From live gators and mountain lions to a 500-pound tiger, the Southeastern Conference is filled with some of the fiercest mascots in college football. Perhaps the only thing fiercer are the rivalries that run deep throughout the South. But that’s another day, another story.
Welcome to Southern college football. Where a bulldog named Uga is a state treasure and a tiger named Mike lives in lavish luxury.
- University of Florida—GatorsIn 1970, Albert was introduced as the first costumed mascot of the University of Florida, adding Alberta in 1986You don’t have to think too hard to guess why the University of Florida adopted the alligator as its mascot more than one hundred years ago. In its first football season back in 1906 under the leadership of head coach Jack “Pee Wee” Forsythe, the Florida team was referred to as “Orange and Blue” or “Pee Wee’s Boys.” It wasn’t until two years later and more than seven hundred miles away that the Florida Gators even became a thought.
Phillips Miller, a Gainesville, Florida, storeowner, was in Charlottesville visiting his son, Austin, who was enrolled in law school at the University of Virginia. While there, Miller visited the Michie Company to order some University of Florida pennants and banners to sell at his store back home. After looking at samples from other schools, Austin suggested the alligator represent the university as its emblem. After all, it was native to Florida (in abundance) and it was unlikely any other team had, or would, choose it. The manager at Michie’s had never seen an alligator, and Austin had to find a picture of one in the University of Virginia Library before any designs could be made. But when Miller returned to Gainesville, he had ordered a variety of pennants and banners, all with the unofficial mascot of the University of Florida. Thankfully, they were a hit with the student population. By the 1911 football season, the Florida football team was known to all as the Gators.
As live mascots go, Albert was a dangerous one, but in 1957 he became the first of several live alligators to serve as mascot. In 1970 the Gators introduced a safer Albert, a mascot in a full-body costume. In 1986 Alberta, a perky female Gator, joined him as mascots of Gator Nation.
- University of Georgia—Bulldogs Uga X, the University of Georgia’s current mascot, took over in 2015 with a formal introduction on November 21 (photo courtesy of the University of Georgia)“Home of the Goats” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Home of the Bulldogs,” but it rang true for the University of Georgia long before the introduction of their well-known, pure white bulldogs.
The University of Georgia football team kicked off their first season on February 22, 1892, against Auburn. Their mascot was a live goat, complete with a black coat and ribbons tied to its horns. Despite the distinguished appearance of the animal in his hat, Auburn fans chanted, “Shoot the billy goat!” from the stands. Needless to say, the goat didn’t last long.
Georgia got their first canine mascot in 1894 when Trilby, a solid white, female bull terrier, stepped onto the field. Some say it was from her litter of puppies that the nickname “bulldogs” generated, but most agree the bulldog was adopted as a nod to Yale-educated Abraham Baldwin, founder of the University of Georgia. Regardless, Trilby was the first dog of Georgia football. After Trilby and her lineage, there was a string of dogs brought to football games, all hoping to be the next mascot. But none were as well known as the lineage still reigning and the one that started it all: Otto, also known as Uga I.
Uga I, a white, English bulldog puppy, was a wedding present to Sonny Seiler and his bride, Cecelia, in 1956. Seiler (later known for his role in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil along with Uga V) and his wife took the pup to the first home game of the season donning a child’s shirt she had sewn to fit the dog. It wasn’t long after that Uga was declared the official Georgia mascot. Since then, the white bulldogs from Uga I’s lineage still serve as mascots. The latest, Uga X, took over in 2015.
- University of Kentucky—WildcatsLater, a more kid-friendly mascot, Scratch, was added to represent the University of Kentucky Junior Wildcat Club (photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky)It was October 9, 1909, and the University of Kentucky football team had just beat the University of Illinois, during their first year under coach Edwin Sweetland. Later that night in a chapel service, Commander Philip Carbusier, head of UK’s military department, said the football team had “fought like wildcats.” From that moment the moniker stuck with students. The media eventually picked up calling the team the Wildcats, and the university adopted it officially shortly after.
The dancing, costumed Wildcat mascot was introduced during the 1976–77 school year. Gary Tanner was the first to don the suit. Scratch, a child-friendly mascot, later joined as an additional mascot and face of the UK Junior Wildcat Club. But while the two dancing cats are widely recognized, they aren’t the only representatives of the University of Kentucky. Blue, a live mountain lion, was the last of the live mascots of the Wildcats when he died in 2012. Bobcats don’t tend to like crowds, so Blue never saw a Wildcats game from the sidelines.
- Louisiana State University—Tigers The first Mike the Tiger was bought from the Little Rock Zoo in 1936, after each student donated a quarter to purchase the one-year-old tiger. Today’s tiger, Mike VI (pictured), was adopted in 2007.LSU became known as the “Fighting Tigers” back in 1896 during a perfect season under Coach A. W. Jerdeau, but the name actually has roots from the Civil War. The name goes back to a volunteer company out of New Orleans known as the Tiger Rifles. The company later became part of Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat’s battalion, carrying over the “Tigers” title. Eventually all the Louisiana troops of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia became known as Tigers.
The first live “Fighting Tiger” at LSU came in 1936. Athletic director trainer Chellis “Mike” Chambers and Athletic director T.P. Heard, along with the swimming coach and an LSU law student, had decided a couple of years earlier that the school needed a live mascot. For LSU that meant a real live tiger at the university. For their fundraising campaign, they asked each student to donate a quarter, a mere twenty-five cents to help purchase the ferocious cat. They raised $750.
On October 21, 1936, Mike I (formerly known as Sheik), a 200-pound, one-year-old tiger from the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas, became the official mascot of Louisiana State University. Mike the Tiger served the school well until his death in 1957. Since, there have been other “Mikes” leading up to LSU’s current mascot, Mike VI. When not attending home games, where his cage is parked beside the opponent’s locker room, he lives the good life in a 15,000-square-foot habitat on the LSU campus. Of course, Mike has an alter ego, Mike the costumed Tiger, but he’s less dangerous and allowed on the field during games.
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