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Badassiest Mascots 2011 – The First Two Rounds

March 14th, 2011 · 5 Comments

It’s time once again to break out your brackets, and discover who will REALLY make it to the Final Four!  Sure, you could check RPIs and win-loss records and injuries and player size and all that, but that’s a lot of stuff to keep track of.  For those more casual sports fans like myself who just don’t have the remaining skull space to track such stats, there’s only one factor to consider – just how badass are the teams’ respective mascots?

“Badassity” is a determination borne of many factors.  “Who would win in a fight” matters, but isn’t the end-all.  I give significant consideration to uniqueness, history, and logo/costume design.  I also rely on the time honored judicial rule of stare decisis, which means precedent will generally be controlling.

This year is a little different – there’s an extra “play-in” round that’s now the First Round.  And the Selection Committee did a terrible job taking mascot badassity into consideration this year (Buckeyes?  Jayhawks?  Sheesh…), so I feel that there may be an unfair anti-mascot bias.  But even so, back in ’09 this method got it almost right, picking Michigan State to go all the way.  I was close – they made it to the Championship Game.  Sometimes you just gotta play above the officiating, and that’s what we’ll be rooting for this year.

If you don’t like my decision, or feel your school’s symbol has been unfairly maligned, tough. (Keep in mind that I went to the University of Minnesota, where Goldy Gopher gets beaten up by math professors, so my sympathy for YOUR mascot is pretty limited.)  But feel free to call me on it – if you’ve got the guts.  With lots of bad stuff going on in the world, it’s fun to take a break and debate over some abject silliness.  So without further ado…

The First Four (First Round)

(16) Alabama State Hornets over the (16) UT San Antonio Roadrunners

This is an easy one.  Hornets may be small, but they are a seriously badass insect.  I once fell into a hornet next on a camping trip – I can personally attest to their fearsomeness.  Roadrunners, on the other hand, reached their peak of badassity in Looney Toons cartoons.  And the mascot roadrunner inspires far more laughter than fear – it even looks like it’s running away!

(12) UAB Blazers over the (12) Clemson Tigers

I predict a good long run for the Blazers.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out badassity from the name alone, but here the mascot itself seals the deal.  Tigers are badass as far as big cats go, but they are always overrepresented and just kind of boring, quite frankly.  And Clemson has a particularly weak logo – oh, wook at da widdle paw!  The Blazers will turn the Clemson Kitties into Crispy Critters, and go on to the next round.

(11) USC Trojans over the (11) VCU Rams


There are a ton of ancient Greek warriors in this tournament, and they always do well in this bracket.  The horns on the big sheep are cool and all, but they aren’t going to get very far against a phalanx bristling with spears.

(16) UA – Little Rock Trojans over the NC – Asheville Bulldogs

There are five Bulldogs in this year’s tournament, and this is far and away the silliest of them all.  It tries to be badass, but winds up just being bad.  The inherent badassity of Hector and his warriors blow this goofy-looking puppy out of the water.

The Second Round


(16) Alabama State Hornets over the (1) Ohio State Buckeyes

The Big Ten has some incredibly weak mascots.  Gophers?  Badgers?  They may be unique, but that’s only because no one else would want them.  But none are weaker than the Buckeye.  Even if the mere fact that it’s a nut (well, seed, really) were alone not enough to make it lose pretty much any game in this bracket, its tree has a rather unfortunate history on its own:

The tree species Aesculus glabra is commonly known as Ohio buckeye, American buckeye, or fetid buckeye. It derives its unflattering common name from the disagreeable odor generated from the flowers, crushed leaves, broken twigs, or bruised bark.

Sick, and most assuredly not badass in any way.  The Hornets take this easily.  Don’t believe the Ohio State hype!

(8) George Mason Patriots over the (9) Villanova Wildcats

I have a special place in my heart for patriotic mascots, particularly from conservative schools.  And there are deep wells of badassity inherent in any group who can overthrow power and then go out of their way to limit their own power as opposed to simply assuming the same tyranny they threw off.  (Are you listening Egypt/Libya/Tunisia/Etc.?)

