Mascots raise the roof, a symbolic home-field advantage
It’s nearing game time and the electricity is pitching higher and higher. Chanting and cheering are building, and home fans in the sold-out stadium anticipate that special moment to push them over the edge into a crescendo of wild cheers. Then in sprints the team’s mascot, making a grand entrance amidst the roaring crowd. As a duck, badger, cowboy or Viking, the mascot is a lone symbol proudly wearing the home team’s colors, providing antics throughout the game to hold fan enthusiasm and to keep players pumped.
Mascots aren’t just about games―—Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald are big-league celebrities. But school mascots feel more personal, representing the spirit and heritage of a team or a town. Think what the alligator means to the University of Florida or Osceola to Florida State University. Mascoting is also hard work. “The number one job,” former North Fort Myers High mascot David Crager says, “is to make sure your mask doesn’t come off, because we try to make sure no one knows who is behind it. I really did enjoy it―, and I know a lot of the students in the crowd enjoyed it.”
The mascot Knightro at the University of Central Florida “is by far the ‘big man on campus’ at UCF, and not just because he stands seven feet tall,” says UCF’s Mark Schlueb, the school’s media communications coordinator. “No one brings more school spirit to the party than Knightro, and wherever he goes students gather around for high-fives and selfies. When it comes to his moves,
THE WORD MASCOT IS ROOTED IN FRENCH, MEANING LUCKY CHARM.
Knightro puts other mascots to shame—―fans love it when he stands tall atop a pyramid of UCF cheerleaders.”
The word mascot is rooted in French, meaning lucky charm. In the early days of mascots, they were mostly live animals. Although some live mascots are still used, such― as Renegade the Appaloosa that carries Florida State University’s Osceola to midfield, it’s― the larger-than-life, puppet-like entertainers that dominate modern sidelines, the top of dugouts and in the stands. Some schools have dropped references, icons and mascots of Native Americans so as not to offend.
But most mascots are free from controversy. That’s been true, for example, for the longest time in Gainesville. One of Florida’s best-recognized mascots has been the University of Florida’s Albert E. and Alberta Gator. The alligator was introduced in 1908 by Austin Miller, a law student at the University of Virginia. Phillip Miller, Austin’s father, was in Gainesville for business and was asking about the university’s mascot. Learning there wasn’t one, the Millers decided on the alligator and had to return months later with a photo of an alligator, because the designer had never seen one.
The school’s first live alligator, Albert, made an appearance in 1957. There was even a robotic alligator used at one time. It wasn’t until 1970 that Albert the Gator was given the full-time job in a vinyl suit. His sidekick, Alberta, was introduced in 1986.
Team nicknames are also based on local industry, such as the minor league Charlotte Stone Crabs baseball club and its mascot “Stoney.” Stone crabs have been an important part of the area’s fishing industry, with the Stone Crabs’ official colors resembling the blue of its Major League Baseball parent team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
Not all mascots embody the team’s nicknames. The Miami Dolphins, for instance, employed a pair of life-size bobbleheads of two team legends, Dan Marino and Don Shula, during the 2014 season. The bobbleheads were fan favorites outside the stadium during pregame festivities.
So be it either a life-size puppet wandering the sidelines, or furry animals representing the home team, a mascot always results in louder cheering and a more raucous crowd.
Albert E. and Alberta Gator have long ruled the field at UF. Life-size bobbleheads (below) of Dan Marino and Don Shula pep up the crowd for the Miami Dolphins.
From left to right: Osceola rides his Appaloosa Renegade to midfield to begin every FSU home game. Local mascots include Stoney for the Charlotte Stone Crabs; Puddles the Blue Goose for the “Ding” Darling Refuge; Swampee for the Florida Everblades.