Of the eight schools in Buffalo for NCAA tournament games starting today, which one clearly has the most unflappable mascot?
Which school already has made the Sweet 16? At least on the academic side?
Which large university, without really trying, has an ongoing running joke about its full name? Hint: This debate revolves around the word “the.”
And which schools can boast of having been the college stomping grounds of celebrities including Erma Bombeck, Jesse Owens, Jill Biden, Golda Meir, Luther Vandross, Joyce Carol Oates and even Father Guido Sarducci.
Ah, the wonders of Google and the Internet.
A fairly quick Internet search and calls to some of the eight schools unveiled an enlightening array of fun facts, mascots, celebrity alumni and athletic traditions for the eight teams: Villanova, Syracuse, Ohio State, Connecticut, St. Joseph’s, Dayton, Western Michigan and Milwaukee.
Of all the quirky traditions that will play out on the First Niagara Center floor in six games today and Saturday, the St. Joseph’s University mascot may be the most unusual.
The Philadelphia school adopted the nickname Hawks in 1929. The second-place finisher: Grenadiers.
“The Hawks name was actually chosen because of the swift aerial attack of our football team and the hawks frequently seen on campus,” said Jeff Martin, senior associate director of Web communications at St. Joseph’s.
The Hawk is the Energizer bunny of college mascots, flapping his arms continuously throughout each game, including halftime. Even an intentional assault didn’t stop him from flapping, but more on that later.
“The motto is ‘The Hawk will never die,’” Martin explained. “Whenever the Hawk is on the court, he never stops flapping his wings.”
The Hawk has been voted top U.S. college mascot by several publications and websites, even inspiring an ESPN story that used a “flap-o-meter,” to count 3,500 flaps during a single game. That’s a lot of flapping.
Of course, there’s a reward for all that arm waving. The student who wins the competition to be the Hawk goes on full scholarship.
The Hawk’s biggest test came in February 1998, when he was attacked by Rhode Island’s “Rhody Ram,” which pulled an inner tube over his beaked head, to try to stop the flapping, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer story. That sent the Hawk’s head, which must never be removed during the game, tumbling to the hardwood floor.
And the Hawk kept flapping.
“Even when the Hawk loses his head, he never stops flapping,” Martin said. “The Hawk literally is unflappable.”
The “the” debate
It happened in 1878, when the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College got a new name.
“... the educational institution heretofore known as the ‘Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College,’ shall be known and designated hereafter as ‘The Ohio State University,’” according to the school’s board of trustees minutes.
More recently, the sprawling university used the “OSU” symbol starting in 1977, but that invited confusion with two other OSUs, Oregon State and Oklahoma State. So in 1986, the college adopted a square red logo, with the words “The Ohio State University.”
The change was designed to “reflect the national stature of the institution,” the university’s website states. “Legend also has it that ‘The’ was used to show the other colleges which institution was supposed to be the leader in the state – both in size and in financial support from the legislature.”
So far, so good. Until about 15 years ago, when a National Football League player – some say it was running back Eddie George – introduced himself on a Monday Night Football game, saying that he attended “THE Ohio State University.”
“Then all the other Ohio State grads started saying it, and it caught on,” explained Buffalo native Jason Milch, a 1997 Ohio State graduate. “The players like it, and it’s just become a badge of honor.”
Others, though, have labeled this signature arrogant or pretentious, prompting some not-so-gracious message-board postings, especially from in-state rival Ohio University grads. Like this one, on a site called “The Straight Dope”:
“Ohio students and alumni have always hated the fact that Ohio State likes to think of themselves as ‘Ohio’s school’ somehow just because they’re good at football,” this Ohio grad wrote, adding that Ohio U was founded in 1804 as the first university in Ohio, 70 years before the founding of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College.
Nothing like a good intrastate rivalry.
Even before Tuesday night’s NCAA tournament tipoff, the folks at the University of Dayton were chanting, “We’re in the Sweet 16.”
They made it to that elite group, at least on the academic side, according to the Inside Higher Ed online publication.
That publication completes its own brackets, based on teams’ performance in the classroom.