I must admit, though, that the actual mascot is kind of weak.  Green and yellow facepaint?  I’m not sure the Brits would have exactly been quaking in their boots…  Fortunately for George Mason, their rival is the underwhelming and overused Wildcats, so they take this one.

(12) UAB Blazers over the (5) West Virginia Mountaineers

Mountain men are not without badassity, and I appreciate that West Virginia broke off to go fight for the good guys during the Civil War, but again – it’s a frickin’ fire breathing dragon.  ‘Nuff said. 

(13) Princeton Tigers over the (4) Kentucky Wildcats

There is plenty of precedence for this matchup, and it’s easy due to the apples-to-apples nature of the battle of the cats.  Charlie Sheen isn’t drinking Wildcat Blood.  Duh.

Both teams do a great job with their logos.  (Are you listening, Clemson?)  The Tiger may be the most overused and boring mascot out there, but with the possible exception of the Wildcat, so that’s a wash.  The Ivy League may suffer in their badass potential due to their effete image,  but that’s not enough to save Kentucky.

(6) Xavier Musketeers over the (11) Marquette Golden Eagles


This was a difficult choice.  A badass bird of prey against some French dudes with wimpy little swords and frilly shirts?  But at least the Musketeers were warriors of some sort, and from back in a time when the French Military wasn’t quite so… humorous.

Part of what kills Marquette is their overused and weak looking eagle mascot.  It’s not even a good ol’ American bald eagle. On the other hand, Xavier employs this lame Blue Blob courtside.  Ugh – it’s a veritable vacuum of badassity.

In the end, it might be a quirk of film history that keeps Xavier in the game.  D’Artagnan was first played for the silver screen by a silent film actor with the incredibly handsome name of Orrin Johnson in 1916, which I think gives them the edge for me in this race to the bottom.

(14) Indiana State Sycamores over the (3) Syracuse Orange

This is probably the lamest, weakest matchup of the tournament.  Indiana State notably doesn’t even try to parade their nickname in costume form, either on their logo or on the court.  There may be some trees out there who can carry some badassity – oaks, redwoods, cedars – but a sycamore?  No way.  Indiana State tries to make up with it by having an animal of some kind they call Sycamore Sam, but someone needs to explain to them that goofyness does not contribute to badassity.

Fortunately for Indiana State, they might have the one opponent who could lose to them – a color.  Not even a fruit.  Just a color.  Not even a primary color.

Worse, Syracuse at least used to be called the “Orangemen,” at least for their men’s teams.  But they changed it to just “The Orange” in a fit of especially ridiculous political correctness.  I think even the Buckeyes could win this one.

(10) Georgia Bulldogs over the (7) Washington Huskies

In the past, I’ve always had huskies winning this exact matchup – it actually happens relatively often.  Huskies drag medicine and supplies across the frozen wastes of one of our nation’s most badass states, while bulldogs, well, don’t.  (What do they do, anyway?)

But this is an exception, and why logo design matters.  I feel like the Georgia Bulldog is about to give me a wildly profane speech about killing enemy soldiers or something.  (He needs a cigar, but I suppose that’s a no-no in these nanny state healthy times.)  I don’t want to mess with him, and neither should any husky, no matter how far they can pull a sled.

(2) North Carolina Tarheels over the (15) Long Island Blackbirds


The term “tarheel” was originally an insult, which the North Carolinians “took back.”  It comes from the shipyard workers who used local tar to seal wooden hulls so they stayed watertight.  I don’t know how badass that is, but then, dock workers tend to be a pretty tough crowd.  And the ram they’ve added to their logo definitely (if randomly) ups their badass quotient. 

Blackbirds are cool and all, I guess.  This would have been a closer call if they’d at least chosen a tougher name.  What about “The Ravens”?  I think even “The Crows” would have been more badass.  As it is, though, it goes to NC. 


(1) Duke Blue Devils over the (16) Hampton Pirates

“Badass” doesn’t always mean “good”, and that’s good for the boys from Duke, who usually keep this bracket respectable for a pretty good run.  The power of the Underworld is not necessarily to be sought, but is to be respected and feared – essential elements of any badassity calculation.

