The mentality of March Madness is ‘survive and advance’ or your season will become a casualty of the tournament. Along with defeat, the hopes and dreams of fans and alumni can die in pursuit of that one shining moment, and that loss can be tough to take. Now imagine how it must feel when the symbol of your team, your school’s mascot, literally passes away.
Like losing a family member
The University of Colorado announced this week that Ralphie IV, also known as “Rowdy,” was laid to rest near Boulder as fans mourned the passing of their beloved buffalo mascot. This has been a tough year for live mascots, as LSU’s Mike the Tiger VI succumbed to cancer last October and had to be humanely euthanized. Texas’ Bevo XV sent flowers, as did Reveille from Texas A&M. Bevo XIV had passed just a year prior.
When a school’s mascot passes on, fans and alumni mourn the same as if they’d lost a member of the family or a cherished pet.
“Losing ‘Rowdy’ is like losing a family member,” said former associate athletic director Gail Pederson who oversaw the Ralphie program at CU for 20 years. “I know all Buff fans, and especially the Handlers that had the honor to run with her, will always have her in their hearts, especially when Ralphie V and all the future Ralphie’s take the field each fall.”
While they’ve been in the news more lately, the practice of having live mascots to represent university athletic teams dates back more than a century. KU alumni may not know that some of the university’s earliest mascots required feeding, and we’re not talking about birdseed.
Before Big Jay
KU teams have been called Jayhawkers or Jayhawks since around 1886, when Professor E.H.S. Baily first coined the famous Rock Chalk chant, but the sidelines of KU’s first football games were guarded by a bulldog, common at many schools around that time. The bulldog even made its way onto pennants and postcards symbolizing the KU team (Frank Mason would be proud).
Then for a brief time in 1909, KU’s gridders were pictured with a pig. According to KUhistory.com, the proud porker–a gift from an assistant coach–was known as Don Carlos, and the sow only appeared for one year.
KU’s history with live mascots was short-lived, as the mythical Jayhawk came to life only in the illustrations of Henry Malloy in 1912, leading off a parade of cartoon variations of Kansas’ beloved bird. Today, the famous symbol of KU pride appears court side in the costumed form of Big Jay and Baby Jay.
Animal rights activists abhor mascots kept in captivity, but age-old college traditions die hard. At LSU, officials made sure the next Mike the Tiger would have an accredited tiger sanctuary. According to a January 2017 news release, “Becoming an accredited sanctuary means that LSU has met high standards of excellence in animal care and is operating ethically and responsibly.” Doing so, however, means Mike will never again run onto the field at Tiger Stadium, ending a tradition that dated back to 1936. Killing the tradition was the trade-off for keeping–and caring for–a live mascot on campus.
Meantime, Ralphie V, Rowdy’s successor, remains in good health as fans witnessed when he ran onto the field at last weekend’s spring game. The fan-funded program lives on at Colorado, even while alumni mourn the loss of Ralphie IV. And the loss feels very real.
Jayhawks send condolences to our former Big 8 brethren in Boulder.
At the end of 2014, we asked alumni to vote for their favorite Jayhawk online, with a promise to share the results in early 2015. Well, the votes have all been tabulated, and we’re ready to reveal your favorite. More than 1,000 votes were recorded by KU alumni from all around the world in a contest that came down to the final week, with almost half of the Jayhawk variations leading the vote total at one point or another. In the end, one bird soared above the rest, earning 27% of the total. Without further ado, the winner is…
1941 “Fighting Jayhawk” by Yogi Williams
In 1941, a student named Eugene “Yogi” Williams created a version of the Jayhawk that was much more animated than his 1929 predecessor. Williams, who worked as a cartoonist for the University Daily Kansan, the Jayhawker and the Sour Owl, made a more aggressive Jayhawk that quickly gained favor as America plunged into World War II. The newly adopted “Fighting Jayhawk” served KU during wartime but was soon replaced after the war by Hal Sandy’s happier, smiling Jayhawk that reflected the national mood. Although the Fighting Jayhawk had the second-shortest tenure among all of KU’s historic ‘hawks, alumni voted it their favorite.
