Auburn's war eagle wouldn't take defeat flying down. When Florida wide receiver Wes Chandler scored a touchdown against the Auburn tigers in 1976, the bird took things into its own talons. It took off from its Perch and Blindsided chandler in the end zone, thus becoming the only mascot to draw a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary pecking.
This is an article from the Oct. 28, 1991 issue
Live animal mascots have long been a part of college football, and they have come in amazing variety—from Arkansas razorbacks to Michigan wolverines, from Washington huskies to SMU mustangs. Predators are preferred—even nasty, disagreeable insects: yellow jackets (Georgia Tech), spiders (Richmond), hornets (Delaware Slate) and wasps (Emory and Henry College in Emory, Va.). Bug haters have a mascot of their own: the anteater (UC Irvine), which provokes the lusty cheer, "Give 'em the tongue! Zot! Zot!" Other foods are represented as well. To protest greater spending for athletics than for academics in 1971, Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College students rallied behind an artichoke.
The artichoke's poise and physical toughness make it an ideal mascot. But the artichoke can't do half the tricks the U.S. Air Force Academy's falcons can. "We've got the only performing mascot act," says Tom Hermel, one of 11 cadets charged with caring for the birds. At half-time, two falcons wheel over the stadium, wings spread wide. When they stretch out, they're as sleek and elegant and streamlined as F-14s approaching the deck of an aircraft carrier. They swoop down and try to strike a lure being twirled by a handler on the field. The lure is pulled away at the last second, and the falcons zoom back into the sky.
"When we play Army, our cadets chant, 'Let's see the mule fly! Let's see the mule fly!' " says Hermel. And what do Army's cadets chant back? "Nothing special," says Hermel. "Usually just, 'Air Force sucks!' "
If a team doesn't play well, mascots are sometimes held accountable. The Livestock Club at Colorado State once proposed to butcher Cam the Ram V and raffle oft' his head. Cam V, it seems, had presided over six straight losing seasons. He died in 1973 at age seven of natural causes. One student offered a fitting epitaph:
Here lies Cam the Ram,
His soul should go to heaven,
He's lived through seven years of hell.
In this era of sensitivity to animal rights, fewer and fewer beasties sniff and soar and slither around the sidelines. Those that remain inspire fierce loyalty. Hundreds of humans gathered last year in Athens, Ga., as UGA (pronounced ugga) IV, the Georgia bulldog, was laid to rest in Sanford Stadium. "It was just something respectful to perpetuate UGA IV's memory," says the dog's former master, Frank (Sonny) Seiler, who had watched as the red-and-black plywood coffin was carried by. "We didn't feel any religious ceremony was necessary."
UGA IV's passing was a shame, but how do you explain the 20,000 mourners who turned out in 1989 to see Texas A&M's collie, Reveille IV, buried with full military honors? The world has surely gone to the dogs...and the goats...and the artichokes....
Aside from King Tut, whom we'll deal with later, and perhaps Jimmy Hoffa, UGAs I, II, III and IV are the most famous mammals to be buried within a football stadium. The white English purebreds are sealed in wall vaults just behind Sanford Stadium's west end zone, their epitaphs inscribed on their red Georgia marble crypts. UGA I's reads:
A REAL GEORGIA BULLDOG
"DAMN GOOD DOG"
UGA I followed in the paw prints of a couple of brindled bulldogs, the first named Butch and the second, Mike. UGA II claimed two SEC titles and UGA III, the 1980 national championship. But UGA IV was particularly mourned because he was Georgia's winningest mascot. His teams were 77-27-4 and went to a bowl in each of his nine seasons. Before the opening kickoff, he would be pulled to the 50-yard line in a larger-than-life red fireplug, from which he emerged to dart across the field to his climate-controlled doghouse on the sidelines. With his loose skin and mournful face, he looked like a worried Old Testament prophet.
