I've never really been in the habit of watching sports on television. The closest major league team to our home is about a four hour drive and none of the local events are televised. My wife, however, is from Wisconsin. That state is crazy for their football and University of Wisconsin
was playing Stanford
in the Rose Bowl
yesterday, so naturally my wife watched a few minutes of the game. One of her first questions was, "If Stanford's mascot is a cardinal, why do they have a tree dancing around on the sidelines?"
The unofficial Stanford mascot – The Stanford Tree
So where did the tree come from? Like many academic schools, Stanford has had trouble coming up with a good mascot. Getting in the game late, it adopted the "Indian" as its mascot in 1930. At first the school had a dignified looking Indian chief with a headdress, but as so often as these things go, they later adopted a more comical looking brave dubbed "Prince Lightfoot."
Old Stanford Mascot
Of course real American Indians were offended by the ignoble depiction and in 1972 were able to convince the school administration to drop the mascot. However, instead of adopting a new mascot, the administration declared that the color "Cardinal" (singular) would be the new nickname of all the athletic teams and that El Palo Alto
, the famous landmark tree, would replace the Indian on the helmets. Not having a mascot and realizing that a color would be difficult to represent, some enterprising members of the band began dressing up in a makeshift tree costume. The Tree has now become a regular fixture, testament to political administrators inability to pick good mascots.
John Harvard, mascot of Harvard University
Other more academic schools seem to have the same problem. Take Harvard
for example. Their official administratively driven mascot is "John Harvard," a Puritan minister who came to America in 1637 and died the next year, leaving an endowment for a university. Of course, John Harvard
doesn't make for a very good mascot either as his surname is already the name of their university. What would they all themselves, "The Harvard John Harvards?" So instead, the popular name of their team is just Crimson for the school color. Crimson, unlike cardinal is not regularly confused for a bird. Although, when I was searching for images of John Harvard the mascot, I quickly realized that even a Harvard education cannot keep ivy leaguers from confusing Puritans
(for the record, John Harvard was a Puritan).
Perhaps it is not a characteristic of academic schools to know what to do with athletics. When I was living in Chicago, I attended a Northwestern
football game. They were so used to losing that the crowd would break into the following chant after the game:
That's alright! That's okay! You're gonna work for us someday!
Northwestern was for years the odd academic school in the Big Ten Conference
, having joined in 1896. Then in 1995, they suddenly had a huge year, becoming conference champions for the first time since 1936. The other schools were so used to a weak Northwestern Football team, they would purposely schedule their Homecoming game
against that poor school (Northwestern won three homecoming games in a row in 1995).
One of the reasons I think this is all so funny is that one of the undergraduate colleges I attended, Moody Bible Institute
, has the "Archers" as their team mascot. Some of my classmates were eager to go support the athletic teams, not knowing what our mascot was, one of them asked one of the school administrators what our mascot was. He replied, "We are the Moody Archers." He then asked if we had a mascot and was told, "Why yes, it's on our seal."
That's right, the mascot was not a bowman, but an architectural element!
For fun, Smedly and Nate made a large cardboard arch (one person on each side of the arch) and trotted out on the courts to rouse the crowds. I can tell you by watching them that a two man mascot is harder to pilot than a single person mascot. And of course, it didn't have a "fight song," but they did sing the school hymn, "The Christian Fellowship Song," on a regular basis, I'll reprint it below for your enjoyment:
Often only the fourth stanza was sung at school events.