Most colleges tend to have mascots that sound like they’re straight out of the Wizard of Oz (Lions and Tigers and Bears). There’s nothing wrong with that. But here, we’re celebrating the universities that stood up and decided they were not going to be like everyone else — their school’s athletic nickname would be unique. Love them or hate them, here are 10 college mascots and nicknames that are both hailed and cursed for their strangeness.
10. Fighting Okra
Delta State University’s official team nickname is the Statesmen. Boring! In the mid-1990s, students at this Mississippi school voted to adopt the unofficial Fighting Okra mascot.
9. Horned Frogs
The Horned Frogs have been around since 1897, five years before then AddRan Christian University changed its name to Texas Christian University. By the way, the real horned frog that lives in Texas and the Southwestern U.S. is not a toad, or frog, but a lizard. Bizarre fact: When frightened or angered, it can fire a stream of blood from its eyes, at targets up to four feet away. TCU’s mascot, SuperFrog, does not boast that same feature.
8. Blue Blob
Xavier University’s nickname, Musketeers, is certainly distinguished, but the sword-wielding mascot is a bit scary for younger fans. So in 1985, he got a sidekick, the Blue Blob. While the Blue Blob has appeared in SportsCenter commercials, not everyone is a fan. One T-shirt reads, “The Blue Blob is the reason I drink.”
Some weirdly named nicknames and mascots have fascinating, mysterious back stories. The Zips of Akron University, and their mascot, Zippy the Kangaroo, do not fit in that category. Why Zips? The name has been around since 1925, named after a popular rubber overshoe, Zippers, made by local company B.F. Goodrich. When zippers became common features on clothing, the university sensibly shortened the nickname to Zips in 1950. The kangaroo has been around since 1953, but she enjoyed her biggest moment in 2007, winning the Capital One “Mascot of the Year” competition against other collegiate mascots.
6. Fighting Artichokes
You may not have ever heard of Scottsdale Community College in suburban Phoenix, but its alumni include not one, but two former Saturday Night Live cast members (David Spade and Bill Hader). And the school has a pretty good sense of humor, too, with the Fighting Artichoke mascot. His name? Artie, of course. And since we mentioned the Fighting Okra and Fighting Artichokes, we’ve got to give a shout out to the Fighting Pickles of the North Carolina School of the Arts.
Billikens were little statues of a fictional creature thought to bring good luck. They surfaced around 1908 and were the Pet Rocks of their day — hugely popular for a few months, then quickly forgotten. Everywhere except St. Louis University, that is, which adopted the Billikens nickname a couple of years later for reasons shrouded in mystery. Most stories share a similar theme, however; that football coach John Bender resembled a billiken. Some coaches get stadiums named after them; Bender got a strange mascot named in his honor, a creature that is still turning heads more than a century later.
4. Blue Devils
Duke University’s nickname is certainly curious for a respected university in the heart of the Bible Belt. Contrary to what some misguided souls might think, it does not honor some offbeat devil-worshipping cult. During World War I, the Chasseurs Alpins, the elite mountain infantry of the French Army, came to be known as “les Diables Bleus” for their fierce fighting skills. A couple of student newspaper editors at the school began using the term Blue Devils in 1922, apparently not caring that some on the Methodist campus would not appreciate the nickname. As it turned out, everyone approved of the nickname and mascot. It’s worth noting that several other sports teams, including Central Connecticut State, also use the Blue Devils nickname.
Located in Olympia, Wash., Evergreen State College’s mascot is not a duck, but a geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck.”) A geoduck is the world’s largest burrowing clam and can be found in nearby Puget Sound. It also has a discernible phallic shape. No wonder Time magazine once named the Geoducks the “No. 1 Worst Team Name.”
2. Keggy the Keg
Dartmouth’s official mascot, Big Green, doesn’t really excite anyone. Now Keggy the Keg — what partying college student cannot appreciate that symbol? A couple of staff members of the Dartmouth student humor magazine Jack-o-Lantern coined the name in 2003, hoping to create a nickname that “wasn’t racist, biased or sexist, yet [was] entirely unacceptable.” While many at Dartmouth did not appreciate the implied promotion of college drinking culture, the mascot has caught on.
1. Banana Slugs
According to the University of California Santa Cruz website, a banana slug is, “a bright yellow, slimy, shell-less mollusk commonly found on the redwood forest floor.” But why is that fit for mascot status? When the university began NCAA competition in 1980, officials chose the nickname “Sea Lions.” Students pushed for Banana Slugs. The students won. Mascot Sammy the Slug and the nickname have since been featured in publications from People Magazine to Sports Illustrated as the best college mascot.
One More: Crimson Tide
There’s a tendency in stories of this type to overemphasize the bizarreness of team mascots we rarely hear mentioned in major college sports. The Chanticleers (Coastal Carolina), the Camels (Campbell), and the Purple Aces (University of Evansville) are all undeniably weird nicknames. But how about the Ohio State Buckeyes, whose mascot is named after the Buckeye nut found in the state? Then we have the North Carolina Tar Heels, whose odd name harkens back to soldiers in either the Civil War or Revolutionary War, who either got tar on their shoes, or stood their ground in battle as if stuck in tar.
Which brings us to the Alabama Crimson Tide. It sounds like some sort of deadly ocean condition brought on by global warming or something, but no. The nickname dates to an Alabama versus Auburn game in 1907. Alabama, known at the time as the Thin Red Line, tied heavily favored Auburn on the muddy field, prompting one sportswriter to remark on the “Crimson Tide” in the sea of mud. So Alabama’s mascot is naturally a wave, right? Sorry, it’s an elephant, Big Al.