With the NCAA Basketball Tournament in full-court press these days, it’s easy for me to pick teams, even though my favorites lost early and are no longer in contention.
I had hoped for a good game between the Akron Zips and the Zags (okay, technically Gonzaga’s team is actually called the Bulldogs….), but that won’t happen, and with the surprise upset of the St. Peter’s Peacocks over the… (hmmm…. how soon we forget!), I got to wondering if my home state favorites, The Ohio State University Buckeyes, were the only PLANT in the long roster of nicknames.
So, of course, I turned to Wikipedia for some edification. According to Wikipedia, “The 12 most-used names of four-year college teams (including names with attached adjectives such as ‘Blue’, ‘Golden’, ‘Flying’ or ‘Fighting’): Eagles (118), Hawks (106), Tigers (72), Lions (65), Bulldogs (58), Cougars (58), Panthers (55), Bears (54), Knights (50), Wildcats (42), Warriors (41), and Pioneers (36),” which is as I would have guessed: mostly animals and people get teams named after them.
With the help of a long list of school team nicknames, I discovered there are some other plants — odd as it might sound! — serving as mascots for college and university teams. Among them: the Chaparrals, Hoyas, Oaks and Mighty Oaks, Violets, Maple Leafs… and Fighting Cacti!
Which started me down a rabbit hole that consumed me for a couple of days. Of course there are many team nicknames related to the idea of raiding: Raiders (! obviously, right?), Reivers (fancy name for rustlers), Crusaders, Chargers, Marauders.
There were plenty of religion-related names (Bishops are one) and insects (Scorpions!) and European-influenced mascots (Vikings and Scots, for example). There are Ragin’ Cajuns and Flying Dutchmen, Highlanders and Plainsmen.
There are a fair number of teams named after natural disasters, such as the Firestorm (Arizona Christian), Tornadoes, Flames, Storm, Cyclones, Thunder, Nor’easters, Hurricanes, Prairie Fire, Dust Devils, Lightning, Fire, Inferno, the Surge, Whitecaps, and Waves (which could be a disaster if they come in strong enough, right?), plus the Shock and Shockers.
Who chose the Cows, Rodents, Banana Slugs, Tree Frogs for mascots? Don’t know. Don’t care. They are very cool names, to be sure.
Colors are surprisingly popular, with The Crimson, Reddies, Big Red, Red Flash, Big Blue, Big Green… and Green Terror, Mean Green, and Blue Streaks and Blue Wave.
Hard workers get a lot of attention in the list of nicknames, too. Mostly tough-sounding jobs: Loggers, Orediggers, Engineers, Boilermakers (no, they weren’t named after an alcoholic beverage), Ironmen, Lumberjacks, Trappers, and Foresters. But there are Profs, Poets, even Magicians.
I couldn’t help wondering why there weren’t any Farmers. I come from a small town in Ohio where the local farm boys made up a very tough-to-beat defensive line on the football field (my husband jokes his school’s team couldn’t beat ours so they stole us girls away).
Sources of light provide some team spirit with the Beacons and Northern Lights… Comets and Stars and Suns… (but no Moons).
Royalty is represented by Kingsmen and Regals, Dukes, Barons, Student Princes, Lords and Ladies, and Monarchs.
Some schools wave banners for their Governors, Judges, Senators, Diplomats, and Ambassadors (funny, but I never thought of diplomats nor ambassadors as figures to battle something out the way teams often do).
Other schools are more military-minded, with the Commodores, Knights, Silverswords, Colonels, Warriors, Lancers, Generals, Grenadiers, Bombers, Midshipmen, and Sentinels.
Move aside for farm equipment waiting to take you down by the Threshers of Bethel College (Kansas), and try if you can to dodge the Bullets of Gettysburg College.
There’s the Spirit, and the Phantoms and Mystics, but there are Trolls and Dragons — even Blue Dragons. Blue Angels and Devils — Blue Devils, too.
Some student bodies rally behind even more amorphous mascots: the Express, the Crush, Pride, the Radicals (which has to have an interesting history behind it).
Mythological figures make some appearances in the Yetis, Vulcans, Sasquatch, Phoenix, and more than one Griffin.
It seems some institutions prefer the fancy version of a name to the more common (and more often used) terms. Why call a team the Chanticleers unless it’s because “Roosters” just doesn’t have the same ring to it? Or the College of the Florida Keys’ Tugas, which is short for Tortugas, which is an “abbreviation of the spanish [sic] term for turtle, ‘tortuga’.” Why not just say “turtle”? Oh, right. Just doesn’t sound as fierce. Or maybe sophisticated. Or something. Though I guess the University of Maryland didn’t fancy “turtles” either so they called their team the Terrapins.
At least the Virginia Tech Hokies didn’t start with a name trying to find a definition — their name emerged from an 1890s school fight song and the big turkey mascot sprang from that. Ditto the Indiana Hoosiers, whose nickname also stems from a long regional history. And those Fighting Illini? Also an historic reference; in this case, back to a renaming of the school’s newspaper from The Student to The Illini back in 1874. And an Illinois Confederation of Native American tribes was called Illiniwek, which might also have influenced the choice of Illini as a school nickname. University of North Carolina Tar Heels? The nickname followed a similar track through history.
Some school nicknames are just head-scratchers: The Blue Hose, Tars, Nads, Spires (as in church steeples? It is the University of Saint Mary, after all, but even so….), Little Johns, Tommies, Jimmies, Jumbos (we can only guess), Valiants, Lutes, Ichabods, Ephs, Gorloks, the Fighting Quakers (which sort of runs contrary to my image of Quakers, anyway). Perhaps they have histories similar to the Hokies and Fighting Illini — I’ll leave you to that research!
Some team names make it clear the school had no interest in a nickname that sounds at all fierce, otherwise why would there be teams with names like the Gentlemen, Ladies, Boll Weevils, Cotton Blossoms, and Koalas? And how do you rally the team when your mascot is the Cobber? (I think it has to do with eating a lot of corn.)
On the other hand, Pitt Community College pulls no punches: they’re the Bruisers. And don’t you forget it.
Some nicknames are just plain fun. Who wouldn’t want to root for the Southern Arkansas Muleriders and Lady Muleriders? Or the happy sounding Border Collies of Spartanburg Community College? The Thundering Chickens of West Virginia Northern Community College brings up a great mental image. Especially if you picture them in athletic combat against the Fighting Camels of Campbell University.
See what happens when a writer decides to create a team playoff bracket? You get match-ups like the Nads versus the Kangaroos and the Riverbats playing against the Toppers.
I’ve never heard of Shimer College, but I’d love to root for their Flaming Smelts one day! Okay, as long as they’re not playing Philadelphia’s University of the Arts’ Unicorns.
Yeah. I’m ready to do the brackets for next year’s playoffs!