SALT LAKE CITY — When Round 1 of March Madness begins on Thursday, 64 Division I men’s basketball teams will have their (clears throat) “One shining moment.”
On the sidelines, though, 64 mascots will be there, too. Looking through this year’s March Madness teams and their accompanying mascots, these nine weirdos are our favorites.
Billiken (St. Louis University)
Probably the strangest mascot of the bunch. Designed in 1908 by Missouri artist Florence Pretz, a Billiken is a charm doll, known as “The God of Things As They Ought to Be.” It has pointy ears, a squinty smiling face, Buddha-like physique, and a tuft of hair pulled back into a ponytail. Billikens were all the rage in the early 1900s. Somehow, this is still the school’s mascot.
Knightro (University of Central Florida)
UCF’s official mascot, Knightro, looks like he belongs in Nintendo’s “Super Smash Bros.” The oversized knight mask, gold armor and black cape looks both cartoonish and imposing. I’d follow this guy into battle.
Dubs (University of Washington)
Huskies have long been the University of Washington’s mascot generally. In 2016 the Huskies introduced Dubs, a live Alaskan malamute. He was succeeded by Dubs II last year, and oh my goodness he’s so cute.
Kaboom! (Bradley University)
Illinois’ Bradley University unveiled Kaboom!, a winged gargoyle, in 2014. Replacing the university’s previous mascot — a bobcat that retired in 2000 — Kaboom! is fashioned after one of the gargoyles perched atop the university’s alumni center. Is this the only gargoyle mascot in college sports?
Handsome Dan (Yale)
The Yale Bulldogs have a live bulldog as its mascot — not some guy in a bulldog costume. There have been 18 Handsome Dans in Yale’s history, beginning in 1889. According to our research, all of them have been very good boys (and girls — Handsome Dan XII was female). Our personal favorite is Handsome Dan IX (1953-1959) — check out those wrinkles.
Otto the Orange (Syracuse University)
Formerly known as the Orangemen and Orangewomen, respectively, Syracuse’s sports teams simplified their moniker to “the Orange” in 2004. Their longtime mascot is Otto the Orange, who’s literally a big fuzzy orange wearing a baseball cap. They didn’t overthink this one.
Landshark Tony (Ole Miss)
No, Landshark Tony isn’t a mob boss — at least not at the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss’ new mascot was unveiled last summer, to a lot of really funny reactions. The mascot draws inspiration from the football program’s “landshark defense” and the late Ole Miss linebacker Tony Fein, who died in 2009. He's no Left Shark, but Landshark Tony is still pretty great.
Purdue Pete (Purdue University)Comment on this story
Ah, the Purdue Boilermakers. There’s a lot to unpack here. First, the definition of a “boilermaker”: “A trained tradesperson who produces steel fabrications from plates and tubes.” The school’s official mascot is the Boilermaker Special (a literal locomotive train). But for sporting events, the reins are handed over to Purdue Pete, a boilermaker with an enormous fiberglass face. This guy’s huge blank stare is equal parts funny and haunting — it looks like it belongs in a horror flick.
The Duck (University of Oregon)
Yes, the Duck is basically just Donald Duck. That was on purpose. As the story goes, the university’s first athletic director, Leo Harris, had a handshake deal with Walt Disney to use Donald Duck’s likeness. The agreement became officially inked in 1973, seven years after Disney’s death. The university tried to introduce a new mascot, a muscular robo-duck of sorts named Mandrake, but the fans weren’t having it. Long live the Duck.