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Badassiest Mascots 2012 – The First and Second Rounds

March 13th, 2012 · 1 Comment

It’s March Madness time once again, and again we here at First Principles are committed to providing you the best sports analysis anywhere.

Oh, wait.  This is a political blog.  And I’m a terrible sports fan – a “low information” sports fan, if you will.  Which is why I like to base my predictions on the most important factor possible – the badassitude of each team’s mascot.

“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.  (Not all “Bulldogs” are created equal, as you will see.)  I also rely on the time honored judicial rule of stare decisis, which means precedent from previous years will generally be controlling.

(In case you’re curious, here’s 2011, 2009, and 2008.  Don’t ask about 2010…)

So without further ado, here’s the first two rounds!

The First (Play-In) Round

The (16) Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils over the (16) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

This first game is a great illustration of one of the most badass mascots I’ve ever seen against one of the stupidest, most ridiculous, least badass mascots EVER.

Western Kentucky calls themselves the Hilltoppers because they’re on top of a hill.  That’s stupid enough, but then that big red blob they haul out cements them in the basement of badassity.  MVSU could have gotten a bye here, and they would have struggled more to prove their badassity in this game.

The (14) BYU Cougars over the (14) Iona Gaels

“Gaels” apparently refer to Gaelic speaking people, which is kind of cool, I guess.  It’s better if there’s lots of blue face paint, though.  And weapons.  And shoes that don’t have buckles on them.  And who ever heard of a green-less leprechaun, if indeed that’s what that thing is?

I know the mascot has an axe of some kind, but with those highwater pants, the extremely badass-looking cougar will laugh uproariously at him, right before he tears him to shreds and eats him.

The (16) Vermont Catamounts over the (16) Lamar Cardinals

Birds in general are overused – eagle, eagle, eagle (yawn).  But at least eagles are objectively badass.  If you’re going to have a bird, at least have one with a hook in his beak or even a gleam in his eye – you know, one who hasn’t forgotten his dinosaur heritage.  Lamar’s looks more like a finch.  (What’s sad is that it’s not even the least badass bird in this field, but we’ll get to that later.)

Big cats are also overused, and Vermont’s could be tougher looking.  But against the goofy looking songbird, this is an easy first round win.

The (12) Southern Florida Bulls over the (12) California Golden Bears

Bears are pretty badass in general, but they tend to be a bit overused.  And of all the bears in the field, the Golden Bear is the most… bored looking.  It’s like he’s phoning it in – “Yeah, I’m a 500 pound bunch of muscle and claws.  I got this badass thing covered.  Now will someone go get me one of those hibernation alarm clocks Yogi Bear had and let me go back to sleep?”

But Bulls are badass in their own right, and Southern Florida’s came ready to sell it.  The raging horned beast tops the sleepy bruin in this matchup.

Second Round

Enough of this piddly play-in stuff – let’s get to the main event!

South Region

The (16) Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils over the (1) Kentucky Wildcats

The powers of darkness get their hold on the world through many means – not the least of which is their undeniable badassity.  That’s not an endorsement, but it’s true!  (It also usually saves this bracket from utter annihilation, since Duke tends to do well…)

Cats, on the other hand, are way overused.  And Wildcats aren’t even the most badass of cats.  Scrappy, sure.  But against a crayfish flavored Beelzebub?  Not a chance.

The (8) Iowa State Cyclones over the (9) Connecticut Huskies

Iowa State’s name alone is incredibly badass, but they hurt themselves considerably by making the inexplicable decision to put a frickin’ cardinal on top of the tornado.  If it was just the twister, it would look ready to throw cows and houses and Bill Paxton around with extreme prejudice.  But the birdy makes it look small.

But it’s still badass.  Huskies are badass dogs (could you pull a sled across Alaska?), but the UConn Husky is just awfully cute – and cuteness is the enemy of badassity.  The Cyclones blow the Huskies away in this game (yuk, yuk, yuk!).

The (5) Wichita State Shockers over the (12) VCU Rams

The Shockers got their name initially because local farmers gathered bunches of wheat together in “shocks”.  If our current generation was as non-dirty-minded as our more noble forefathers, the Rams (anything with horns is totally badass) would take this easily.

But our generation is NOT so noble.  We’ve been ruined by Beavis and Butt-Head.  To us, and to everyone under the age of 60 who watches college basketball, “shocker” means something totally different.

And the folks at Wichita State know it.