“To determine the winners, we look to the Academic Progress Rate, the NCAA’s multiyear measure of a team’s classroom performance (in this case, from to 2008 to 2012),” stated the Insider Higher Ed story. “When two teams tie, as they inevitably do, we turn to the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate, which measures the proportion of athletes on track to graduate within six years.”
Making it to this level of the competition was no easy feat, since the 68-team NCAA tournament field also included the likes of Harvard, Duke, Michigan and Stanford.
Otto, Aggies and Wildcats
Lots of stories about the schools’ mascots:
• Syracuse: An Indian figure named the Saltine Warrior was born in a hoax published in 1931, after the remains of a 16th century Onondagan chief supposedly were found during the building of a new women’s gym in 1928, according to Syracuse University archives. More recent protests from Native Americans knocked out the Saltine Warrior, who was replaced by various figures, including the Dome Ranger, Dome Eddie and the Beast from the East.
Then in 1990, Syracuse students attending a cheerleading camp in Tennessee devised a new costumed orange mascot, to be called either Opie or Otto. Fearful of “Opie dopey” taunts, the school ultimately picked Otto the Orange, the current mascot.
Sports Illustrated recently declared Otto the best mascot in the NCAA tournament.
“This little round mound of joy has the benefit of A) looking like a basketball B) staying super small and compact, so the costume can fit into overhead compartments and C) being a gosh-darned orange wearing sweatpants,” SI wrote.
• UConn: Just like Ohio State, the University of Connecticut traces its roots to its agrarian days. So when Connecticut Agricultural College became Connecticut State College in 1933, the school’s athletic teams no longer could be the “Aggies.”
The next year, the student newspaper, the Connecticut Campus, conducted a student survey that led to the choice of the husky dog. The campus even boasts a husky statue, a popular photo spot, where students often rub the dog’s nose for good luck.
There’s also a real-life husky, the latest being Jonathan XIV, born in October and introduced in January. UConn’s teams are known as the Huskies.
• Villanova: The Wildcats nickname dates back to the 1920s. In the 1930s and 1940s, the school acquired wildcats, all named Count Villan, which were kept on campus. Caged in the fieldhouse, paraded around in front of large crowds and unused to the cold weather, these live cats became behavioral problems.
Since 1950, the only wildcat has been a student in costume, now called Will D. Cat.
What’s in a Name?
Who are these Milwaukee Panthers?
Since 1956, they’ve been the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, always overshadowed by the bigger and better-known flagship of the system, the University of Wisconsin at Madison. So about five years ago, the school started calling itself Milwaukee.
“It was driven by athletics, that we would be known informally as Milwaukee, rather than UW-M,” said Nancy Mack, senior editor in the college’s university relations. “Nothing’s officially changed. It’s just a change in emphasis.”
Great basketball roots
As a younger man, Western Michigan Broncos coach Steve Hawkins found a great way to pick a coaching legend’s brain. He worked at UCLA summer basketball camps, serving as a chauffeur to legendary coach John Wooden.
“He was responsible for driving Wooden to and from the camp every day,” said Sean Fagan, assistant director of media relations for the Western Michigan athletic department. “It was like ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’ except he was driving Coach Wooden.”
Here are some famous alumni from each school:
Ohio State: Jesse Owens, Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Knight, sportscaster Clark Kellogg and artist Roy Lichtenstein.
University of Dayton: Erma Bombeck, coach Jon Gruden, former Buffalo Brave Don May and comedian Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci).
Syracuse: Joe Biden, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Dick Clark, Joyce Carol Oates and Aaron Sorkin.
Western Michigan: Luther Vandross, actor Tim Allen, sportscaster John Saunders and coach John Harbaugh.
University of Connecticut: Meg Ryan, actor Bobby Moynihan and basketball stars Ray Allen and Rebecca Lobo.
St. Joseph’s: Former Buffalo Braves coach Jack Ramsay, former pitcher Jamie Moyer and ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
Villanova: Jill Biden, ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former Rep. John LaFalce and Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor.
Milwaukee: Golda Meir (from the Milwaukee Normal School) and new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.