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My Column: Sports Illustrated was embarrassingly wrong in their mascot rankings

Any good mascot list must balance the earnest with the absurd... and must include Brutus Buckeye.

NCAA Football: Army at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Tamanini Matt Tamanini is the co-managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land having joined the site in 2016.

Look, over the past two and a half weeks, we here at Land-Grant Holy Land have been giving you a ton of content to get you ready for the 2019 Ohio State Buckeyes college football season. So today, I feel like we have earned the right to go off on something completely idiotic, and so I shall.

The SI List

Last week, someone named Torrey Hart compiled a list of “The Greatest Mascots in College Football History” for Sports Illustrated. Now — putting aside the fact that to celebrate college football’s 150th anniversary, the formerly venerated SI has become little more than a glorified Buzzfeed listicle publisher — this particular list displays the horrific depths with which some people have deluded themselves when it comes to the very serious (yet, also very silly) business of collegiate mascots.

Hart’s SI list purports to be the greatest mascots “In College Football History,” yet only features current mascots and in their current form (problem No. 1). Next, while I would prefer to not get into a semantics argument that I know that I have already lost to the public at large, personally, I have a problem with considering live animals as mascots in the college sporting sense (problem No. 2).

Yes, I understand that they meet the definition of the word “mascot”:

n: /ˈmasˌkät,ˈmasˌkət/ a person or thing that is supposed to bring good luck or that is used to symbolize a particular event or organization.

“the squadron’s mascot was a young lion cub”

But, I have a hard time accept mascots that a) aren’t part of the cheerleading squad, b) must be kept on a leash(es), c) don’t care about sports, and d) are instinctively wired to kill people (and/or other mascots).

And finally, the most important of all problems when analyzing another human’s completely subjective opinions, Hart’s list is garbage (problem No. 3).

But, before I start expressing my unhealthily passionate opinions about the SI list, I figured that I should first show you the SI list.

Sports Illustrated’s Greatest Mascots List

Rank Mascot School Animal Costumed
Rank Mascot School Animal Costumed
10 Smokey Tennessee Dog X
9 Otto the Orange Syracuse X Orange
8 Big Red Western Kentucky X Red Blob
7 Cocky the Gamecock South Carolina X Bird?
6 Ralphie the Buffalo Colorado Buffalo X
5 The Tree Stanford X Tree
4 Bevo Texas Steer X
3 Mike the Tiger LSU Tiger X
2 The Duck Oregon X Duck
1 Uga Georgia Dog X

What’s Wrong with the SI List?

Now look, I understand that many of you are animal lovers, and the fact that there’s a pair of very good boys on the list is a bonus for you. However, a buffalo, a steer, and a live freaking tiger? How has P.E.T.A. not put an end to those already?

Potential animal cruelty aside, none of these animals — or any live animal, for that matter — deserves to be on a list of greatest mascots, for one very important reason. They don’t do anything!

Yes Ralphie and Bevo run across the field during pregame, but after that, do they amp up the crowd? No. Do they do stunts with cheerleaders? No. Do they get into faux fights with their mascot rivals? No. Although, I suppose those fights can be real.

What you do get from live animal mascots is the chance that they could cause serious and irreparable bodily harm to anyone who dares to get in their way. These are massive wild animals; even if they’ve been born and bred in captivity for the very purpose of entertaining football fans, they still have wild DNA and tendencies coursing through their veins. Don’t believe me? Ask Ralphie. All he wants to do is run free, but a bunch of CU Ag majors won’t let him follow his passion.

When was the last time that you saw Colorado’s other mascot, Chip the Buffalo, almost drag and/or trample someone to death? Never, that’s when.

Normally when Chip injures someone, it’s just himself.

And Mike the Tiger? He hasn’t even been at an LSU game since 2015. His inclusion on this list is an affront to Auburn’s Aubie the Tiger, Clemson’s “The Tiger” (come on, y’all, you can do better than that), DePauw’s Tyler the Tiger, Missouri’s Truman the Tiger, Princeton’s “The Tiger” and “The Tigress” (see note to Clemson), and all of the other costumed tigers prowling college football sidelines.

Now, moving onto the cute and cuddly portion of the live mascots. I understand that everyone loves Uga and thinks that he’s adorable, but he spends almost the entire game sitting on a bed of ice in a dog house. Hell, he doesn’t even care enough to watch the dang game. How can he be the best mascot in college football history, if he doesn’t even like college football?

Also, Georgia is currently on Uga X, so do you really want to have to explain life and death to your kids because of a mascot? Isn’t that what “The Lion King” is for?

I mean, since Texas and Georgia both have live animal mascots, your kids almost got a jarring lesson in “The Circle of Life” at the Sugar Bowl earlier this year; and the rest of us almost got Uga XI that same day too. That never would have happened if the mascots had been human-size furries, as God, Walter Camp, and Pop Warner intended.