Pirates fall into the same vein – the swashbuckling, murderous marauders of the Seven Seas were hung on sight back when and should be again today by various governments who could use their own badassity infusion, but they are indeed a fearsome symbol.

Hampton, however, picked a pretty frilly pirate to represent them.  I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.  I understand that was the style back in the day, but still.  In this matchup of evil versus evil, the more supernatural evil takes the wins easily and prevents the upset.

(8) Michigan Wolverines over the (9) Tennessee Volunteers

Sometimes size doesn’t matter, and that’s always the case with the wolverine – as mean and badass a forest creature as ever there was.  If these snarly little beasties were enough to scare those commie pig Soviets out of Colorado back in the ’80s, or to symbolize a superhero with claws that unsheathe from his very skin, then they’re good enough for a win in this game.

The Vols are not without their badassity, referring as they do to volunteer fighters for the independence of the USA.  But their use of this cute little dog kills them.  Ferocity has been scientifically proven to be closely related to badassity, and that means Michigan runs away with this one in the end.

(12) Memphis Tigers over the (5) Arizona Wildcats

Didn’t we just see this game?  Didn’t we just do these?  C’mon, guys – can we please start thinking of some more interesting mascots?  How about some dinosaurs or mastadons or rhinos or something.

(13) Oakland Golden Grizzlies over the (4) Texas Longhorns


I really struggled with this one.  On the one hand, most things Texas are imbued with extra badassity.  The longhorn is a unique mascot, and isn’t your regular old milk cow.  I wouldn’t want to get tangled up in those horns when these badass bovines get angry.  And bears are awfully overrepresented this year.

But this logo is incredibly badass, and grizzlies are far and away the most badass of all the bears.  No bear would tolerate being herded back and forth across the Great Plains for eventual slaughter – definitely not this one, anyway.  Oakland squeaks it out against the horns.

(6) Cincinnati Bearcats over the (11) Missouri Tigers


This was closer than it should have been.  Tigers = yawn.  Bearcat = genetically spliced creature that takes advantage of the badassity of its constituent parts.  But then I found the picture of the logo.  Eesh.

It’s actually better than the kind of pathetic looking kitty they had representing Cinci a few years ago.  But it should have been better.  It started with an old Cincinnati football player named Behr, which is a far more badass way of achieving athletic immortality than just having a number retired or something.  Binghampton University ripped off the logo and made it pretty cool, and Cincinnati should have answered.

Instead, they have this thing that looks more like a dog than either a bear or a cat.  And the worst is that it seems to be sporting a nasty porn ‘stache.  They win this round, but need to take more care in the future to not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Tell that bearcat to shave and get himself to the gym before the next round!

(14) Bucknell Bison over the (3) Connecticut Huskies

Bison are incredibly badass.  They’re huge, and don’t take crap from anyone.  They’re surprisingly fast, agile, and aggressive.  They kill people in Yellowstone at five times the rate that bears kill people.  Not a tourist season went by back home in South Dakota where you didn’t read about some poor, hapless tourist who didn’t respect them.  Cows they ain’t.

I discussed Huskies earlier – bad luck for the whole breed today.  They’re a badass dog, but the bison’s badassity stampedes all over them.

(10) Penn State Nittany Lions over the (7) Temple Owls


The Lions have kind of a weak mascot history.  In a baseball game against Princeton back in 1904, they saw the New Jersey school’s Tiger and suddenly realized the importance of mascot badassity (or just of having one in the first place).  With the specific goal of out-badassing their Ivy League rival, one dude simply declared their symbol was a mountain lion (not the African maned variety), and that it was tougher than a tiger.  Clearly, this erstwhile fan never actually saw a tiger and a mountain lion standing next to each other.  It worked for them that day, though, and the name stuck.  In an admission of creative weakness, they try to score uniqueness points by calling themselves not just the Lions, but the Nittany Lions after the mountain near the school.  Sorry guys.  No extra points here.