Oh yeah - they know it.

And they keep using the name!!!

That’s chutzpah, and chutzpah is hugely badass.  The brass set it takes to keep using and promoting that name with a wink and a nudge gives Wichita the badass victory.

The (13) New Mexico State Aggies over the (4) Indiana Hoosiers

“Aggies” usually refers to students at an Agricultural school, as a lot of early land grant institutions were.  God bless farmers and ranchers, but they aren’t usually what comes to mind when it comes to badassity.

And I’m being generous to New Mexico State – I found two logos.  One of them (and it seems the more common of them) had the Aggie with a lasso.  The other (the one I used) has him slinging a couple of Peacemakers, which definitely ups the badass factor.  (Don’t believe me?  Add a gun to ANY of the losing mascots, and that might turn it around…)

But Indiana came with a goose egg.  Nothing.  This allegedly storied basketball franchise doesn’t have any kind of mascot whatsoever!


You can’t beat badass with no-ass, so even the lasso-swinging Aggie would win this one.

Now if they made Gene Hackman the mascot, they'd win the whole damn thing every year.

The (11) Colorado Buffaloes over the (6) UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

Our neighbors to the south have a decently badass mascot, even though I’m perpetually baffled why a school in the (Civil War) Battle Born State would name themselves the “Rebels”.  (Yes, I know why – they were “rebelling” against us in the north.  But still.)  The mustache alone could out-badass a quarter of the mascots in this year’s field.

But horns, size, speed, angry eyes, and 2,000 pounds of muscle and skull are not in that quarter.  The Rebels will indeed run – from the superior badassity of the bison.

The (3) Baylor Bears over the (14) South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Baylor can show Cal a thing or two about how to make a bear a badass bear.  But even Cal would take it against a rabbit.

I say this with a heavy heart.  As a native of South Dakota, it’s very, very cool to see SDSU (the real SDSU) on the national stage (especially since my poor Gophers can’t buy their way back into sports relevance, it seems).  But a jackrabbit – while fast and plucky – is just not a badass animal.

(Maybe next year they’ll be in it again, and paired against a Hilltopper or something…)

The (7) Notre Dame Fighting Irish over the (10) Xavier Musketeers

This was a tough one.  A drunken, fighting leprechaun is pretty badass – just look at that beard!  He might struggle, though, against a trained, armed Musketeer.

Still – the “who wins in a fight” isn’t the end all of badassity.  In terms of facial hair, that scraggly ginger beard is far, far more badass than the Xavier Musketeer’s pencil-thin porn ‘stach.  And Xavier brings this weird blue blob – also an official part of their mascot – to the fight, which is a HUGE step in the opposite direction of badassity.

And finally, I’m still disgusted with Xavier’s behavior earlier in the season with their brawl against Cincinnati.  A fight alone I might excuse, but their classless “so what?” attitude afterward makes me sick.  Unrepentant thuggery isn’t badass, it’s just pathetic – and fair or not, it will diminish the badassity of their mascot in close cases for me for years to come.

The (2) Duke Blue Devils over the (15) Lehigh Brown & White/Engineers/Mountain Hawks

Apparently, Lehigh has three “official” nicknames/mascots.  I’ve chosen to use the Mountain Hawk, which is their costume and in their main logo.  It’s lucky for them it’s not just the color – it’s tough to say any color, without some kind of context, is in and of itself badass.

And let’s face it – especially “brown and white.”  Red would totally kick brown’s poop colored butt in a fight.

He never missed a shot before there was a shot clock.

The Engineer is pretty cool, although apparently hardly ever used.  And so we’re left with a bird.

Now, a “mountain hawk” sounds somewhat badass, my previous complaints about birds in general not withstanding.  But then they have to commission a logo that looks more like a robin chick begging for his mom to regurgitate a half-digested worm down his throat.  They PAID for that logo!

But no matter how less-lame their hawk could have been, or how much stubble that engineer can grow on his manly jaw, they aren’t going to out badass the forces of darkness – not even the soothing, calming, internationally peaceful blue forces of evil.

West Region

The (1) Michigan State Spartans over the (16) LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds

There is an astounding array of birds in this field, and what’s even more astounding is the lack of badassity represented, even within the bird world.  Blackbirds (I’m going to assume for LIUB’s sake they refer to a crow or raven) are actually incredibly smart – problem solving, tool making smart.  If they had thumbs, they could even have been contenders.