Now, if you are going to include a live animal mascot on your list of “The Greatest Mascots in College Football History,” especially one of the canine variety, omitting Yale’s Handsome Dan borders on gross negligence. The reason that we have college football mascots at all is in all likelihood because of Handsome Dan. I mean, come on, he debuted in 1889 and won the Westminster Dog Show. That is a very good boy.

Handsome Dan I (again with teaching your kids about mortality vis-à-vis a mascot) is still so beloved today that — thanks to a turn of the 20th Century taxidermist — he currently resides on campus in New Haven, Conn., nearly 125 years after his death.

Handsome Dan XVIII (l), Handsome Dan I (stuffed, r)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images | Peter Hvizdak/New Haven Register

The Real List

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some great inclusions on Hart’s list; though I’d quibble with her order. Otto the Orange is a solid choice, Big Red is criminally undervalued, The Tree is one of the most important works of absurdist social and cultural commentary in modern day America, and The Duck is... well, The Duck.

One issue facing anyone making a list of top-tier mascots is that you have to balance the earnest and the traditional — which means so much college football fans — with the innate silliness of having mascots in the first place, and then going through the ludicrous exercise of ranking them.

So, for every The Duck, you need a Keggy the Keg from Dartmouth (unofficial mascot). For every Otto the Orange, you need a Lil’ Red from Nebraska. And no list of best mascots would be complete without Sammy the Slug from UC Santa Cruz. Just ask John Travolta.

John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction”
Miramax Films

Now, I admit that my taste in mascots tends to lean more towards the ridiculous, but isn’t that the point of college mascots? From students dressing up in arguably culturally insensitive attire to someone wearing a “nittany lion” costume that’s fresh off of the clearance rack at that sketchy Halloween store that pops up in the dilapidated strip mall beginning in mid-September every year, the entire practice is ridiculous.

But you know what? As college sports — and particularly college football — fans, it is our ridiculous. We love this crazy game and all of the pageantry and pomp and circumstance that goes with it. That’s what separates it from the NFL.

So, since I’ve spent the last 1,217 words needlessly insulting the work of Torrey Hart (whom I am sure is a lovely and talented person who doesn’t deserve this), here is my attempt at the Greatest Mascots in College Football History. Feel free to pick it apart in a blog post of your own.

Matt Tamanini’s Greatest Mascots in College Football History

Rank Mascot School Animal Costumed
Rank Mascot School Animal Costumed
10 Sparty Michigan State No Gerard Butler
9 Otto the Orange Syracuse Of course not Orange
8 Big Al Alabama Nope Elephant
7 Cayenne Louisiana Lafayette Never A pepper, I think
6 Sammy the Slug UC Santa Cruz I'm calling PETA Banana Slug
5 The Duck Oregon How dare you? Duck
4 Lil' Red Nebraska Whatchu smokin'? Inflatable Husker
3 Big Red Western Kentucky Don't be daft Red Blob
2 The Tree Stanford I'm offended Tree
1 ???? ???? Come on, man. ????

Who’s No. 1?

You didn’t think that I was going to write an entire article on mascots and not talk about the greatest one in college football history, did you? Of course, the real and true best of the best is our beloved Brutus Buckeye.

The reason that our nutty friend rises to the top is because he blends the earnest and the asinine perfectly. He is one of the most — if not the most — recognizable icons in college sports, and comes with generations of sentimental nostalgia. However, there is no getting around the fact that he is an anthropomorphized non-lethally poisonous nut. And, it is really weird that we all love him as much as we do, but that’s what makes the whole thing beautiful.

However, another point in Brutus’ favor is that he’s not one to rest on his laurels. Since debuting in 1965, he (I think Brutus is a he) has had a number of substantial glow ups. Columbus’ WBNS 10TV put together a great history of Brutus Buckeye last year in which you can see all of his various looks.

The Ohio State University

So, for his ability to traverse both the reverent and ridiculous aspects of college football mascotdom, and his willingness to change with the times, there is no doubt that Brutus Buckeye is The™️ Greatest Mascot in College Football History.


Other than Brutus, who do you think is the greatest mascot in college football history?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    Big Al
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    Big Red
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    Cocky the Gamecock
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Lil’ Red
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Mike the Tiger
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    Otto the Orange
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    Ralphie the Buffalo
    (3 votes)
  • 5%
    Sammy the Slug
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    (2 votes)
  • 24%
    (32 votes)
  • 19%
    The Duck
    (25 votes)
  • 8%
    The Tree
    (11 votes)
  • 9%
    (12 votes)
  • 13%
    Other (submit your answer in the comments below)
    (17 votes)
129 votes total Vote Now