Fortunately for Penn State, Princeton is in a different region this time and thus won’t likely be engaging in a feline rematch – if they were, I’d have to give it to Princeton.  Instead, they’re up against an owl.  It’s badass as far as nocturnal birds of (small) prey go, I guess, but it can’t compete with a big cat.

(2) San Diego State Aztecs over the (15) Northern Colorado Bears


It’s interesting – the NCAA has largely banned Indian mascots as being insufficiently sensitive.  This has generally been true whether the Indian tribe implicated felt it was offensive or not.  (See Florida State below.)  So why no guff with the Aztecs?  I guess we can but chalk it up to the fact that the life of an academic administrator is just too darn hard and busy to expect too much intellectual consistency.

It’s fortunate that this loophole exists, though, because this is an incredibly badass team name.  You can just see them dragging the bears to the top of a pyramid and cutting out their still-beating hearts as a sacrifice to their gods.  I see SDSU going far.


(1) Kansas Jayhawks over the (16) Boston University Terriers

I wouldn’t expect the Jayhawks to go very far, but then maybe the Selection Committee felt sorry for them.  These brackets are supposed to be power protected, after all.

A Jayhawk is weak, but a Boston Terrier is about as far from badass as you can get in the canine kingdom.  (Well, short of a bichon frise or something, I guess.)  Their eyes barely stay in their heads, and they just look all out of proportion.  They’re sweet and all, but pretty much the opposite of badass.  I suppose if you put the bird and the dog in a room together and had them fight it out, the dog would win, but that’s not dispositive here.  The bottom line is that while the jayhawk has little or no badassity of its own, zero is still more than the negative badassity of the goofy little bug eyed doggie.

(8) UNLV Runnin’ Rebels over the (9) Illinois Fighting Illini

Three years ago, I had this to say about our Nevada brethren to the South, and I can’t sum it up any better this time:

It’s a bit ironic that a public university in the “Battle Born” state of Nevada – nicknamed such because of its entry into the Union during the Civil War – would call themselves the “Rebels.” But apparently, the name refers to the petulant startup branch campus of the real University of Nevada “rebelling” against their “bigger and older brother to the north,” according to their website. It’s a pretty whiney name origin that diminishes their badassity, but it’s buttressed back up by the inarguably badass mustache and jawline of the mascot himself. But the question is begged – what about the “Runnin’” part? Are they running to or from? It implies speed and action, but also suggests cowardice and the refusal to stand tough.

This is a close call.  A fighting tribe of warriors is tough.  I admire Illinois for keeping the team name, even if they did have to give up their actual mascot several years ago because he wasn’t sufficiently sensitive.  It says something to me they haven’t replaced him.

But in the end, it’s the incredibly manly facial hair which gives the edge to UNLV.

(5) Vanderbilt Commodores over the (12) Richmond Spiders

OK, so spiders are pretty badass, if gross.  But I’m disappointed with the logo – can’t they show some fangs or something?  At least a black widow shape to show they’re deadly to something other than the stray house fly?

But the ability to weave a web and catch bugs pales when compared to commanding fleets of warships in battle.  Maybe I’m swayed by my own naval experiences, but warships and the man controlling them beats out the arachnids easily in my mind.

(13) Morehead State Eagles over the (4) Louisville Cardinals

Let’s see – both are birds.  One is the symbol of the greatest nation on earth, one is songbird.  One has an 8 foot wingspan, and the other an 8 inch wingspan.  One has talons, the other just has feet.  One could tear apart human flesh, the other might wake a human up in the morning with a too-loud song.

Sorry, Louisville.  But come on.

(11) USC Trojans over the (6) Georgetown Hoyas

I don’t know what a “hoya” is, and clearly neither does anyone else, including the folks at Georgetown.  Hence their use of the bulldog.  I give them credit for a creative name, though.

But they simply can’t overcome the badassity of the ancient Greeks, even ones dumb enough to let that horse in through the front door.

