by Emma Bernstein
From the ghosts that supposedly haunt Ithaca’s centuries-old buildings, to the various pumpkins that have been tossed, flaming, into gorges or been found perched atop the clocktower, to the legend of certain campus statues’ vested interest in the social construct of virginity, our school is no stranger to the unique or the absurd.
However, when it comes to our mascot, we are seriously lacking in individuality; a point underscored by the fact that Touchdown is not even the only bear in the Ivy League (he is accompanied by Bruno, of Brown University). UC Berkeley, UCLA, Baylor, and six more Division I schools are all represented by bears as well, along with the Bruins of professional hockey, the Cubs of professional baseball, and the Bears of professional football.
Touchdown, while always a delight to see riling up a crowd on Schoellkopf Field or getting a pie to the snout on Ho Plaza, is certainly not winning any points for uniqueness—but many other college and professional mascots are. Here, for your consideration, are the top six strangest mascots in all of sports; perhaps one of them will inspire our own dear Touchdown to, at the very least, spruce up his look by the next in-person Homecoming.
6. Mr. Met (New York Mets)
The oddity of Mr. Met is somewhat obfuscated by his secure place in the upper echelon of the mascot establishment. Since making his first appearance, and the first of any live mascot in all of Major League Baseball, back in 1964, Mr. Met has been listed by Forbes Magazine as the greatest mascot in sports history and has been elected to the Mascot Hall of Fame. Mr. Met may have enjoyed mainstream success, but his concept was always fundamentally avant-garde; instead of choosing an animal or even a person to represent them, the Mets went with an anthropomorphic representation of the sport of baseball itself. This choice may be fitting for a New York team named, descriptively, the Metropolitans, but the resulting creature is unlike anything else in this world, leaning so far into a nondescript abstraction that he comes all the way back around to the bizarre. Here’s to almost fifty years of Mr. Met terrifying New York’s children—may we be blessed with fifty more!
5. Stanford Tree (Stanford University)
Fear may be one ingredient of the full meal that is Mr. Met, but when it comes to the Stanford Tree, terror is the main course. After Stanford finally abolished its offensive Native American mascot in 1972, the university did not pick a replacement; like Cornell’s “Big Red,” Stanford’s official team name is now simply “Cardinal,” after the color of their uniforms. Unofficially, however, the school has been represented by the Tree, in honor of the city of Palo Alto, ever since it was first introduced by the marching band in 1975. It is tradition for the band to redesign the costume each fall, but each incarnation shares a few notable features: a misshapen green tent to fully disguise the mascot-wearer from the knees up; a pair of bulging, semi-attached eyeballs that point in both directions; and a toothy, oversized grin. The real nightmare, however, is knowing that the Tree’s frightening appearance is not just for show—on multiple occasions, the Tree has been known to throw punches at other mascots or referees, including one occasion on which it ripped the head off of a fellow bear, UC Berkeley’s Oski. Reader beware: the Stanford Tree may be one of the most unsettling mascots to look at, but years of scorn and mockery have also primed it for a fight, earning it fifth place on this list and the hallowed distinction of being the mascot most likely to start dropping bodies.
4. Fighting Pickle (University of North Carolina School of the Arts)
UNCSA might not have an official sports team, but they do have one of the greatest mascots of all time: the Fighting Pickle. This beret-and-tutu-clad, paintbrush-wielding, mustachioed aesthete was created by a student to represent the school for an annual touch-football contest in 1972. Remarkably, this makes the teamless mascot the second oldest featured on this list, younger only than Mr. Met. Also notable is the fact that, while a mascot costume is, in its way, already a kind of mask, the Fighting Pickle also seems to be wearing a second, masquerade-like mask in honor of the school’s theater department. This hat-on-a-hat absurdity, on top of the inherent silliness of the dancing pickle and the senselessness of its very existence in the absence of sports, earns the Fighting Pickle the number four spot. Keep fighting, pickle!
3. Big Red (Western Kentucky University)
Another Big Red mascot sheds light on what could have been if early Cornellians had only had the pure gall of of Western Kentucky University. These true heroes did not pick an animal at random from the pantheon of lions, tigers, and bears. They did not stoop to an offensive caricature. They did not give a nod to some obscure Kentuckian or little-known scrap of University history. No, WKU made the bravest choice available to them: they chose, as the mascot for Big Red, the very concept of “red” itself. Potbellied, long-legged, with brows so luscious they would make Cara Delevingne blush, Big Red is everything Touchdown wishes he could be, breaking down the boundaries of what constitutes a mascot without ever uttering a word. Good on you, WKU. And Big Red, you magnificent beast: you earned this third place finish. Enjoy it.
2. Keggy the Keg (Dartmouth College)
Ah, Dartmouth, Cornell’s older brother to the East—united in geographic isolation, frigid winters, and inferiority complexes that lack even a whiff of self-awareness. Dartmouth, like Stanford, was, in 2003, looking to replace an offensive former mascot with something other than the uninspiring, and uninspired, “Big Green.” After students were unable to agree on a replacement, their comedy magazine, the Jack-O-Lantern, pitched an idea that would live on in infamy: Keggy the Keg. Originally a joke, the costume has since become the accepted, if unofficial, mascot of Dartmouth College, which raises the all-important question: if a student were to start showing up at Cornell events dressed like a half-empty can of Keystone Light, the unofficial sponsored drink of freshmen from Risley to High Rise 5, how long would it take for cartoons of “Kylie the Keystone” to start appearing on forty-dollar University merchandise? Chilling, I know, but I do have to hand it to Dartmouth—Keggy may be a disturbing distillation of college students’ unhealthy fixation on binge drinking, but he is nothing if not unique; more so, in my estimation, than any other mascot… except, of course, for one.
1. Gritty (Philadelphia Flyers)
What do you get when you combine Keggy the Keg’s terrifyingly empty eyes, Mr. Met’s ability to win over hearts and minds, the Stanford Tree’s propensity for violence, Big Red’s uncertain genetic code, and the pure gumption of the Fighting Pickle?
A menace. An iconoclast. A hometown hero. Gritty.
Gritty was first introduced by Philadelphia’s hockey team, the Flyers, in 2018. Like the Stanford Tree, he was initially criticized for his, quite frankly, disturbing appearance—but he was not about to go down without a fight. Within days of his debut, he threatened violence against the mascot of the Pittsburgh Penguins over twitter, bodychecked fans on the ice, and shot a stadium staffer in the back with a t-shirt gun—in short, he did not run from accusations that he was “scary” or “ugly” or “looked like if the hair that gathers in the shower drain started killing people for sport.” No, Gritty did not pretend to be anyone other than who he is. He stood proudly, t-shirt gun cocked and ready, and publicly threatened to injure an anthropomorphized bird. In that moment, he shrugged off the meager label of “mascot” and became something else entirely, moving from cuddly sports sideshow to bonafide Philadelphia icon.
Gritty, you nightmare, you bully, you furry bastard—this one’s for you.