UGA the Wise was hounded by all sorts of civic groups. He served as chairdog of the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout in 1984. He did testimonials for the the March of Dimes and volunteer work for the Humane Society. He accompanied Herschel Walker to the 1982 Heisman Trophy banquet in Manhattan. On that occasion, UGA IV forsook his usual letter sweater for a white collar and black bow tie.
About the only places he avoided were flea markets. "UGA IV was the featured speaker at meetings of many of the various Bulldog Clubs," says Swann Brannon, Seller's daughter. He had a splendid voice that rumbled forth basso profundo when he addressed large convocations, a talent that might make Georgia president Charles Knapp envious. That and the fact that the UGAs rate one more page than Knapp does in the Bulldog media guide.
Of course, not everyone is gaga over UGA. "The only reason Georgia even has a bulldog mascot is that the school was founded by a bunch of Yale missionaries," snarls Chris Getman, the keeper of Handsome Dan XIII, Yale's bulldog. "Dan puts UGA to shame. As far as I can tell, UGA just sits on the sidelines and sweats." Dan can stand on his hind legs, jump through a Hula Hoop and sink to the bottom of a pond. Asked if he would rather go to Harvard or die, he plops to the ground, rolls over and plays dead.
According to Yale historians, Dan XIII carries on the oldest official line of college mascots in the U.S.: The Dan Dynasty is now celebrating its 102nd anniversary—714th, if you go by the folklore formula for dog years. The original Handsome Dan was bought from a New Haven blacksmith for five dollars. He led Eli football teams to 125 victories in 131 games and inspired Cole Porter, class of '13, to write Bulldog, a song still howled whenever Yalies gather together.
When Handsome I died in 1898, The Hartford Courant wrote: "He was always taken to games on a leash, and for years the Harvard football team owed its continued existence to the fact that the rope held." Actually, the first Dan is still around. Like Lenin, he was stuffed and preserved behind glass. He presides over the trophy room in the Yale gym.
No successor was crowned until 25 years later, when the ignominious reign of Dan II began. That Dan was kidnapped by Harvard students on the eve of the 1934 Harvard-Yale football game and photographed licking the hamburger-smeared boots of John Harvard's statue. Yale won 14-0, but the humiliation was never forgotten. "The crew team went so far as to adopt its own bulldog, creating a canine Great Schism," wrote Elliot Tannenbaum, a noted Danographer. "Dan was shunned by the campus community until he broke his leg and died three years later, unloved and unmourned."
Getman calls No. 13 Maurice, after Ron Maurice Darling, the former Yale pitcher now with the Oakland A's. When Darling was a sophomore, Getman hired him to paint his house. "Ron painted all the windows shut," Getman says. "This is my revenge." A bluff, barrel-chested New Haven financial consultant, Getman is living proof that alumni come to look like their mascots. The main difference between Getman and Dan is that Getman seldom slobbers in public.
Like many Yalies, Dan XIII has a certain patrician air about him, a look of world-weary resignation that one associates with blue bloods despairing of the foibles of the lower orders. Dan has lunched with President Bush, '48, and corresponds with Millie, the First Pooch. In the dog days of summer, he vacations on the Jersey shore. And though it never made the society page of The New York Times, Dan was once affianced to a greyhound (the dog, not the bus).
Yet he's no Fancy Dan. In fact, he's a bit of a hot dog. He has chased Princeton cheerleaders into the stands and was once kicked out of a Harvard game for assaulting a mounted policeman.
The UGAs tend to be more submissive. UGA IV was slapped down by the Baylor bear and bayed at by Smokey, the blue tick coonhound of the Tennessee Volunteers. UGAs are also more circumspect. IV once showed his distaste for South Carolina by leaving a memento in the Gamecock end zone during the national anthem.
Both dynasties have been dogged by injuries. Dan XIII nearly wound up as road-kill a few years back when he narrowly escaped assassination by a car he may or may not have been chasing. UGA IV tore a ligament in his left hind leg after jumping off a hotel bed. What a bulldog was doing in a hotel bed is anybody's guess.
