How well do you know your college mascots? Bears, bulldogs and cougars are a dime a dozen, but some universities take a rather dramatic detour when choosing their school mascots. We're talking trees, anteaters and banana slugs. (Sadly, the University of Hawaii's Vulcans are a nod to the volcanic heritage of the island, not Mr. Spock.) Here's just a sampling of some of the more unusual ones, along with their backstory.
- The Tree: Stanford University's unofficial mascot wasn't always a googly-eyed, lipsticked tree. From 1930 until 1972, Stanford's teams had been the Indians, but after the university president agreed to ban the name and mascot on politically sensitive grounds, students began lobbying for new mascot ideas, including the Robber Barons. Not unsurprisingly, the administration didn't like that one. The teams became known as the Cardinal - for the color that has long represented the school, not the bird. Stanford's notoriously mischievous marching band began bringing a giant tree mascot to games in 1975, and the tree continues to appear at every game even now.
- The Banana Slug: When UC Santa Cruz joined the NCAA in 1980, their sports teams required a name and the then-chancellor chose the sea lions. The students, however, were having none of it. They continued to cheer for the unofficial Banana Slugs at basketball games until 1986, when a student vote favored the slug so overwhelmingly, the chancellor finally agreed. The adorable Sammy the Banana Slug appears at everything from new student orientation to sports events and has been accorded "best mascot honors" by ESPN and Sports Illustrated.
- Jumbo the Elephant: It's not every university that can count a famous circus founder as a benefactor, but Tufts University and P.T. Barnum go way back. After Jumbo, a circus elephant, was killed in a train accident in 1885, Barnum donated Jumbo's stuffed remains to the school. Students patted him - or poked pennies in his trunk - for good luck before tests or games, and visitors included Jumbo on their campus tours. Barnum Hall burned down in 1975, leaving nothing but Jumbo's tail (yes, really) and ashes, which were collected in a Skippy peanut butter jar. Now it's the jar that's rubbed for luck, and Jumbo's legacy continues to live on as Tufts' mascot.
- The Fighting Pickles: You don't need an NCAA team to have a college mascot. When students at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, which has no athletic program, fielded a touch-football team in 1972 for their annual game against Wake Forest, they dubbed the team the NCSA Pickles. It was probably the accompanying slogan - "We'll tickle your pickle" - that won student hearts. The unofficial mascot became official in 2010 after the university's mascot design competition yielded the image of a feisty little pickle holding a film clapper (the kind you snap when you yell "Action!") and wearing a skirt made of piano keys.
- The Fighting Okra: Mississippi's Delta State has two mascots - a sanctioned mascot that represents the athletic teams, the Statesmen, and the student choice, the Fighting Okra. The story goes that basketball and baseball players were complaining that no one fears "fighting statesmen," whereas a fighting okra might be ... OK, really funny. A student vote in the 1990s sealed the deal and a fight chant, "Okra! Okra! Okra!" was added as well.
- The Anteater: Students at UC Irvine chose the anteater as their mascot in a 1965 vote that vanquished other suggestions, including the eagle and the unicorn. "None of these" came in second. These days, the little convenience stores on the Irvine campus are called "Zot 'n Go" - a nod to the sound anteaters make when slurping up an unsuspecting meal, at leat in the B.C. comics created by Johnny Hart.
- The Geoduck: It's not every school that has a clam for a mascot, but at Evergreen State College in Washington State it's all about the geoduck - pronounced gooey-duck. These huge clams are distinctive in appearance, with a phallic siphon that inspired both the school motto - Omnia Extares, or "let it all hang out" - and school fight song, written in 1971 by Malcolm Stilson. The first verse? "Go, Geoducks go/Through the mud and the sand/let's go./Siphon high, squirt it out,/swivel all about,/let it all hang out."