University of Wisconsin-Madison
Admittedly, Bucky Badger looks like something fished out of Jim Henson’s attic and it would be terrifying to run into anybody with a head that large in a darkened alleyway. But don’t sweat it. Bucky means well.
Beginning life as an angry-looking cartoon badger in the 1930s, the Wisconsin mascot is frequently pictured in a red and white striped sweater. When feeling ornery, the image has been known to lace up a pair of boxing gloves. The original Bucky was an actual badger, but one with a pretty explosive temper. Intimidating though it might have been to the competition, this Bucky was retired to a nearby zoo before his rookie season was through.The anthropomorphic Bucky made his debut in 1949, when head cheerleader Bill Sagal burrowed into an elegant papier-mâché and chickenwire-constructed head. Consistent with both the cartoon version and the real-life thing, Bucky is kind of cantankerous. His face has historically been glued into a rather hostile expression, and his habit of seeking out fisticuffs with opposing mascots is well known.
Meet the most legendary college mascots….you know, the ones with street cred. But in Bucky’s defense, it takes a lot of pep to do his job with a head that large. Bucky has to stay in prime fighting condition so he can keep up the tradition of performing one pushup for every point that Wisconsin scores in a game. Though Bucky’s expression softened a bit when he graduated from the massive papier-mâché head to a modern felt one, he proved his toughness by rocking out 83 pushups following a 2010 drubbing of the Indiana Hoosiers.
In 2006, Bucky became a charter member of the Mascot Hall of Fame’s College Division.
Michigan State University
Among the nation’s best known mascots in spite of his relatively junior status, Sparty has racked up quite the reputation during his few short years on this earth. Looking not unlike George Clooney on performance-enhancing drugs, the Spartan warrior casts a striking seven foot figure on the sidelines.
Michigan State has employed Spartan imagery in relation to its athletics programs since changing its team nickname from the Aggies way back in 1925. However, Sparty would emerge in all his foam rubber glory more than 60 years on. The lantern-jawed legionary made his debut in 1989 but has since become a fixture on the national college sports scene.
Don’t let it bother you that his attire is largely of Roman origin and that Sparta’s warrior contingent had been long dead by the time of Rome’s imperial crusade. Save the historical accuracy for the classroom. On the football field, Sparty is the perfect combination of agility and hilarity.
Certainly, these are the features which propelled him to top honors at the 2004 Best Mascot National Championship. After becoming the first Big Ten Conference mascot to top the competition, he repeated the feat in the following year and once again two years later. These accomplishments made his induction as part of the inaugural 2006 College Division Mascot Hall of Fame a logical choice.
Sparty also holds the unusual distinction of being the only non-athlete to grace the cover of an EA Sports video game, serving as the face of Wii’s NCAA Football 09.
Unlike the famous slumps that followed many an NFL star’s appearance on the Madden NFL game, Sparty would continue to perform his job at an extremely high level in the seasons that followed.
Aubie The Tiger
For a vicious, carnivorous beast, Aubie is actually quite cuddly. He looks more like the stuffed titular tiger who waxed philosophical in Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes comics than a fearsome predator. Perhaps this is not such a far-fetched comparison. After all, Aubie was in actuality inspired by the mischievous (and occasionally ferocious) cartoon feline who made his first appearance on a game program in 1959.
He became a regular fixture over the next two decades and led his football team (probably with the help of some coaches and players) to a 63-16-2 home record during his first 18 years as a cover star.
Aubie truly came to life during the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament of 1979 when a 500 pound Siberian tiger escaped its enclosure and turned on the marching band. Just kidding. Wanted to see if you were paying attention.
Aubie came to life when the University reached out to Brooks-Van Horn Costumes, a vendor that routinely collaborated with Disney, and commissioned a real-life Aubie. The real Aubie would never hurt a living soul, unless you count his competition at the National Mascot Championships. Even though a different student dons the costume each year, Aubie has amassed an unprecedented eight titles. At the time of writing, he is also the reigning Capital One Mascot of the Year.
In 2006, this added up to a slot in the College Division’s inaugural National Mascot Hall of Fame class.
University of Delaware
Few college mascots can boast the kind of backstory and pedigree attributed to YoUDee. (By the by, that needlessly confusing word is pronounced “Yoo-Dee”).
Legend has it that YoUDee’s great-great-great grandfather served in the American Revolutionary War alongside the second company of the 1st Delaware Regiment. They were commonly known as the Fighting Delawares for their ferocity in battle. It was, however, the enthusiasm of Captain John Caldwell for fighting gamecocks, specifically the also-ferocious-in-battle blue hens, that earned his company the nickname “blue hen’s chickens.”
It is thus that the University of Delaware was referring to its athletes as Blue Hens by the turn of the 20th Century. By all accounts, YoUDee made his first appearance in 1911. Legend has it that he wears gold in tribute to the Medal of Valor awarded his aforementioned ancestor for service in the Battle of Trenton.
