The Ferocity-Enigma Factor in Sports Nicknames

"How fierce can I be? Check my growl! Can't you see? - The Green Wave is coming to get you!"

Lions and Tigers and Bears – Oh My!

Never a doubt of the fierce in their eye!

Roll out some others – and what do we get?

Green Waves and Hokies and Hoyas – to pet!

In the middle of all the fairly recent concern for political correctness about the historic mascot selections of various collegiate and professional sports teams is the far older and more basic question: What’s the purpose of a mascot identity to a sports team in the first place?

Back in the 19th century, it appears to have been more to the task of assigning an identity to the club based upon where we are located, what we are wearing, or what we do where we come from. Thus we saw the birth in baseball of the Cleveland Forest Citys, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and the Boston Beaneaters.

Sounds simple enough. It just didn’t stay there. As competitive sports grew as a way to demonstrate conquest and domination over rival cities and colleges, it became important for more teams to adopt mascots that expressed the ferocity of their pursuits for absolute domination over others. A few folks maintained their sense of commitment to identity with a little sense of humor by adopting nicknames such as Hokies, and Hoyas and Mud Hens.

Oh my.

The trouble with fierce is that it so easily overlaps into farce – or enigma. For example, where’s the fierce in Tulane’s “Green Wave” or Alabama’s “Crimson Tide?” Green Wave suggests that there’s something contagious in the waters and that we had better not try to swim wherever the Green Wave lands. A Crimson Tide is slightly more trauma-suggestive that there may be sharks in the waters and that are capable of drawing blood as they eat you up.

Of course, Green Wave and Crimson Tide developers took these mascot ideas and ran them straight into enigma – not fierce. The Green Wave is today characterized by a Smurf-like character who cannot begin to smirk his way into fierce, a condition reenforced by athletic teams that seldom scare anybody either, while Alabama simply muddied up the mascot waters by inserting an elephant into the mascot theme of their Crimson Tide theme. As far as I know, and except for short spot on the Gulf around Mobile, there is no reach of any tide, let alone a crimson one, that reaches all the way to Tuscaloosa, the home of The University. There also are no wild elephants running loose at night as stars fall on Alabama. The rolling Tide just carries its enigmatic nickname with them, but winning in football more often than most others seems to assuage any existing concern over the enigma factor in their mascot name and symbols.

There’s really no deep thought attached to these ideas, just this playful set of questions: What is the basis for your own favorite team’s mascot? Is it one that’s there as a statement of regional identity? A clear statement of ferocity? An intended good idea that lapsed into enigma? An insider joke? An innocuous attempt to avoid all conflict with political correctness? Or one that truly is offensive to others?

It still amuses me that my own bloodline racial group background is apparently the only ethnic group in America that is not offended by their ages ago adoption as the symbol of ferocity. And so today we still have the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, with no protestation. Can you think of any other group under the sun that would not be suing that university for a change of mascot designations?


3 Responses to “The Ferocity-Enigma Factor in Sports Nicknames”

  1. Doug S. Says:

    While my Alma Mater is not a major BCS school we are DI and have a fairly interesting story on how we got our nickname.

    “The University of Evansville’s nickname, the Aces, was acquired after an opposing coach cracked a joke after losing to the Evansville College Pioneers in the 1920s. Dan Scism, the sportswriter credited with first using the name ‘Aces’ in headlines, said he did so at the suggestion of basketball coach John Harmon in 1926. “Prior to that the Aces had been called Pioneers,” Scism said, “but Coach Harmon suggested I call them the Aces because he was told by Louisville’s coach that Evansville didn’t have four aces up his sleeve, they had five!”

    Thus our mascot is Ace Purple and his attire is that of a Riverboat Gambler.

  2. TimStouffer Says:

    Another fun trivia provoker is to name all the D-1 schools with sports mascots that DON’t end in “s”. You named 3 with the Green Wave, Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish. Without looking it up, I can come up with the Stanford Cardinal (a color), the Illinois Fighting Illini, Syracuse Orange.. and then it gets fuzzy. But a search shows, Bison, Thundering Herd, Mean Green, Big Green, Big Red, Minutemen, Wolfpack, Fighting Sioux, etc. OK, maybe not all D-1, but fun anyway.
    The name of my college teams: Orediggers! Woohoo!

  3. Marsha Franty Says:

    The Irish Brigade and other Irish units are recognized and celebrated by Civil War scholars and enthusiasts for their bravery on many CW battlefields. Their regimental flags often included the shamrock, the leprechaun, the harp and other symbols of that fair isle from which so many had recently emigrated.

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