John Saunders finds that episode distasteful, much like bulldogs themselves. "They don't live long, are difficult to breed and have lots of potential genetic defects," he snaps. "Salukis have none."
Saunders ought to know. He ministers to Thunder and TUT II, the saluki mascots of Southern Illinois. The Afghan-like Thunder, 14, and the newcomer TUT II both live in a veritable shrine of saluki-ness: Saunders' home is crammed with saluki sculptures, saluki paintings, even saluki switch plates. Thunder sleeps on a water bed and watches TV with a three-legged poodle named Muffy.
Thunder, Saunders asserts, has a nobler lineage than either Dan or UGA. Salukis were the royal dogs of Egypt. Southern Illinois's first saluki. King Tut, is entombed under a concrete pyramid at McAndrew Stadium, about 50 yards from the north goalpost in the north east corner of the stadium.
No doubt Tut and several generations of Dans and UGAs now frolic at the gate to the underworld with Cerberus, the multiheaded mutt of a god named Pluto.
HOLD THAT TIGER
In his classic work of burlesque zoology, How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes, Will Cuppy wrote: "Young normal tigers do not eat people. If eaten by a tiger you may rest assured that he was abnormal. Once in a while a normal tiger will eat somebody, but he doesn't mean anything by it."
Mike V, the 2-year-old fat cat of LSU, hasn't eaten anybody yet. But he's a big hunk and always hungry. He requires a total of 10 pounds of beef, chicken and fish every day. He was downright friendly when he was just a little cub, but now that he weighs 450 pounds and has claws like Freddy Krueger's, nobody steps into his cage to see if he wants to shake hands.
Mike is far more ferocious than any of his fellow mascots around the country, which tend to be slothful, if not amiable, creatures, such as the banana slug of UC Santa Cruz. Mike growls and roars and paces in a special cage with all the comforts of home familiar to tigers: a tire, a swimming pool and a beer keg. He has even got his own bowling ball, though it's unclear if his keepers actually let him out on league nights.
You might not expect a 450-pound hellcat to be pacified with a little friendly scratch on the back, but here's Mike nuzzling up to Rollie Norris, the vet student who feeds him and tickles him between the ribs. Fortunately, a steel fence ensures the amity of this relationship.
On this summer afternoon, while Mike splashes in his pool, a couple of seven-year-old boys, David and Brian, peer in through the outer fence. "Boy, I'd sure like to be in that pool now," says David.
"You would?" says Brian.
"Not with the tiger! By myself."
"Think he's a boy or a girl?"
"His name's Mike," says Norris. "What do you think?"
"Well," David says. "I know a couple of girls named Mike."
"Good point. But this one's a he."
"Why's he called Mike?" asks Brian.
"That's easy," says David. "Must be the name of the fella he swallered."
Mike came by his name honestly enough. Mike Chambers was the LSU athletic trainer who led the search for a tiger mascot in 1936. He found Mike I at a zoo in Little Rock, Ark., and helped launch the Quarter-for-a-Mascot drive among students. According to the Morning Advocate, Baton Rouge's Tiger rag, it took only an hour to raise the $750 needed to buy Mike.
Mike I lived until 1957. He dropped dead during a four-game losing streak. But the death was kept a secret until after LSU had beaten Tulane to stop the slide.
Mike's heir came from the Audubon Park Zoo in New Orleans, near the Tulane campus. That tiger didn't last a year. Most LSU fans believe he was born too close to Tulane to be a loyal mascot anyway.
Mike III arrived from the Seattle Zoo in 1958, LSU's only national championship season. He died in 1975 following the Tigers' first losing campaign in his 18 years of mascotry. LSU fans will tell you he died of a broken heart.