Of course, YoUDee is no stranger to recognition either. In 2006, he joined Aubie, Sparty, and Bucky Badger as part of the inaugural class for the College Division of the Mascot Hall of Fame.
The Oregon Duck
University of Oregon
There are a number of universities on our list who commissioned Disney or its related costume-design houses for assistance with mascot construction. The University of Oregon is the only one, however, that simply borrowed a fully developed Disney character as the face of its athletics program.
But a little on the school’s mascot history before we get to Oregon’s relationship with the world’s most famous pantsless cartoon duck. Beginning in the 1890s, the athletics teams associated with Oregon were referred to as the Webfoots. This was in tribute to a collection of fisherman who had served in an heroic capacity during the War for American Independence. The informal attribution became official in 1926 and soon invited connections to a certain webfooted water fowl.
By the end of the decade, a live white duck named “Puddles” became a regular attendee of Oregon sporting events. The teams themselves became known informally as the Ducks, particular in college and sports press. With the start of the 1940s, cartoon drawings of Puddles began to look suspiciously like Donald Duck, so much so that Walt Disney was made privy to the potential copyright infringement. In 1947, the school’s athletic director Leo Harris invoked his personal friendship with a Disney cartoonist in order to obtain permission to use Donald’s likeness.
The agreement was based on a handshake only, which resulted in a 1973 inquiry by Disney’s lawyers into Oregon Donald. When Harris produced a photograph that showed both he and the now-deceased Walt Disney together in matching Oregon Donald jackets, the parties reached a formal agreement granting the school use of Donald’s image in accordance with Disney’s presumed wishes.
In 1978, a student offered an alternative to the Disney character named Mallard Drake. Mallard, once described by a hostile UO student as “sleazy,” was defeated in a student vote by a decisive mark of two-to-one, making Donald the uncontested alpha-bird in the Oregon pond.
Though part of the agreement required the wearer of the Oregon Donald costume to conduct his or her self always in accordance with the wholesome image that we’ve come to associate with the Disney brand, the Oregon Duck gained national attention (much of it positive) for attacking the Houston Cougars mascot, Shasta, during the 2007 season opener.
Gus The Gorilla
Pittsburgh State University
In its earliest days, the school that would become Pittsburgh State was known as the State Manual Training Normal School. It was thus that its athletics teams competed under equally inspiring alternate nicknames, the Pittsburg Manuals or the Pittsburg Normalites. It is almost certainly for the best that the school’s pep club dubbed its members “Gorillas” during their inaugural meeting in 1920.
That characterization proved a popular one among the rowdy supporters of the school’s growing athletics program. When an art student was commissioned to illustrate the emergent student symbol in 1923, Gus Gorilla was born. Just two years later, he gained full favor of the student body and was adopted as the official mascot. It is thus that in a nation of wildcats, cougars, and nearly every breed of bird you can name, Gus is the only Gorilla in all of college sports.
Originally more ferocious in appearance, Gus would soften over the years. Surely some of that had to do with finding true love with Gussie the Gorilla in 1952. Today, he is a cherished fixture at the university and stands out among college mascots for the plausibility of having opposable thumbs and the ability to wave a flag. (No offense Syracuse, but you show me one real-life orange who can wave a flag).
In addition to being one of the most popular, unique, and enduring mascots in college sports, if you squint your eyes during halftime at a Pitt basketball game, you could swear you were watching Teen Wolf.
Sebastian the Ibis
University of Miami
The short answer to why the Miami Hurricanes chose a bird as their mascot is because it’s hard to design a costume that looks like a tropical cyclone. Of course, there’s more to it than that. The University of Miami began its association with the imagery of the Ibis nearly a century ago. The graceful marsh bird made its first appearance in a 1926 yearbook and was selected for the bravery that the breed shows in the face of an approaching hurricane. In other words, the bird is friends with the hurricane, so the mascot totally makes sense.
The ibis remained as a symbol of the school during the ensuing decades, though it was not yet the school’s official mascot. In 1950, that title belonged to a massive brown and white boxer dog named Hurricane I.
Seven years later, Sebastian the Ibis was invented, becoming the official school mascot by 1958. Over the course of the following decades, many donned Sebastian’s beak, but among the most notable was John Routh. Between 1984 and 1992, Routh was the great Ibis before getting the call-up as Billy the Marlin for Major League Baseball’s expansion Florida Marlins.
This is quite an accomplishment for a bird that, in 1989, was handcuffed by police officers during a game against the Florida State Seminoles for dressing as a fireman and attempting to extinguish rival mascot Chief Osceola’s flaming spear.