But against the warriors of Sparta?  An entire society dedicated to kicking ass and limiting extraneous furniture?  This isn’t even a contest.

The (8) Memphis Tigers over the (9) St. Louis Billikins

Tigers are about as generic a mascot as you can get, which can significantly dilute the animal’s otherwise indisputable badassity.

But what the holy [heck] is a Billikin?  I’d say it looks kind of like Sloth from The Goonies, but I think that would be giving it too much badass credit.  I was thinking maybe it could overcome the claws of the tiger if there was some awesome background story – the way Luke Skywalker didn’t appreciate Yoda’s complete badassity because he was too hung up on how goofy the little Muppet looked.  SO I did some looking, and found this story on St. Louis’ website:

A national magazine for college-bound students recently tapped it as one of the “coolest” campus mascots in the country. But just what is a Billiken anyway? […]

It’s also known that the Billiken was manufactured in the early 1900s as a bank and statuette and was the national rage for about six months — kind of that period’s pet rock. During this time, the Billiken was turned into all sorts of things: dolls, marshmallow candies, metal banks, hatpins, pickle forks, belt buckles, auto hood ornaments, salt and pepper shakers and glass bottles.

OK – first, it’s telling that they didn’t name Blind Toddlers Bound For College Someday Magazine as the offending publication.  And second, a generational pet rock? Sometimes I get a little insecure about claiming to be a “Gopher,” but then I remember that it could have been sooooo much worse.

They get points for creativity.  But then they lose them again immediately for aesthetic. And so the simple, workaday Tiger gets the job done here.

The (5) New Mexico Lobos over the (12) Long Beach State 49ers/Dirtbags

To be fair, “Dirtbags” refers mainly to LBSU’s baseball team.  Because they’re grity, or something.  But still – that’s just… weird, and I can’t help but to impute it to the entire athletics department.  And I definitely couldn’t resist mentioning it here.

But even the more badass (and not self-loathing) 49ers mascot can’t overcome a pack of wolves in terms of badassity.  (Unless that pack of wolves lives in Reno, apparently.  Grrr.)  The more exotic sounding foreign name and the drool-drippingly vicious looking logo makes this an easy win for canine-kind.

The (13) Davidson Wildcats over the (4) Louisville Cardinals

There are an astounding amount of songbirds in this year’s Dance.  But in spite of what songbird activist Tweety tries to tell you in his transparent, agenda driven propaganda flicks, kitty is going to be plucking feathers out of his teeth after this round.

"Thirty Pietheth of Thilver were TOTALLY worth betraying cat-kind."

At least Louisville bothered to give this cardinal a scowl, so it doesn’t go down without some kind of token resistance.  Next time, they should borrow Tweety’s huge cartoon hammers or something.

The (11) Colorado State Rams over the (6) Murray State Racers

This was a tough one – I just saw Secretariat a few months ago, and that horse was totally badass.  And having members of your species run until their hearts explode is pretty badass.  Not helping Colorado State is the relatively benign looking ram.

But still – horns of any kind carry a lot of badass cred, and the gentile nature of horse racing counts against the Racers.  (They might have done better had they kept “Thoroughbreds” as the official basketball team nickname.)

The (14) BYU Cougars over the (3) Marquette Golden Eagles

Here we have another cat vs. bird matchup.  It’s made even more of a blowout by the particularly badass cougar logo from BYU and the particularly UNintimidating and generic eagle logo of Marquette.

The (7) Florida Gators over the (10) Virginia Cavaliers

The Cavalier logo would seem to be reminiscent of the Civil War, but the original Cavaliers were colonial Virginians loyal to the crown.  That seems an odd nickname to cling to in a state that helped launch two rebellions against The Man of their respective eras.  And the mascot rendering I found which looks most official has that nasty little ‘stache, which totally undermines badassity.

‘Gators, on the other hand, and primordially badass.  They outlasted the frickin’ dinosaurs, and I bet they had that grin while they spit on their corpses, too.  Plus, Gatorade is awesome.

The (15) Norfolk State Spartans over the (2) Missouri Tigers

This is a closer fight than the bird-slaughter of Norfolk’s Michigan State brethren.  But still – while Tigers evolved into badassity accicentally, the Spartans trained their babies into it from birth on purpose, and by choice.  I bet they even had a boot camp for their sperm.  Even the most badass of cats can’t overcome the Greek warriors.