Mike IV is most famous for his late-night escapades. Ten years ago, pranksters from Tulane unlocked his cage and let him loose. He was chased down and recaptured by Sheldon Bivin, a professor at LSU's school of veterinary medicine. Bivin recites the tale like a big-game hunter recounting an expedition in the Serengeti: "It was a Friday evening the week before Thanksgiving, and the night before we were to play Tulane in New Orleans. I had gone home early feeling like I had the flu. About 1:30 a.m., the phone rang and a lady said, 'Mike is out.' I said, 'Mike who?' And she said, 'Mike the tiger.' And I said, 'Out where?' And she said, 'Mike the tiger is sitting in the middle of the track stadium. Please come quickly.' "
Bivin grabbed his trusty tranquilizer gun and went stalking Mike in the Bernie Moore track stadium. "There were no lights on and a rather strong northerly breeze," Bivin recalls. "So I got downwind from him and delivered the first dose at about 20 yards' distance."
With the feline grace of a meal halfback, Mike raced to about where midfield would be, stopped and roared. Bivin took another shot. Mike absorbed the hit and tried a reverse, bolting toward the north. When Mike spied a squad car, he spun around and headed for Bivin. Double reverse! "I was a bit scared," says Bivin, "but I noticed that his rear end was not tracking very well." At about the 40, Mike collapsed.
The professor got home at six that morning. He was sitting in disbelief at the breakfast table when his father, who was visiting, ambled in and said, "See, I told you you'd feel better if you got a good night's sleep."
Bivin still shivers at the memory of that night. "There is no doubt Mike would have killed anyone he came upon," he says. "We were extremely lucky."
As Cuppy once observed, "Persons who raise tiger cubs in their homes are sometimes known as missing persons."
WHERE THE BEEFALO ROAM
What was the best thing before sliced bread?
Sliced buffalo tongue, of course.
Only a few hundred years ago, 60 million bison ranged over North America. White settlers in the 1800s took care of that. In their zeal to feed railroad workers and starve Indians, they debuffaloed the West. Buffalo Bill Cody alone nailed 4,280 bison in 18 months. Rail companies encouraged passengers to pop them off from train windows. After slaughtering the buffalo, travelers would hack off the animals' tongues—a great delicacy—and leave the carcasses to rot along the tracks. Buffalo butchering became such a popular sport that by 1889, the number of bison in the U.S. had dwindled to an estimated 835.
Today, the buffalo are back. You can see a small herd from John Parker's ranchhouse window in Hudson, Colo. And grazing and gamboling with a pack of horses in a far field is Ralphie III, the mascot for the University of Colorado, in nearby Boulder. A shaggy, burly buffalo, she sidles up against a wooden post to scrape off her winter fur. She bobs her massive head up and down in the breeze that blows off the Rockies. Parker offers Ralphie a handful of hay. She stares at him with an unblinking, baleful eye.
"Ralphie's a big, big outfit," says Parker. He and his wife, Shaaron, have been training Colorado's mascots since 1987. "I guess I was the only graduate in their computer who raised buffaloes," says John, whose calling card reads RALPHIE PROGRAM DIRECTOR He's an outdoorsy kind of guy who walks hunched in a denim jacket, his hands jammed into his pockets. His face has the sharp edge of a polished stone ax. His eyes shift easily from the land to the horizon. "Someday Ralphie may have her own concession stand at Folsom stadium," he says.
"Ralphie Chips is one heck of an idea," says Shaaron.
"They beat cow pies any day."
"That's right. And they make terrific Frisbees."
The first Ralphie, a 6-month-old calf, galloped onto the scene in 1966. She was put out to pasture in 1978. The second Ralphie had planned to retire after the 1987 season but died of a heart attack after the second game of the season. Her ticker was apparently weakened by a lethal look from the infamous Stanford band. Dressed as the Grim Reaper, the Cardinal drum major had high-stepped toward her pen, where he made an abrupt turn and continued downfield.
What to do with the body? Ralphie II was packed off to a rendering plant.