Brutus the Buckeye
The Ohio State University
Perhaps more than any other mascot in college sports, Brutus actually kind of looks like a football player, albeit one with an abnormally large and oblong head. That reverse-Boston Creme Donut of a head is actually supposed to be a nut.
Indeed, Brutus and the vaunted OSU athletics programs are named for the official state tree of Ohio and the fruit that it bears. Brutus came to life as a cumbersome and short-lived papier-mâché head with vestigial arms and legs in 1965. The wearer was covered from head to torso in bulbous brown. Within a few years, the papier-mâché was replaced with a lighter fiberglass model, the primary characteristic of which was also brown.
Back in the late ‘60s, the not-particularly-mobile Brutus had one trick up his sleeve. He had a smiley face tacked onto his head that he could turn upside down when the team was losing. Other than that, Brutus was not the most finely tuned athlete on the field.
In 1975, the University attempted an upgrade, trading the torso-concealing head for a shoulder-length model. Unfortunately, the sneering, one-eyed design was kind of disturbing so the university quickly abandoned ship. In fact, they doubled down on the heaviousity. By the late ‘70s, the torso-loaded Brutus had swelled by 60 pounds.
Swept up in the era’s fitness craze, Brutus got in to shape during the go-go ‘80s. It was then that he donned the lightweight headpiece design that, to this day, makes him look like Mayor McCheese’s health-conscious cousin.
Indeed, as the decades have worn on, Brutus has grown buffer and more agile. In 2007, America’s second most famous anthropomorphic nut (Mr. Peanut probably?) earned a well-deserved induction into the Mascot Hall of Fame.
Wichita State University
Either you are witnessing the opening salvo of an invasion by a mutant super-race of pep-stepping wheat-stalks or you’re at a Wichita State basketball game. If it’s the former, I really don’t have any sound advice. If it’s the latter, sit back and enjoy the amusing antics of one of the strangest mascots in college sports.
In many ways, WuShock was way ahead of his time. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to come up with an older anthropomorphic inanimate object in the history of college sports. Sorry Delta State University, but WuShock has your Fighting Okra beat by more than 30 years.
The seedling to WuShock’s invention was a 1904 advertisement which characterized the Wichita State (then Fairmount College) football team as “Shockers.” Legend has it the name was derived from the off-season profession held by many on the team, who moonlit as wheat-shockers in the agriculture-dominant state of Kansas. For the next several decades, a stoic shock of faceless wheat served as the team’s logo.
The cartoon wheat was given a face in the ’20s, but weathered the next several decades without a name. It was in 1948 when an ex-Marine and current student designed the scowling, no-nonsense wheat-shock personified. Though WuShock was very much beloved among his fellow Shockers, his early costume design was not particularly apt to movement. Thus, in many ways, he really did effectively embody all the intimidating characteristics of wheat.
In celebration of WuShock’s 50th birthday, 1998 saw this mascot outfitted with newly mobile and musclebound threads. The goal was to create a mascot significantly more capable of instilling fear in the hearts of opponents. Certainly, if any of Wichita State’s opponents happen to be gluten intolerant, WuShock is a towering nightmare of metabolic danger.
Oklahoma State University
Among college mascots, perhaps only Pistol Pete can boast the life and legacy of a true Old West lawman. Or at least, that was the inspiration behind this massively mandibled mascot. This stubble-faced sheriff has been repping Oklahoma State’s Cowboys for more than half a century.
But in fact, Pete’s inspiration goes back quite a bit further than that. Perhaps it’s fair to say that his origin story extends to 1868. That was the year that a child named Frank Eaton saw his father gunned down by a band of former Confederate raiders in Twin Mound, Kansas. The eight-year old boy vowed revenge, became one the fastest gunslingers of the time, and by 17, was deputy sheriff of all Indian lands between Southwest Kansas and Texas.
Known as Pistol Pete for his unmatched marksmanship, Eaton was a well-traveled legend by 1923, when he led the procession for an Armistice Parade in Stillwater, Oklahoma. At the time, the school then known as Oklahoma A&M, was living on borrowed branding. Sometimes called the Princeton of the Prairie, Oklahoma had purloined the Ivy League school’s tiger as well as its black and orange stripes. The tiger was never very popular though. So when students saw Eaton’s crusty figure astride a horse, they saw the perfect embodiment of their school’s history.For nearly 30 years, it was Eaton who served in an official capacity as the symbol of the Oklahoma college. His likeness became the inspiration for Pistol Pete branding and cartoons, both commonplace symbols of the university, its athletics programs, and its student body. When this real-life cowboy passed on at the remarkable age of 97 in 1958, the orange-and-black clad Pistol Pete galloped from cartoon to sideline.
Since that time, Eaton’s memory has been honored by the very serious, leathery-faced, world-weary rider whose gargantuan head and striking orange hat are a fixture at OSU sporting and community events. Also notable, each year a new Pete (usually two people) is elected by a panel of former Petes.