And Then There’s This

October 26, 2006 – 7:59 pm by McD

The University of Tennessee’s mascot/coonhound/foghorn Smokey apparently bit an Alabama player before their game last Saturday. Lesser blogs would make some sort of “southern school’s canine mascot biting a black player” joke, but we’re above that here at Rumors and Rants. In fact, we didn’t even think it. Swear.

The story did make us wonder, however, about how a school with the nickname “the Volunteers” would have a dog as it’s mascot. Yeah, yeah, sorry UT fan, it’s a Bluetick Coonhound or whatever. Then we realized a couple of other SEC schools have mascots that don’t make sense. What the hell is a Crimson Tide? And why do Auburn Tigers fans shout “War Eagle”? The answer is more sinister than anyone could imagine.

Okay, not really. However, the University of Tennessee sports teams have been known since 1902 as the Volunteers because the South’s favorite three words are “them’s fightin’ words”. Actually, quite a few people from the state of Tennessee unexpectedly volunteered to fight in the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American war. So maybe we weren’t kidding a couple of lines ago. Smokey was chosen as the mascot during a 1953 dogshow at halftime of a UT football game over eight other contestants because he barked when his name was called. So Smokey was chosen because he barked? Then again, he had a harder time getting into UT than its students did.

Sadly, the history of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide’s name and mascot, the elephant, is lamer. Alabama football was known as the “Thin Red Line” until 1906 when, in the Iron Bowl against Auburn, the Thinnies (Liners?) held the heavily favored Auburn Tigers to a 6-6 tie. Then, in a newspaper account, the writer dubbed Alabama the Crimson Tide. You heard that right, Alabama got its nickname because it tied another school. Way to set the tone guys.

Alabama’s mascot, the elephant, was adopted in 1930 when another sportswriter was confounded by the size of Alabama’s team. Apparently the “Thin Red Line” were taking their “supplements” in the off-season. Here’s what he wrote:

Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity. It was the first time that I had seen it and the size of the entire eleven nearly knocked me cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size.

When half the team showed up to Fall practice the following year 30 pounds lighter, no one made the connection with the NCAA’s new, stringent steroids testing program. Several players were subsequently signed by the Yankees.

Finally, we come to Auburn, or “that cow college” as Alabama head coach Bear Bryant used to refer to it. Auburn’s sports teams are all named the Tigers. Every sports fan knows this. But why does every Auburn fan say “War Eagle”? The favorite, though probably apocryphal, story about the origin of the eagle is this: in 1892 Auburn played its first football game ever against the University of Georgia. On Auburn’s faculty was a Civil War veteran who kept an eagle he found wounded on a battlefied as a pet. During the game, the eagle, named Anvre, broke free and flew over the crowd. As it was flying, the Tigers’ football team started a drive toward the goal line….Then the eagle crashed onto the field and died. This is a story Auburn fan actually tells. And it gets worse. Subsequent War Eagles disappeared without a trace (War Eagle II), escaped and was found shot in the woods near Birmingham (War Eagle III), died the morning of the 1980 Iron Bowl (War Eagle IV), died of a ruptured spleen at the age of 5 (War Eagle V), and has overseen the hilariously corrupt tenure of Terry Bowden and the plucky teams coached by Bobby Petrino ERRR Tommy Tuberville. War Eagle IV’s trainer also died in a plane crash in 1965. The Eagle is supposed to be an embodiment of the spirit of Auburn and its students and graduates. Says a lot doesn’t it?

So basically, three teams got their nicknames because a bunch of Southerners found something they liked and didn’t want to change it. Sounds kind of like something else … not sure what … I think it happened about 150 years ago. What, it’s a joke about Southerners, not slavery. Aww come on, aww.

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