Parker bought Ralphie III as an orphaned 2½-year-old in Laramie, Wyo. She has been kept with horses ever since. If Ralphie were to hang with her own kind, she would start using her horns and could well gore people—an undesirable trait in a mascot.
"She's better off not knowing she's a buffalo," says John.
"That's right," says Shaaron, "though she probably has her doubts she's really a horse."
John may be a sexist pig, but he thinks female buffalo make better mascots. "The bulls get too big," he says, "and like young college students, they have only one thing on their minds."
It's difficult to call Ralphie III a member of any species' gentler sex. Members of one of her steering committees suffered everything from sprained ankles to broken collarbones. "I was sending as many guys to the training room as the football team was," says John.
Once Ralphie starts rolling, she's as hard to stop as a rock slide on Bison Peak. On game days, she requires five handlers—two on each side, one in the rear—and from five to seven backups. "They've got to be fast and athletic," says John, who conducts tryouts each spring. His buffalo soldiers earn letters. Their duties include protecting the buffalo from pranksters when the team travels. For a 1986 game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Ralphie II was put up at the college's veterinary clinic, which was thought at the time to be a safe enough haven. "But vet students have keys," John explains. Poor Ralphie was spray-painted a luminous orange.
Ralphie III's stadium romp amounts to a large U. She runs down Colorado's sideline ahead of the team, doing an about-snout at the end zone before heading for the opposition's sideline. Rival coaches usually don't bring out their players until Ralphie has finished her run, making Colorado one of the few Big Eight home teams to take the field first. But former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer wouldn't be buffaloed. He would often bring his boys out before the running of Ralphie. One of them, linebacker Brian Bosworth, once briefly challenged Ralphie II before stepping out of her path. Eyewitnesses still debate which big ox was dumber in that instance.
Ralphie III hasn't disclosed which stadium she likes the best, but John reckons that it's Colorado State's. "They let the grass grow high," he says. Ralphie turns up her snout at artificial turf. "And that grass at last year's Orange Bowl was pretty thin," says Shaaron. "So there wasn't much picking."
To spruce Ralphie up before a game, John runs her through a car wash. "At first, she took a dim view of it," he says. "But she figured out it would cool her off." Nobody has ever offered to give her a wax job.
Colorado's buffalo has less to chew over than Bevo XIII, the 1,500-pound longhorn steer who doubles as mascot for Texas. Many of Bevo's ancestors were barbecued or branded. Bevo I was both. In 1916, Bevo's debut year, students planned to brand him with the score (21-7) of their win over Texas A&M. But before they could do it, rustlers from Texas A&M seared him with the score of the 1915 game, which they had won 13-0. But Texas revisionists soon altered the 13-0 to read BEVO. Four years later, more than 100 Texas athletes consumed barbecued Bevo with beans at a banquet.
"Ralphie's a lot tougher than Bevo," says John. Any thought of crossing Ralphie's muscle with Bevo's gristle? "Not much," says John. "Bevo ain't got the equipment."
"That's right," says Shaaron. "He's been neutered."
Too bad. Ralphie and Bevo might have produced a low-cholesterol beefalo mascot for some college like Sacred Heart.
OH, YOU KID
Lovers of moose and flying squirrels remember the Rocky and Bullwinkle adventure in which the nefarious Boris Badenov disguised himself as an ooglebird in order to snatch one. No one has ever tried anything quite so devious with the U.S. Naval Academy's goat. Whether it's been considered is another matter.
Billy, as he has been known for most of the last 92 seasons, has suffered more career interceptions than Roger Staubach. Army has gotten Navy's goat. So has Columbia. And Johns Hopkins. Billy has been abducted by Maryland students in Navy whites and Air Force cadets posing as reporters. Navy's kid has even been 'napped by St. John's of Maryland, a four-year classics college in Annapolis whose interest in intercollegiate sports extends as far as croquet and crew.