(3) Purdue Boilermakers over the (14) Saint Peter’s Peacocks

The men who work steel are tough, and the steel product in the form of a speeding locomotive is tougher still.  I love the badassity of this logo – it just screams, “get out of the way, suckers.”  Strong.

And then there’s a peacock.  An extra frilly one at that.  They can’t fly.  They don’t eat meat.  They don’t do much of anything.  It probably couldn’t even run away from the train, with all those extra feathers.  They might impress the peahens, but they sure as hell don’t impress me.

I don’t think there’s a more lopsided matchup in this whole tournament, and we have colors and nuts and trees duking it out.

(10) Florida State Seminoles over the (7) Texas A&M Aggies

Again, Texas is tough, and A&M enjoys a badass reputation.  So why name your teams after a bunch of farmers?  I mean, I respect farmers.  Many of my relatives growing up were and even still are farmers.  But as a mascot, it has very limited badassity.

The Seminoles, on the other hand, have a noble mascot history that I admire a great deal.  (I’m cutting and pasting a lot of this from years past, but it’s worth repeating.)  The NCAA sanctions schools with Indian mascots, and won’t allow the imagery to be used in post season play.  It was offensive, you see, to everyone except the Seminoles.

FSU was affected by this, in spite of the actual Seminole tribe indicating they didn’t have any problem with it.  The school threatened to sue, but the NCAA granted them a waiver instead.  The tribe did have some concerns back in the ’70s, but instead of wallowing in their victimhood, they decided to turn it into an opportunity to portray their tribe, traditions, and heritage in a much more positive light.  The NCAA, while noting that they were disappointed those Indians didn’t appreciate just how offended they should be, relented.  From a story about the brouhaha in USA Today:

The Executive Committee, which unveiled restrictions on such symbols this month, “continues to believe the stereotyping of Native Americans is wrong,” senior vice president Bernard Franklin said in a statement. “However, in its review of the particular circumstances regarding Florida State, the staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor.”

The tribe officially sanctions FSU’s use of Seminoles as a nickname and Chief Osceola as a mascot. Max Osceola, the chief and general council president of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, said Tuesday that it was an “honor” to be associated with FSU.

I love that the actual tribal chief shares a name with the school mascot.  It makes it hard to call it a stereotype, much less a negative one.

I’m not without my own sensitivities.  I think the Washington Redskins is an awfully offensive nickname.  But just because one mascot somewhere is racist doesn’t mean anything that has anything to do with native cultures is.

This stand by FSU in the face of the pressure of political correctness in academia is extremely brave, and tremendously badass.  Good for them.  And for being successful and productive players in the modern world while still protecting the honor of their past and their heritage, the Seminoles have my sincere admiration and respect.  They also have this one in the Win column.

(2) Notre Dame Fighting Irish over the (15) Akron Zips

Speaking of cultural stereotypes…  How is this one not more offensive than the Seminoles or the Illini?  Well, offensive or not, it’s absolutely badass – especially this time of year.  Indeed – this may not be the most badass college mascot out there, but it is without question an icon – a paragon if you will – of collegiate athletics symbology.  And while I’ve always thought kangaroos were pretty cool, they just don’t have the badass factor that an angry, pugilistic leprechaun has.  Akron won’t be enjoying his Lucky Charms any time soon…


(16) UA – Little Rock Trojans over the (1) Pittsburgh Panthers

By now the logic should be clear here.  Unless Little Rock falls for a giant hollow wooden panther or something.  I have to admit, though – this is an incredibly badass-rendered panther.  It kind of looks like it was cross bred with a vampire bat and a pitbull.

(9) Old Dominion Monarchs over the (8) Butler Bulldogs


I struggled with this one a bit, but in the end, the uniqueness and badassity of Old Dominion’s logo won out.

Bulldogs used to be far more badass than they are today, bred for sport-fighting with other animals (like bulls, hence the name).  But then those stuffy English banned such things, aggression was no longer useful to breeders, and thus the breed got a whole lot nicer.  They still look badass, and they’re still pretty muscly, but still.  Compared to the power of ruling an entire nation by divine fiat, what can you do?  I’m a little sad some patriots or volunteers couldn’t be in this fight to demonstrate that real badassity comes from freedom.

