRIARS
Friar Dom was listed as one of the eight creepiest college mascots by Life magazine. The college’s first few mascots were live dalmatians, the first named “Friar of What-Ho,” followed by Friar Boys I-V.
7. MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY SPARTANS
Sparty is seven feet tall, and the costume weighs 40 pounds. In a 1925 contest, “The Michigan Staters” won out to replace the nickname “Aggies,” but the Lansing State Journal sports editor used “Spartans” instead.
8. NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY WOLFPACK
Mr. and Mrs. Wuf were married in 1981. Tuffy is their live mascot, a German shepherd, Alaskan malamute, and Siberian husky mix called a Tamaskan. Live wolves used to be used, including Lobo III, until it was discovered that Lobo III was actually a coyote. In 1946, a student built a seven-foot tall mechanical robot wolf that gave the football team good luck.
9. LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY IN BATON ROUGE TIGERS
Mike the Tiger is the live and costumed mascot. He was given the name in honor of Athletic Director trainer Chellis “Mike” Chambers, who was a key part of purchasing the first tiger for the university in 1934.
10. UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Uga, the white English bulldog live mascot, got its name from the abbreviation of the university’s name. Ugas I-VIII are buried in marked marble vaults inside the football stadium. The costumed mascot is Hairy Dawg, who was designed quickly for the 1981 Sugar Bowl to compete with the University of Florida’s new mascot, which made Georgia’s old mascot look dull and uninspiring.
11. BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY BRONCOS and UNIVERSITY OF DAYTON FLYERS
Buster Bronco wears a #0 Boise State football jersey and a #54 Boise State basketball jersey. The Bronco was chosen as the nickname by students in 1932 because most students rode horses at the time. The 2008 children’s book Buster Becomes A Bronco is based on Buster Bronco.
Rudy Flyer is a pilot that wears vintage goggles and a pilot’s helmet. The nickname “Flyers” and Rudy Flyer’s name are tributes to the Wright brothers.
12. UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING COWBOYS
Pistol Pete is a cowboy, not to be confused with Oklahoma State’s Pistol Pete, or New Mexico State’s Pistol Pete. At football games, the pony Cowboy Joe IV trots around the stadium after a Wyoming score.
13. UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE ANTEATERS
Peter the Anteater is supposedly 50 years old and minors in Myrmecology. Peter was partly inspired by a character in the B.C. comic strip and was picked in a truly beautiful display of ’60s counter-culturalism. Fun fact: An astronaut took a three inch tall plush toy version of Peter on the space shuttle Endeavor.
14. UNIVERSITY AT ALBANY, STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK GREAT DANES
Damien, the Great Dane replaced a penguin named Pedwin in 1965. A “baby” Dane named Lil’ D started to accompany Damien in 2003.
15. BELMONT UNIVERSITY BRUINS
Bruiser the Bruin doesn’t have a favorite saying, because “mascots don’t talk.” The Nashville, Tennessee school changed its nickname to Bruins from “Rebels” to end any perceived associations with the Confederacy in 1995.
16. LAFAYETTE COLLEGE LEOPARDS
The Leopard was announced as the official mascot in a recap of a 1924 student council meeting. Three years later, another article claimed that there was no definitive explanation as to why “Leopards” was chosen.
SOUTH REGIONAL TEAMS:
1 SEED. DUKE UNIVERSITY BLUE DEVILS
The Blue Devil was one of many nominees in a 1921 contest to determine a university nickname. The contest ended with no conclusive winners, but the student newspaper started to refer to the university’s teams as the Blue Devils anyway, and it eventually caught on. It was inspired by the Chasseurs Alpins, a group of blue cape- and beret-wearing French soldiers, which were nicknamed “les Diables Bleus.” They were known for their courage during World War I, and even raised money in support of the war effort in the United States.
2. GONZAGA UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
Spike the Bulldog is the most recent Gonzaga mascot that isn’t a live dog. The first time the school had a human mascot was when a student in 1980 wore a cape and called himself “Captain Zag.”
3. IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY CYCLONES
Cy the Cardinal debuted at the 1954 Homecoming game, and a student was chosen “out of pity” to be the first person to wear the costume after he was cut from the basketball team. He missed a year when, in 1961, Cy was “plucked to death” during a migration to Missouri.
4. GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY HOYAS
In 1962, students bought a bulldog and tried to call him “Hoya,” but he would only respond to his given name of Jack, and the name Jack the Bulldog stuck. “Hoya” came from when Georgetown’s teams were known as “The Stonewalls.” It’s believed that a student combined Greek and Latin to cheer “Hoya Saxa,” or “What Rocks!”
5. UNIVERSITY OF UTAH UTES
Swoop is a red-tailed hawk that first appeared on the Salt Lake City campus in 1996. The University says that their nickname “Utes” is used with the Ute Tribal Council’s permission.
6. SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS
Peruna is a black shetland pony. Peruna IX attended summer band practices to get used to game noise before he made his first appearance at a school football game. He also attends the commencement of incoming freshmen and senior graduation. A costumed representation of Peruna attends the basketball games.
7. UNIVERSITY OF IOWA HAWKEYES
Herky the Hawk was a cartoon character in 1948 before becoming a gold felt feathered costumed mascot in the mid-1950s. The nickname “Hawkeye” might come from the state of Iowa’s nickname, which came from the famous character in the novel The Last of the Mohicans.
8. SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY AZTECS
9. ST. JOHN’S UNIVERSITY RED STORM
Johnny the Thunderbird first appeared on the sidelines in 2009, the first mascot for the school in nearly ten years after the costumed horses Thunder and Lightning were sent packing. The Red Storm were known as the Redmen until 1994.
10. DAVIDSON COLLEGE WILDCATS
The Davidson wildcat has the uninspired name of Mr. Cat. But in the early days of the school, the mascots were the children of professors and the team was commonly called the “Presbyterians.” Wildcats was chosen because it sounded a bit tougher.
11. UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES BRUINS
Joe Bruin is a costumed bear that has served as UCLA’s mascot since the mid-1960s. He is sometimes joined by a female bear, Josephine (or Josie). In 1926, UCLA wanted to change from being the Cubs to being the Grizzlies, but Montana already owned that name. So when UC Berkeley (which was using both Bears and Bruins) voted to drop the Bruin name, UCLA gobbled it up.
12. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN STATE UNIVERSITY LUMBERJACKS
13. EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY EAGLES
Swoop the Eagle came about after students and alumni voted for the nickname Eagles to replace the very outdated “Savages” in 1973.
14. UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM BLAZERS
Blaze is a fire-breathing European dragon. He got his start at a 1996 basketball game.
15. NORTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY BISON
Thundar represents the Bison, which North Dakota adopted as the team name in 1922, when the head coach of the university’s football team insisted on a stronger sounding nickname than the Aggies.
16. UNIVERSITY OF NORTH FLORIDA OSPREYS and ROBERT MORRIS UNIVERSITY COLONIALS
Ozzie and Harriet Osprey are diurnal fish-eating raptors. In 1979, a faculty member was so horrified at the thought of a Seagull representing the school that he conducted a one-man write-in campaign to get the osprey elected as the official mascot.
RoMo the Colonial will be a part of the NCAA men’s tournament for the first time since 2010.
MIDWEST REGION TEAMS:
1 SEED. UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY WILDCATS
The Wildcat started attending games in the 1976-77 academic year. Wildcats became UK’s nickname after a commandant said that the football team “fought like wildcats” after a 1909 victory. Sometimes Scratch, the more “child-friendly” mascot, joins The Wildcat.
2. UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Big Jay first appeared in the early 20th century, and Baby Jay in 1971, hatching out of a big egg at the Homecoming football game. The term Jayhawk came from Kansas settlers and combines the blue jay and sparrow hawk.
3. UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
The Leprechaun was named the official mascot in 1965, after a series of Irish terrier dogs served the role. They were usually named Clashmore Mike.
