By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
September means only one thing around our household – college football season starts. We await the beginning of each season as a child might await Christmas. In July my husband buys the college football preview magazines and begins to plot out our weekends for the fall. He is a life-long USC fan (it’s going to be a long season) so every year he gives me their schedule to mark on our calendar with instructions not to plan anything silly when a game is on. “Silly” is defined as dinner with good friends, going to a play, or God forbid, a trip to the emergency room.
So every Saturday, from September through the bowl games in January, our day unfolds with military-like precision: we wake up and don our “Saturday pants” (which is anything with an elastic waistband), we cut out the sports schedule from the paper and circle all the games we want to catch, we watch ESPN “Game Day“, and then plunk ourselves down for a Bacchanalia of football. We finally rouse from our chairs around midnight, at which point we take our stupefied selves to bed. Some might suggest that the whole day has been stupefied, but we love our college football.
One aspect of the game that is getting more attention these days is the team mascot. It used to be that some poor sap put a paper mache head on and ran along the sidelines like an idiot. But like all else with college sports, the team mascot has become more sophisticated. They have races with the opposing mascot, they do push-ups after every touchdown, and their outfits often look like something out of a Tim Burton movie. There are, however, a few exceptions to this sophistication. The first one is right here in my own backyard: The Scottsdale Community College Fighting Artichoke. That’s right – our mascot is a vegetable. I don’t recall an artichoke being particularly fearsome, unless you count being stuck by those little prickly things at the end of the leaf. A couple of years ago Artie (as he is familiarly known) was #1 in the Top Ten Most Weird College Mascot contest. He beat out the Delta State Fighting Okra. We don’t even grow artichokes in Scottsdale but the story goes that a few years ago some computer science students were upset about the amount of money the school spent on the football team. So they managed to get a campaign going to find a new mascot for the team, plotting to suggest the artichoke since they thought it would be so embarrassing to the team. They drove a hard (and probably rigged) campaign and Artie won the day. Ironically, the students, including the football team, soon embraced the cute little vegetable and today Artie is a beloved member of the campus.
There are other examples of dumb mascots, most notably the Stanford tree. Or maybe I’m just not smart enough to “get it”. There is the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs and the Oglethorpe Stormy Petrels. My brother, Bob, attended Westminster College at a time when their mascot was the “Parson”. It will not surprise you to know that Bob wrote the sports column for the school newspaper. He often suggested that “Parson” didn’t really strike fear in their opponents, but to no avail. They since have changed it to the “Griffin” which at least gives them a fighting chance.
On the other side of the ledger, perhaps the BEST mascot in college football is Uga, the Bulldog from the University of Georgia. It pains me to say that because I hate the SEC and everything about it. Except Uga. How can you not fall in love with that face? An English Bulldog has been the mascot for the university since 1956, all of them owned by the same family. To date, 9 dogs have carried the name “Uga”, each descended from the original Uga, and frequently the son of the predecessor. Talk about nepotism! The current Uga attends every home football game, many away games, and other University-related functions and sports events, and usually wears a spiked collar and red jersey with varsity letter. The red jersey is Uga’s typical “uniform,” though he wears a green jersey on St. Patrick’s Day. Other special appearances include 1982, when Uga IV attended the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City wearing a tuxedo, and 2007, when Uga VI wore a black jersey for the “blackout” game against Auburn. Shoot, this dog has more change of outfits than I do. He even has an official student identification card. He has a custom-built air-conditioned dog house and typically sits on or near bags of ice at games.
Here he is – trying to cool off after the half time show – overheated and prostate. I can so relate to his dilemma. Oftentimes as I’m running around in the midst of summer I’ve also felt like heaving myself onto a bag of ice. Granted, I’d need a considerably bigger bag than Uga, but I think he’s on to something.
So this season, pay special attention to the mascots. You never know when you might run into an Artichoke or a petrel. Or if you’re really lucky, a cute English Bulldog named Uga.