East Region

The (16) UNC-Asheville Bulldogs over the (1) Syracuse Orange

Ugh – is there any way both of these teams can lose?  There are always a lot of bulldog mascots, and for good reason – they’re a tough looking, badass dog.  So can anyone tell me why this bulldog looks so ridiculous?  It kind of looks like a sock puppet with little round beads for teeth.

Logo design matters, people.  UNCA needs to go take a road trip to Spokane and figure out how real bulldogs are supposed to be drawn, unless your strategy is to kill the other team by distracting them and making them laugh until they die.

Fortunately for the “bulldogs” (as a Gonzaga fan by marriage, I hardly think this mascot deserves that word), colors are not badass.  And even if some of them are, Orange certainly isn’t one of them.  To make it worse, they used to be called the “Orangemen” until political correctness led to the adoption of the more gender neutral (or neutered) “Orange.”  A blob of color and a surrender in the face of the silliest PC-mongering ever?  Even the toothless sock puppet can top that.

The (8) Kansas State Wildcats over the (9) Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

This is a race to the bottom of Generic Hill, both in name and logo design.  Usually cats beat birds, but in this case, a particularly badass bird of prey might have squeezed it out against the uninspired wildcat design.  But Southern Miss’ eagle looks like it just swallowed a lemon.  I picture it telling damn kids to get off his lawn, but not winning basketball games in a badass fashion.

The (5) Vanderbilt Commodores over the (12) Harvard Crimson

If any color can be badass, it’s the color of blood and Republicans.  But it’s still weak without something more, and Harvard’s got nothin’.

No - this guy doesn't help. Not with those chicken legs and "I think I'm pooping my pants" face.

Against the commander of a fleet of warships, the Ivy League snoot factory just can’t compare.

See what you missed by not having ROTC on campus for so many years, hippies?  Atrophied badassity is the wages of military NIMBY-ism.

The (13) Montana Grizzlies over the (4) Wisconsin Badgers

If the California Golden Bear is the least badass of the bears, Montana is the most.  He looks like he just woke up on the wrong side of the den, hungry, angry, and ready to fight and/or eat anything it sees.  Plus, the word “bear” makes me think of stuffed animals, while “grizzly” makes me think of 8 inch claws and being disemboweled.

As much as I’m required to be disdainful of all things Cheesheady as a Minnesota grad, I have to admit badgers are pretty badass little critters.  Against a lesser mascot – maybe even a lesser bear – a badger might have a chance.  But it would help if it was a honey badger.  And it it wasn’t wearing that goofy polyester sweater.

The (11) Texas Longhorns over the (6) Cincinnati Bearcats

Like Xavier, Cincinnati is tainted by their brawl earlier in the season.  Unlike Xavier, though, their coach actually showed some shame for his team acting like jackasses, which quite frankly, takes some guts and badassity.  Good for them.

But while the idea of a bear/cat hybrid with sharper claws, faster reflexes, and raw, brute strength all combined makes for a badass image, the cartoon Cincinnati went with instead (complete with weird, dirty looking mustache) does not.

As I’ve said, horns definitely help with badassity, even when without those horns it’s just a cow.  When your skull gets used in decorating all over a state, you’ve got some serious innate badassity.  This matchup shows just how critical badass logo design really is.

The (3) Florida State Seminoles over the (14) St. Bonaventure Bonnies

I have a special place in my heart for the Seminoles, but even if I didn’t, the “Bonnies”?  Really?  And the mascot itself looks like a very cute doggie, but hardly one I’d trust to guard my junkyard.

But Florida State is especially badass.  Every year, I tell the same story about the Seminole mascot, and it’s worth repeating again.

Ordinarily, 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.

The (10) West Virginia Mountaineers over the (7) Gonzaga Bulldogs

It’s a shame that the most badass of any bulldog mascot couldn’t have drawn an easier pick, but the rules of Badassity must be honored, no matter how many Zags fans I happen to be married to.

The image of the mountain man living off of his wits and knowledge of the hills is just far more badass than even the growliest, jowliest bulldog.

The (15) Loyola (MD) Greyhounds over the (2) Ohio State Buckeyes

This next matchup just goes to show how cruel the roll of the dice can be for teams like Gonzaga with legitimately badass mascots.

I mean, greyhounds are cool and all, but they run in a circle after a fake rabbit with cracker jack boxes on their faces.  Have a little dignity, for crying out loud.