4. MARYLAND UNIVERSITY TERRAPINS
Testudo came into being in 1932, when Maryland’s football coach recommended the Diamondback terrapin for a mascot, changing the athletic teams’ current nickname of the Old Liners. The origin of the name Testudo is unknown, but it might be due to turtles being reptiles of the order Chelonii, or Testudines.
5. WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY MOUNTAINEERS
The Mountaineer has been around since the mid-1930s. It’s custom for the student to grow a beard to go along with the outfit.
6. BUTLER UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
Butler Blue III is currently their live bulldog mascot. The original nickname “Christians” changed in 1919 after a bulldog owned by one of the fraternities walked into the college paper’s office as they were trying to think of a way to inspire the student body before a big game.
7. WICHITA STATE UNIVERSITY SHOCKERS
WuShock represents the Shockers, named as such after many of the 1904 players on the school’s football team earned offseason money harvesting, or “shocking”, wheat. (Wheaties was the term given to pep club members.) A nameless shock of wheat rooted for Wichita State until a 1948 student newspaper poll produced a moniker.
8. University of Cincinnati Bearcats
The Bearcat, at least in name, originated on Halloween 1914 in a football game against Kentucky. A Cincinnati cheerleader turned fullback Leonard K. “Teddy” Baehr’s last name into a pun by shouting: “They may be Wildcats, but we have a Baehr-cat on our side.” The use of the word “bearcat” to mean a forceful person with great energy began in the 1910s.
9. PURDUE UNIVERSITY BOILERMAKERS
The Boilermaker Special—a vehicle outfitted to look like a Victorian-era steam engine locomotive—is the official mascot. The Boilermaker nickname came from an 1891 Crawfordsville, Indiana newspaper article documenting Purdue’s 44-0 football victory over Wabash College titled “Slaughter Of Innocents,” where Purdue was referred to as “Burly Boiler Makers.” There’s also Purdue Pete, who was dreamt up by the University Bookstore in 1940 to help promote business, and started going to games in 1956. Pete’s head once flew out of the back of The Boilermaker Special and was never found.
10. INDIANA UNIVERSITY HOOSIERS
Indiana does not have a mascot. They used to be represented by a bison in the late 1960s, but the costume was considered an “embarrassment” to the school [PDF]. A cowboy hat wearing caricature called “Mr. Hoosier Pride” appeared in 1979, but fans weren’t happy then either. The etymology of “Hoosier” is debated, but the leading theory is that it was a derogatory term.
11. UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN LONGHORNS
12. UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO BULLS
Victor E. Bull was first partnered with his sister Victoria S. Bull in 2001. A 175-pound bison head known as “Boscoe” was the first mascot, but its current whereabouts are unknown.
13. VALPARAISO UNIVERSITY CRUSADERS
The Valparaiso Crusader replaced the original Uhlan mascot during World War II, because an Uhlan is a violent German knight.
14. NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY HUSKIES
Paws and the live mascot King Husky VIII share mascot duties. Paws was introduced in 2003, Husky VIII in 2005.
15. NEW MEXICO STATE UNIVERSITY AGGIES
Pistol Pete is confusingly New Mexico State’s mascot, just like Wyoming, as well as Oklahoma State, who sued the Las Cruces, New Mexico college for plagiarism. Pete is based on Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton, a cowboy who became a deputy U.S. Marshal at 17 years old in 1877.
16. MANHATTAN COLLEGE JASPERS and HAMPTON UNIVERSITY PIRATES
No mascot, but the nickname comes from Brother Jasper of Mary, FSC, the school’s first athletic director, who may or may not have invented the seventh inning stretch.
The Pirate won out as the mascot of Hampton University over Seasiders, Ironmen, Buccaneers, and Wildcats in a 1933 vote.
WEST REGIONAL TEAMS:
1 SEED. UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON BADGERS
Buckingham U. Badger, better known as Bucky Badger, has a Library of Congress designated birth date of October 2, 1940 (the day that his likeness was officially copyrighted). The nickname Badgers comes from Wisconsin being “The Badger State,” which came from land miners in the 1820s “living like badgers” in tunnels to survive harsh Wisconsin winters.
2. UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA WILDCATS
Wilbur T. Wildcat married Wilma Wildcat on November 21, 1986, a little over six months after they met on a blind date. Wilbur first appeared in 1959, gradually taking main mascot duties from Rufus Arizona, a live desert bobcat.
3. BAYLOR UNIVERSITY BEARS
Judge “Joy” Reynolds and Judge Sue Sloan, or “Lady,” are bears named after the wives of the 11th and 12th school presidents, respectively. The costumed mascot is Bruiser the Bear. Bears were voted as the mascot in 1914 by Baylor students.
4. UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL TAR HEELS
Rameses is both the costumed and live ram mascot for the school. Their head cheerleader in 1924 was inspired by star player Jack Merrit’s nickname, the “Battering Ram,” and convinced the powers that be to give him $25 to pay for Rameses. Tar Heels comes from the nickname for the state of North Carolina and its inhabitants. For a while it was considered derogatory, and its origin is debated.
5. UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS
Big Red, along with his female partner Sue E., the kid-sized Pork Chop, and the nine foot inflatable Boss Hog, are the costumed mascots. The 500 pound Russian boar Tusk III is the official live mascot.
6. XAVIER UNIVERSITY MUSKETEERS
D’Artagnan is the official costumed mascot, while the Blue Blob serves a “secondary mascot.” Father Francis J. Finn, S.J. proposed the nickname in 1925.
7. VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY RAMS
Rodney the Ram replaced a Green Devil in 1963. His co-workers in the past have included Rhonda the Ewe and Air Rodney.
8. UNIVERSITY OF OREGON DUCKS
The Oregon Duck is based on Donald Duck, thanks to a licensing agreement with Disney. The school used to use Puddles, an actual duck, as well as his progeny, until the early 1940s.
9. OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY COWBOYS
Pistol Pete is OSU’s mascot, just like Wyoming and New Mexico State, who as you know are also in the tournament. Formerly known as Oklahoma A&M, the Stillwater, Oklahoma university was known officially as the Tigers. In 1924, a sports editor started calling them the “A&M Cowboys.” One year earlier, Frank B. ‘Pistol Pete” Eaton headed Stillwater’s Armistice Day parade and made a lasting impression. In 1957, Oklahoma A&M college became Oklahoma State University of Agriculture and Applied Science.
10. OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY BUCKEYES
Brutus Buckeye began as papier-mâché costume worn over the head and torso, with legs sticking out, in 1965. Brutus was the result of an all-campus naming contest. The buckeye is the official state tree of Ohio.
11. UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI REBELS and BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY COUGARS
Rebel, The Black Bear is an anthropomorphic black bear who replaced Colonel Reb in 2010. Rebel received more votes in determining Colonel Reb’s replacement than Star Wars high ranking commander Admiral Ackbar, despite an internet campaign supporting Ackbar’s candidacy.
Cosmo the Cougar made his first appearance in 1953, when the pep chairman of Brigham Young University bought the costume for $73 and convinced his roommate to wear it. 29 years earlier, someone—or two someones—supposedly captured a mother cougar and her three kittens and brought two of the kittens to campus, giving the Provo school their nickname.
12. WOFFORD COLLEGE TERRIERS
13. HARVARD UNIVERSITY CRIMSON
Two rowers in the 1850s gave their teams crimson scarves so the spectators could tell which was the Harvard team. One of the rowers became president of the university and when he stepped down, the school voted to make the color of the bandanas the official color.
14. GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY PANTHERS
Pounce is a panther with blue fur. Initially, Georgia State went with the nickname Owls because they were a night school.
15. TEXAS SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY TIGERS
Tex and Rex the Tigers represent the Southwestern Athletic Conference champions.
16. COASTAL CAROLINA UNIVERSITY CHANTICLEERS
Chaucer the Chanticleer (SHON-ti-clear) is named after the author of The Canterbury Tales. As the university explains, in the “Nun’s Priest Tale,” the Chanticleer is a “proud and fierce rooster who dominates the barnyard.”