Long before there were hype men and women for hip hop stars, mascots graced the sidelines of sporting events to inspire cheer. These characters are the faces of NCAAW teams, often more so than the players who pass through collegiate programs at four-year intervals. Mascots have just one job — to tease up team spirit. And while most professional and collegiate teams opt for characters (humans in costumes), the likes of the LSU Tigers, the Baylor Lady Bears, the Memphis Tigers and the North Alabama Lions still use live, wild animals to entertain fans. Baylor has a “Bear Program” aimed at conservancy, but groups like PETA still deem the use of live animals for entertainment to be a scourge that compromises animals’ welfare and sometimes leads to their deaths. Because putting wild animals in cages is never a good look, live mascots are excluded from this list. That still leaves many costumed mascots, ranging from adorable and silly to menacing and ghoulish. Swish Appeal selected and ranked just 10.
No. 10 Tree
Essential facts: Stanford got its “Cardinal” nickname in 1891 when a newspaper referenced the school’s color — Cardinal — following Stanford’s victory in the first Big Game. The moniker stuck and has been used ever since. The problem, though, is that a mascot was never created to match the Cardinal, so the marching band mascot, “Tree,” unofficially doubles as the mascot for all of Stanford athletics. We rank “Tree” at the bottom of the list because of its haphazard leaves and a face design teetering on blackface.
No. 9 DIBS
DePaul Blue Demons
Essential facts: From “D-men” in 1900 to the “Demons” of today — get it? This demon has been on quite a ride concerning its name. Just as strangely, the blue demon’s name, DIBS, stands for Demon In a Blue Suit. Not to mention that this blue demon, in all of its cobalt glory, once was called Billy. #YCMTSU
No. 8 Henry
Rutgers Scarlet Knight
Essential facts: Maybe it’s the pale skin adorned with blue eyes and jet-black hair/eyebrows that creeps us out. Yet, “Henry” the Scarlet Knight is an improvement over the chanticleer Rutgers used from 1925 to 1955, when a campus-wide selection process chose the Scarlet Knight as its mascot. Henry is single and lives in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He enjoys gorging on Taylor Ham Pork Roll with egg and cheese and binge-watching “The Sopranos.” Classy.
No. 7 Brutus
Ohio State Buckeyes
Essential facts: What exactly is a buckeye, you ask? Something akin to a chestnut. So “Brutus,” literally, is a nut. He was born in 1965 to parents Woody and Belle Buckeye and has a pet squirrel named Eleanor. He hates Goldy the Gopher and Bucky the Badger because they eat nuts. On Midwestern rival Sparky, Brutus registers “no comment.” Considering his weird, round head and too-small hat, maybe Brutus shouldn’t be quite so judgy.
No. 6 Sparty
Michigan State Spartans
Essential facts: Sparty was Michigan State’s mascot from day one, and the very first depiction in 1955 was crafted from papier-mâché by members of a fraternity. In the late 1980s, Sparty got an upgrade, with hopes of making him an “approachable, fierce yet kind, man for all seasons.” Sparty’s outfit is killer, especially his dapper headgear. Unfortunately, Sparty’s empty, black eyes give the impression that he’s either in a trance or demonically possessed.
No. 5 Otto the Orange
Essential facts: If Ohio State can run with a nut as its mascot, why not an orange for Syracuse? Before Otto, Syracuse had “Vita the Goat, the Saltine Warrior and a Roman-style gladiator” leading the cheer. In the 1980s — perhaps influenced by the zeal for Orange Julius — Syracuse adopted “the Orange” as its mascot and later named it Otto. Otto is meant to be a “juiced-up, bumbling citrus fruit from which two legs protrude,” and clearly he meets that objective. The image of a giant orange with legs is weird, as is Otto’s nose. But Sports Illustrated named him the best mascot in the ACC, indicating Otto at least has performance abilities working in his favor.
No. 4 Goldy Gopher
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Essential facts: Born in 1952, Goldy the Gopher enrolled at Minnesota as an eternal student determined to make mascot performance a legitimate field of study. His fur may be a bit ratty, but Goldy’s big-toothed smile, reminiscent of Alvin the Chipmunk, is undeniably adorable. Plus, it’s cool that Goldy sometimes wears a cape! But he needs to get better at picking friends. Goldy considers the Timberwolves’ Crunch, the Wild’s Nordy, the Vikings Viktor and the Twins’ TC Bear his personal friends and acquaintances ... but not the Lynx’s Prowl, a four-time champion this decade alone! Tsk tsk, Goldy.
No. 3 Jack
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Essential facts: Who doesn’t love bunnies? From long ears to mega hops, Jack is a cutie even if the referee in the background disagrees. He’d be even cuter if, instead of sneakers, he was hopping around in his supposedly lucky rabbit feet. There are two theories of how “Jackrabbits” became the nickname for South Dakota state, according to the team’s athletic department: 1) “A reporter for the newspaper, knowing of the preponderance of jackrabbits in the Brookings area, was believed to have written that the SDSC team was a quick as jackrabbits; ... and 2) There is a poem in the 1907 yearbook that puts forth the idea that the yearbook is called The Jackrabbit because a group of juniors wished to immortalize themselves by changing the name of the yearbook.”
No. 2 Testudo
Essential facts: Testudo the Diamondback terrapin was born in 1932 in Chesapeake Bay. As for why the terrapin was named Testudo, the Maryland athletic department offers three theories: 1) “it was derived from the scientific classification for turtle, testudines; 2) ... the name is from testudo gigantia, a species native to the African country Seychelles and the remote island Aldabra; and 3) “... the derivation of the word testudo itself comes from the Latin word for a protective shelter used for Roman soldiers’ heads, similar to a tortoise shell.” The only oddity about Testudo is that he’s a turtle and most collegiate sports require athletes who are fast. But since he’s got an interesting origin story and he’s super cute to boot, Testudo ranks high on our list. Just look at that fancy shell, adorable beak and cute feet! Awww ...
No. 1 Ms. Wuf
NC State Wolfpack
Essential facts: According to NC State Athletics, “NC State was tagged with the nickname ‘Wolfpack’ out of anger.” As the story goes, back in 1921 “an anonymous alum was upset that the behavior of some players on the football team was ‘as unruly as a pack of wolves.’” From there, the moniker stuck although the university considered changing the name during the WWII era because “Wolfpack” was a nickname Hitler used for his German submarines. A campaign was launched to change the name, with “the North Staters, the Cardinals, the Hornets, the Cultivators, the Cotton Pickers and the Pine-rooters (a down-east name for pigs), the Auctioneers and the Calumets” all up for consideration. For obvious reasons — the terribleness of those monikers! — NC State stuck with “Wolfpack.” Representing the team are Tuffy and Ms. Wuf, who are not wolves proper but Tamaskan dogs resembling them. That NC State presents a viable female incarnation of its mascot, the wide-eyed and adorable Ms. Wuf — cute dress and bow, but with ferocious teeth — tops our list of NCAAW mascots.