Maybe we’re biased, but nowhere does loyalty run as deep as in the Southeastern Conference. College football is as much a religion as it is a favorite pastime, and team colors unite fans whether in their home state or trotting into Northern territory. Yes, few things get us quite as excited as seeing our team’s mascot sprint onto the field at the start of college football season in the South. We cheer them, we call them (at least in Arkansas), and we sport them on everything from shirts to jewelry to home interiors.
But where did they come from? Where does LSU keep a 500-pound tiger between games? What is a Razorback anyway? And what does Crimson Tide even mean? We’ll get to all that and more as we dive into the interesting world of our beloved mascots of the SEC.
- Auburn University—Tigers Aubie was the first inductee to the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2006, and holds the record for most won UCA Mascot National Championship Titles (photo courtesy of J. Glover)
Auburn fans have Birmingham Post-Herald artist Phil Neel to thank for their mascot, Aubie the Tiger. His cartoon debut came on October 3, 1959, on the Auburn/Hardin-Simmons football program cover. He was considered a good luck charm under Coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan, who coached the Tigers from 1951–1975, as the team won the nine games following Aubie’s appearance.
While Aubie’s regular appearance gracing the cover of the football program came to an end in 1976, it was two years later at the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament that Aubie would finally come to life. After commissioning the same costume maker used by Walt Disney, the school paid $1,350 for the first Aubie suit through donations from alumni and Auburn student clubs. On February 28, 1979, a very live Aubie the Tiger riled up the crowd, helping Auburn overtake Vanderbilt.
Aubie the Tiger made history when he was the very first inductee to the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2006. He is a nine-time UCA Mascot National Champion, more than any other university mascot in the country.
- University of Alabama—Big Al and the Crimson TideBig Al, the University of Alabama’s elephant mascot, came from Alabama linemen being known as “Red Elephants” (University of Alabama)
Like many a mascot story, the elephant and Alabama go back to a journalist and a powerhouse team. It was 1930 and Coach Wallace Wade was leading Alabama against Mississippi (and later to a National Championship). At one point during the game, Atlanta Journal sports writer Everett Strupper noted, “At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.” From that point on, Alabama lineman were frequently referred to as “Red Elephants.” Red for Alabama’s crimson color, of course.
Decades later, some of students came together to approach Alabama’s coach and athletic director, the legendary Bear Bryant, about getting a costumed mascot on the field. “Big Al” made his debut appearance during the 1979 football season. The first student to don the costume was Melford Espey.
An added bonus: Roll Tide
The Crimson Tide is probably the most confusing term in the SEC for those that don’t hail from ’Bama. Again, along with Roll Tide, this story came from a journalist describing what he saw. Hugh Roberts, the sports editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald, coined the phrase after the 1907 Alabama game against Auburn. Playing on the Birmingham field had stained the Alabama uniforms a muddy red. Although they were picked to lose, Alabama held Auburn off for a 6-6 tie. The varsity team running onto the field seemed to resemble a red tide rolling in. Roberts coined Alabama the Crimson Tide, with “Roll Tide” quickly catching on as their slogan.
- University of Arkansas—Razorbacks More recognizable to those outside Arkansas is Big Red, the costumed mascot that hits the field before every game (photo courtesy of Brandon Rush)
For those who aren’t in SEC territory and might not know, a razorback is a wild hog, known for a mean streak you don’t want to mess with. Nowhere else in college football will you find a Razorback mascot outside of the University of Arkansas. But there hasn’t always been a razorback in the SEC.
The University of Arkansas was originally home of the Cardinals, due to their team colors of red and white. It seems that a cardinal just wasn’t a fitting representative when the team secured a strong win over Louisiana State University in 1909. Then head coach Hugo Bezdek referred to his team as a “wild band of razorback hogs,” a more accurate description of the players that had fought so hard for a win. The moniker stuck, and the following year the student body voted to officially change from the cardinals to the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks are proud to be represented by not one but two mascots on the field (sometimes four if you include Sue E. and Pork Chop). Big Red is the official mascot of the spirit club, but at home games fans are looking for Tusk, the live Razorback that has fans yelling “Woo, Pig, Sooie!” Tusk IV is the current mascot, from a long line of Russian boars all cared for at a farm outside Dardanelle, Arkansas. Tusk IV is the grandson of the original Tusk that took over mascot duties in 1994.
The University of Arkansas began the tradition of live mascots in the 1960’s. Many pre-Tusk mascots carried the temperament razorbacks are known for, some causing quite a ruckus. Big Red III (the hog, not the costumed mascot) escaped from an exhibit near Eureka Springs in 1977. His crime spree took a turn when he ended up on a local farm and was shot. The following season, Ragnar, a wild boar caught in Southern Arkansas, made a similar escape and killed a coyote, a 450-pound pig, and handful of rattlesnakes before being caught.
CONTINUE TO “MASCOTS OF THE SEC: PART TWO”
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