The horns of this dilemma point back to El Cid, a goat that was brought off the cruiser USS New York for the 1893 Army-Navy game. (Navy won 6-4.) According to the U.S. Military Academy's propagandists, a Navy goat met its first mule—a huge white ice-wagon number—at the '99 classic. The goat charged. The mule bucked and, according to one observer, "hoisted that astonished goat toward the Navy stands to the delight of the yelling, laughing crowd."
Disinformation, Navy claims. The swabbies insist that after El Cid, they didn't deploy another goat until 1900. The academy's refutation involves a rather appalling footnote to mascot history. Navy's mascot in '99 was a black man in a high plug hat. Strutting before the all-white middies, the new mascot drew mild applause. After Army won, however, he was discharged.
Navy has seen more reigns of Billy than the New York Yankees; the current goat is the 26th of that name. Most of this mascot's butting has been as the butt of jokes. Billy was twice taken by amphibious assault. The more daring operation was launched before the 1953 Army-Navy game. Cadet commandos docked their boat at the Annapolis seawall. Two disembarked and headed for Thompson Stadium. Working in the dark, the pirates forced the padlock on Billy's pen and knocked him out with chloroform. Then they lugged him back to their boat.
As quietly as Washington crossing the Delaware, they slipped across the Severn River to a getaway car. The only tense moment came at the George Washington Bridge, where they saw a man in a blue uniform. Luckily, he was a toll collector.
To Navy's great embarrassment, the academy had been invaded by sea only a year earlier, when Maryland frat boys shanghaied Billy. AWOL for 12 hours, the goat resurfaced near the Terrapin campus. Washington Post photographer Bob Burchette got the picture by following an anonymous tip to a College Park drugstore. The precautions Billy's burglars took might have made even Deep Throat sore. Burchette was quoted in the Post: "A figure clothed in student garments veered close and muttered under his breath, 'Washington Post?'
"I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Follow us.'
"I was blindfolded while they drove me around several blocks. We stopped at a private garage, which I immediately recognized, despite the blindfold, as the habitat of the goat.
"I made a picture and asked for their names. They said Richard Roe and John Doe, but wouldn't say which was which."
As well executed as the Roe-Doe caper was, it pales beside the two-pronged attack Army made in 1972. Billy XVIII and King Puck, a black-haired backup, were in their quarters on a dairy farm in Gambrills, Md. Army had already cased the joint. This was an inside job that relied heavily on the intelligence work of one Gina Johannsen, Army's homecoming queen. The daughter of a Kensington, Md., naval officer, Johannsen had played Benedict Arnold by snapping pictures of the Navy goat cage.
A four-man reconnaissance team set off six weeks before the Army-Navy game. Leading the sortie was Bob Sansone, Army's head rabblerouser (military-speak for cheerleader). "There was no security," he later told The New York Times. "We saw the two goats locked in their pens and then we saw two pairs of eyes in the dark somewhere out there on the farm. We pulled back, fearing we had been spotted by the enemy, and decided to return at 0300 the next morning."
When Sansone's strike force struck again, Billy was gone. The pairs of eyes, it turned out, had belonged to Morris Pierce and Steve DeSilvio, a couple of cadets on their own search-and-seize mission. They had waited for Sansone to flee before grabbing the goat by the horns.
Over the next 41 days, Billy was dragged to safe houses all over New York State. Navy spies uncovered one hiding place near West Point, but they arrived 36 hours late. The final insult was the full-page ads that the Corps of Cadets took out in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Over a photo of the missing Billy was the line: "HEY NAVY! Do you know where your 'kid' is today?" Under the picture were the words: "The Corps does."
Billy never was sniffed out, though Sansone thought it wouldn't have been too difficult. "That animal really has an odor," he said. Tradition holds that the best goats reek most. But Billy XXVI regularly visits a salon, where he's bathed, combed and doused with dog cologne. "The smell is very close to Chanel No. 5," says Terry Packard, his beautician.
Q: Why is Navy's goat unlike its football team?
A: The goat no longer stinks.