Besides, let’s be honest – the image of the bulldog here is of an English Bulldog.  He’s more likely to sit, salute, and sing “God Save the King” than battle it out in a badass game of basketball with The Crown.

(12) Utah State Aggies over the (5) Kansas State Wildcats


I originally had this one going the other way – farmers versus wildcats?  Even taking into consideration that farming in a place like Utah takes a little extra badassity just due to basic geography and climate, it’s hard to beat a wild, clawing, biting, and scratching cat.

But then I took another look at the mascot themselves.  Props to Utah State for adding huge amounts of badassity supplement to an inherently weak nickname.  Coupled with the overuse of the wildcat moniker, and the relatively uninspired logo design, the Aggies eke out an upset.

(13) Belmont Bruins over the (4) Wisconsin Badgers

As much as I revile the Cheeseheads in all things sports, having lived in Minnesota for four years, I have to admit that a badger does have some badass potential.  They’re tough, mean, and to be avoided and respected.  I mean, it’s not a T-Rex or anything, but at least it’s not a rodent or a tree nut or a freakin’ peacock.  But then they go and put a polyester-looking sweater on the thing.  With a turtle neck.  Come on.  A nice Christmas sweater may be warm and cozy, but it smothers badassity like a wet blanket on a campfire.

Bears in a lot of ways are like huge, huge badgers that kill and eat people.  And this one isn’t wearing the sweater.  This isn’t even a contest.

(6) St. John’s Red Storm over the (11) Gonzaga Bulldogs

Even though Minnesota went to the Final Four my junior year, I never really got into college basketball until I met my wife, who is a huge Gonzaga fan.  Of all the Bulldog logos, theirs is one of the most badass (second only to Georgia’s this year).  So I’m a loyal GU fan all the way around.

But the credibility of the Badassiest Mascot Bracket cannot be tainted by personal loyalty or even domestic bliss.  And as cool as Spike the Bulldog is, he cannot compete with the awesome power of Mother Nature’s fury.  The red implies fire and brimstone on top of it, too.  I mean, Zeus didn’t win a dice roll to chose to be the God of Bulldogs.  And would they bother making a Thor movie if he shot pugnacious pooches out of his hammer instead of thunder and lightning?

It’s been an unlucky tourny for bulldogs…

(3) BYU Cougars over the (14) Wofford Terriers

Terriers.  Again.  Come on – there are a lot of badass breeds of dogs.  German shepherds might have had a chance.  Maybe rottweilers.  How about a great dane?  Even collies built up some great badass points every time Lassie pulled a kid out of a well.  But terriers?

And while in certain circumstances they can be fierce dogs in little packages, nothing about Wofford’s logo suggests anything but a dog begging for scraps.  At most he’s growling at the mail man.  That’s not badass.

Any Cougar would win this matchup, but BYU’s is particularly good.

(10) Michigan State Spartans over the (7) UCLA Bruins

Bears of all kind are pretty badass, especially this one.  I know it’s smiling, and smiling mascots are usually a net negative to a badass rating, but this smile just looks sinister.  Like he’s going to claw your arm off and enjoy it.

But they can’t hold a candle to the warrior tribe of Greeks who train their children from birth to be badasses.  UCLA might as well call themselves the Persians here.

(2) Florida State Gators over the (15) UC Santa Barbara Gauchos


I had to look up just what exactly a “Gaucho” was or is – never a good sign.  Equally weak is the fact that the mascot seems to just be a hat with eyes.  If it’s more than that, it’s hiding under the hat, also not a good sign.

Gauchos are basically South American cowboys, which starts ticking the baddass quotient back up.  But while I admire the itinerant herders, they just aren’t in the same league as a 200 million year old reptile who can and will kill and eat almost anything without mercy.  I mean, could cowboys take down a deer with their jaws alone?  Could they survive a comet impact that killed the dinosaurs?  ‘Nuff said.


Tune in next time for the Third Round, and after that, find out who will the Badassiest of them all!

Tags: Sports