According to the KU Office of Trademark Licensing, the popularity of the Fighting Jayhawk shouldn’t come as a surprise. It has proven to be a favorite of fans and alumni alike, based on retail sales. Next to the current Jayhawk, the 1941 “Fighting Jayhawk” appears on more merchandise sold at the register, followed by another fan favorite; the 1912 Jayhawk designed by Henry Maloy.
How did your favorite Jayhawk fare? Check out the final results below, and thank you to all of the proud Jayhawks who voted!
We want to know: which Jayhawk is the favorite of KU alumni? Cast your vote in our fun poll by December 31!
To assist you in the voting process, here’s a brief refresher on the history and rich tradition of our beloved mascot.
The story of the Jayhawk begins not with the bird, but with the word, which originated during the historic struggles of Kansas settlers in the 1850s. The name describes a bird that was a cross between a blue jay and a sparrow hawk, both of which displayed fierce, aggressive, even predatory traits. As Free State and anti-slavery forces struggled for control of Territorial Kansas, “Jayhawkers” most often described Free Staters who fought as vigilantes against Missouri “Border Ruffians” aligned with the Confederacy. The outcome of the Civil War and the end of slavery added luster to the word, and Kansans since then have worn it as a badge of proud history.
The University of Kansas informally adopted the term Jayhawk in 1886. Professor E.H.S. Bailey and his science club students adopted the famous rallying cry “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk,” and it remains one of the college world’s most distinctive chants to this day. KU student Henry Maloy drew the first Jayhawk mascot in 1912. To review the complete history and tradition of the Jayhawk, visit http://www.ku.edu/about/traditions/jayhawk.
Vote today! We’ll share the results after the start of the new year.
One year ago, the KU men’s basketball team was preparing to face its first opponent in the NCAA Tournament, and we profiled the Hilltoppers from Western Kentucky in our first Know the foeblog post. This year, the No. 2 seed Jayhawks (24-9) match up with the other half of the Bluegrass state as this year’s edition of Know the foe features No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky Colonels (24-9), champions of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. Riding a 7-game winning streak into the postseason, the Colonels are known to beat their opponents from the 3-point line, so it’s only fitting that we share 3 points to know about KU’s first tournament foe:
The Campus Beautiful
Of course, KU is known for its beautiful campus, and alumni fondly recall classes atop “the Hill.” At Eastern Kentucky, the main campus in Richmond is affectionately referred to as “The Campus Beautiful,” and it too is a point of pride for students and alumni. The nickname is a nod to the school’s commitment to green space and landscaping, according to the university’s website at eku.edu. Enrolling 16,000 students and offering more than 150 degree programs, Eastern Kentucky University began as a teachers college in 1906 before it officially became a university in 1966. Today, EKU operates campuses in Corbin, Danville, Hazard, Landcaster, Manchester and Somerset in addition to the main campus in Richmond.
What’s in a name
Bad blood between the blue blood basketball programs in Kansas and Kentucky may seem to focus on the flagship universities’ titles and all-time victories. That may be true, but if you really want to annoy fans of the stories programs, just get their names mixed up. Perhaps nothing is more aggravating to a KU fan than being mistakenly labeled as a “UK” fan (the opposite, of course, would be a compliment). Fortunately, the regional universities in the state have resolved this dilemma by choosing the appropriate acronyms for their edu’s: Western and Eastern Kentucky go by WKU and EKU, respectively. They take their flattery a step further with logos that feature a descending K, similar to the Trajan KU logo. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?
We thought we’d seen it all with Western Kentucky’s “Big Red” mascot, but hold your horses. Eastern Kentucky’s Colonel has been around since 1963, but before that time, the “Maroons” competed without a mascot (other than a color) until the 1920’s when students voted for a leopard. Efforts to obtain an actual leopard fell through, so the Maroons remained until the Colonel came along. The mascot logo might make some confuse EKU with KFC, but the Colonel’s not going anywhere. Last fall, he survived criticism from a retired faculty member calling for EKU to update the university’s mascot to a more modern symbol, arguing that the Colonel was out-dated and representative of a by-gone era. Newly installed EKU President Michael Benson quickly threw his support behind the Colonel, who remains a popular figure among EKU fans.
To celebrate the snowy conditions in Richmond (classes were delayed today due to snow), the Colonel displayed his best moves while showing off The Campus Beautiful below. Enjoy!
– David Johnston
Do you “know the foe?” Share your insights about KU opponents by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.