Still, they run fast, and that’s badass, I guess.  It’s better than nothing.  At the very least, it beats a tree nut, which is nearly in negative badass territory.  I’ll give it its uniqueness, but there is not one single thing that’s badass about a buckeye.  As much as it pains me, I have to give this one to the easily suckered racing dog.

Midwest Region

The (1) North Carolina Tarheels over the (16) Vermont Catamounts

Tarheels get their name from the hard, crappy labor common in the wooden shipbuilding past of North Carolina.  The boat builders would caulk the boats with tar so they didn’t, like, sink, and for their efforts they were mocked by their elitist social “betters.”

To their credit, they took the slur and owned it.  Refusing to succumb to victimhood means major badass points.  And the horned goat which now accompanies the nickname is itself pretty badass.

Vermont gets credit for at least using a unique name to describe their mas-cat, but the drawing is lame compared to many.  UNC just has too many badass points for the feline newcomer to overcome.

The (9) Alabama Crimson Tide over the (8) Creighton Bluejays

I mentioned earlier that the Lamar Cardinal was not the least badass bird in this field.  Now we find out which feathered mascot earns that distinction.

Creighton’s blue jay looks like a pissed off teenager.  And the look on its face looks less like a fearsome scowl and more like the angry pout of a nerd who can’t understand why chicks don’t like “nice guys” who constantly whine about how nice and misunderstood they are when it comes to the ladies.

“Crimson Tide”, on the other hand, evokes images of blood tsunamis, waves of nuclear missiles, and biblical plagues.

Gene Hackman seems to show up in this tournament a lot...

Add the sullen elephant ready to rampage just for the heck of it, and you have a badass package with some real legs in this tournament.

The (12) South Florida Bulls over the (5) Temple Owls

Both of these mascots have horns.  But one set is made of feathers, and the other is made of actual freaking horn.  One can gore you, the other can just spook you in the night.

Owls are underappreciated in their badassity amongst birds of prey.  But there’s no contest against a raging bull.

The (4) Michigan Wolverines over the (13) Ohio Bobcats

If you put a bobcat and a wolverine in a room together and told them to fight it out, the bobcat might win.  But the Wolverine would keep fighting until the bitter, bitter end.  It’s really the honeybadger of North America.  Pound for pound, it’s hard to think of a more badass animal.  And given the matchup against a generic cat, this one is an easy win for Michigan.

The (6) San Diego State Aztecs over the (11) NC State Wolfpack

Wolfpacks are pretty badass.  But NC State’s version is either weak, or suspiciously similar to a far more badass school.  (Who was first with that logo?  Quiet, you!)  And come on – why would you put a goofy, badger-esque polyester-lookin’ sweater on a wolf?

Even without those handicaps, it’s hard to get more badass than a group who ripped the hearts out of their enemies just to show all of Central America just who the boss was.

The (14) Belmont Bruins over the (3) Georgetown Hoyas

This is a pretty generic – and predictable matchup.  Given that Belmont’s bear looks crazed and/or rabid, and the Hoya bulldog is downright jaunty, who wins this is not in doubt.

The (10) Purdue Boilermakers over the (7) St. Mary’s Gaels

St. Mary’s does a much better job with their “Gael” than Iona – a ten foot knight.  I don’t quite know what that has to do with “Gaelic speaking peoples”, but then I don’t know what an elephant has to do with a “crimson tide,” either.

Still, the knight is a bit goofy looking, owing in no small part to the fact that it seems to be partially inflatable.

If SMC busted out an actual suit of armor, they would win serious badass points.  But as it is, the badassity of a charging iron locomotive thundering down the tracks at you can’t be overcome by the Balloon Templar.

The (15) Detroit Titans over the (2) Kansas Jayhawks

Titans were the gods of the frickin’ Gods.  They span the earth with water, carry the planet on their shoulders, and created time itself.  Sure, they lost to the better known Greek gods in a great battle, but they’re still hanging out underground waiting for their revenge on them.  And also on Hollywood for not giving them any royalties for using their names to make money.

Jayhawks?  Pfft.  Even if their logo wasn’t so goofy looking, I bet no son of a jayhawk ever stole fire and gave it to humanity, on pain of having his guts pecked out by a bird for all eternity.

On the other hand, this bird seems to have gotten the better of Prometheus...


Be sure to tune in tomorrow for the rest of your can’t-miss bracket picks!  Or at least a bunch of silliness…

Tags: Sports