Mascot Mania
by Brian North

Madness has piqued my curiosity in mascots. I have now wasted lots of valuable time consumed by these big, funny looking creatures. I blame the San Diego Chicken. He is the Michael Jordan of mascots.

Some mascots make sense, some don't. Pirates are associated with the coast of North Carolina, so the ECU Pirates fits. The UNC-Wilmington Seahawks, easy to see where they got that idea. The Stanford Cardinal has me confused. It's a color (think red), not the bird or the religious figure. They used to be the Stanford Indians but changed the name in 1972 out of respect to the Native Americans who thought it demeaning. There is no official school mascot, but the school band came up with a redwood tree costume, and that is what represents the school at athletic events. It's too complicated. I met the tree this weekend in Charlotte during the NCAA Tournament, and when I asked him what the deal was, he told me to make like him and leave.

Many schools have mascots that don't match the name. My alma mater James Madison University came up with its nickname from the second president of the college, Samuel Page Duke. Then they put on a crown on a bulldog and voila, the Dukes. The Iowa State Cyclones have a bird named "Cy", I guess because it's too hard to make swirling air cuddly for the kids. And Virginia Tech took a word out of the school song for its mascot. But even though there is now such thing as a "Hokie", someone runs around in a turkey suit during games perpetuating a myth.

There are plenty of Vikings and Tigers and Bulldogs that dot the landscape. I am fascinated by the unusual. The Mid-American Conference has some of the most unique; The Akron Zips, Toledo Rockets, Central Michigan Chippewas, & Kent State Golden Flashes. I love the Campbell Camels, although I have never seen an actual camel in North Carolina. The Drexel Dragons, The Idaho Vandals, The TCU Horned Frogs, the St. Peter's Peacocks, and Tulane Green Wave conjure up interesting images. Then there are those nicknames that make historical sense, the UMASS Minutemen, the Dayton Flyers, the George Washington Colonials, the VMI Keydets. I am still learning about the Canisius Golden Griffins, the South Illinois Salukis, and the Wichita State Shockers, but that gives me something to look forward to.

I haven't even scratched the surface with high school mascots. My high school was the Hartford Tanagers (red & black bird). We had rivals like the Granville Golden Horde, the Fort Edward Flying Forts, and the Warrensburg Burgers. I have been in eastern North Carolina almost seven years, and I still have yet to be given a satisfactory answer to the origins of the Rose Rampants and the Washington Pam Pack, although there are many rumors. But on the flip side, I am well educated on the Rocky Mount Gryphons (think a lion with wings).

Mascots have also provided some of the most memorable moments for fans. I will never forget a 1995 football game when the JMU Duke Dog was attacked by the rats at VMI after he taunted them with his bone (lets keep it clean here). One ear was pulled off, along with his tail, and his head was about to be ripped off when a bunch of football players came to his aid swinging their helmets and knocking people out. The absurdity of it all still makes me laugh.

But its not easy walking in those over sized shoes. Other strange mascot occurrences:

September 1989 -- Miami's Sebastian the Ibis leads the Hurricanes onto the field for their annual clash with Florida State carrying a fire extinguisher -- intending to douse the Seminoles' famous flaming spear. Five police officers surround the mascot, slam him against a wall and empty his extinguisher.

October 1992 -- A fight between mascots breaks out during Northeast Louisiana's homecoming game against Northwestern State, with Northwestern's Vic the Demon landing a series of haymakers after Chief Brave Spirit rips off his head.

April 1994 -- Arizona's Wilbur Wildcat blows out his knee tackling Arkansas' Razorbacks from behind during a Final Four game.

August 1994 -- Colorado Rockies radio announcer Jeff Kingery shoves and curses Dinger the Dinosaur after the team mascot falls down a step and bumps into the broadcaster during game action.

February 1995 -- During an ESPN-televised timeout, the Stanford Tree and Cal's Oski engage in a legendary wrestling match after Oski apparently taunts the Stanford student section. The two have to be separated by police, but no charges are filed.

October 1995 -- In separate incidents less than a week apart, Seattle's Mariner Moose roller blades into an outfield wall, breaking his ankle, and the Cleveland Indians' Slider falls six feet off an outfield wall, tearing his knee ligament.

October 1995 -- Cal offensive tackle Tarik Glenn slugs Benny Beaver on his way into the locker room after the Oregon mascot -- a 5-foot-9, 135-pound woman -- taps the 6-6, 330-pounder on the shoulder with an inflatable hammer. Later that season, Arizona's 6-5, 305-pound Frank Middleton punches Benny in the head.

October 1995 -- The Anaheim Mighty Ducks' Wild Wing performs a stunt in which he jumps a "wall of fire" ... but doesn't make it all the way over and is set aflame.

September 1997 -- While waiting inside a zamboni machine as part of an unveiling ceremony before the Carolina Hurricanes' first preseason game, the person playing the mascot Stormy has a major anxiety attack, never comes out and is taken to the hospital.

July 2000 -- Florida's Billy the Marlin accidentally hits an elderly man in the eye with a tightly wadded T-shirt launched out of a pressurized gun, temporarily knocking him unconscious. The man later files suit but it is unsuccessful.

Brian North