Woo Hoo! It’s Madness Time on the hard court once again, ladies and gentlemen! It’s a time I’ve always looked forward to, even as a casual sports fan most of the year, for reasons that totally had nothing to do with finals being over. And indeed, as our politics have gotten stupider, the need for escape becomes that much greater. Here at First Principles, I’ve always tried to offer a perspective that you won’t get anywhere else, and that commitment to Uniquiosity™ isn’t limited just to politics. Anyone can watch games, crunch statistics, know which players match up well against who. You can look at seeds, win-loss records, RPI, distance from home, etc., and everyone does. But no one – no one! – seems to account for what might be the most important stat of all: The Relative Badassity of the Team Mascot, as defined by Myself.
“Badassity” is a function of many things – “Who Would Win In a Fight” is a major determiner, but that alone isn’t always enough. Mascots lose points for lack of originality (I’m talking to you, 8 Million Wildcat Teams). History of the team nickname matters, as well as how it’s used today. Logo design can be key – what do do when you have multiple Bulldogs? Acknowledging Badassity doesn’t necessarily constitute endorsement – the Forces of Darkness tend to do well in this bracket. And I try to look to the past when in doubt in close contests, following the rule of stare decisis when possible. You can check out 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012 just for reference (2010 was purged from the record books after an NCAA rules violations investigation that I’m contractually prohibited from discussing). And of course, the results are totally and completely guaranteed*!
*If you believe this, please join my pool.
So, defend your own school’s mascot if you can, and let’s get on with the Dance!
The First Four – Play-In Round
The (16) Liberty Flames over the (16) North Carolina A&T Aggies
This first matchup is an odd combination of overused mascots tossed together in a stew of medium grade Badassity, but with some real hidden potential in each. Aggies, of course, refers to the “Agricultural” mission of their school, and while I love farmers almost as much as Paul Harvey, there’s a limit to how badass they are in a combat role. NC A&T isn’t the first to try to augment this by making their Aggie a tough looking animal, but they lost a lot of points when they went with the OH-so-generic Bulldog.
Birds of prey are also way overused, but I’m intrigued by the fact that this one appears to be in frickin’ fire. And let’s be honest here – this is a right wing blog, and we love the idea of Liberty and America delivered to you like a meteor reminding those Ruskies who’s still in charge. The yellow dog clearly lifts a lot of weights, but can’t compete in badassity with the burning torch of freedom.
The (11) Middle Tennessee Raiders over the (11) St. Mary’s Gaels
But, we strive to do our research here, and a “Gael” is simply one who speaks some kind of Gaelic tongue. If St. Mary’s would have been smart, they would have gotten all Braveheart with this concept, but instead they tried to go another direction in that time period and did this. That’s right. It’s an inflatable knight in inflatable armor or something, holding its belly like it just ate something it shouldn’t.
Now compare that to an angry Pegasus shooting lighting out of its nose, and you either fell asleep watching My Little Pony while drinking something you shouldn’t have, or you’re up against a very badass mascot. Sorry St. Mary’s, but this is definitely not your year.
The (16) Long Island University (Brooklyn) Blackbirds over the (16) James Madison Dukes
I like the Blackbird – they’re insanely smart animals (tool using, even), and it’s far more creative than the ubiquitous birds of prey that every other school seems to default into. They’re small, but clever and with a hint of the Underworld to them. They definitely punch above their badass weight.
There are always a lot of Bulldogs in this tournament, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one where so many of them are sneaking in under other names.
This one, though, might be the most ridiculous. I was hoping that there was a better story behind this, but James Madison calls themselves the “Dukes” after their second president who himself just happened to have the name instead of earning it with money, royal blood, or some other feat of badassity. They picked the dog in the 70s – the decadal font of All Bad Things. And then in the 80s they dressed him up like some weird proto rap star, but in a way that would make Huggy Bear blush. The total package winds up just being absurd. It’s a shame, too – I expect better from a school named after a founding father.
But if you still have any lingering doubt, check out this video of the “Duke Dog” starting a fight he couldn’t finish. With a chicken.
The (13) Boise State Broncos over the (13) LaSalle University Explorers
I originally had this one going the other way. A charging Bronco is definitely Badass – I’m wary enough of them when they’re just tromping around my neighborhood and jumping in front of my car in the dark – but imagine him bearing down on you, staring you down without any pupils! Still, the idea of an intrepid explorer in the wilds of the New World Lewis/Clark style like Sieur de La Salle was intriguing to me.
Too bad that isn’t even the guy the University is named after. That would be Jean Baptiste de La Salle, educator to the needy. Now I’m not saying educating the impoverished isn’t a noble goal, but it’s hard to call it “badass” exactly.
But some sports writer make a mistake back in the day, and the school just rolled along with it, desperately hoping for some cred in a time when the badassity of their mascot could make all the difference. It’s all based on a lie, and that cannot be rewarded.
But enough play-ins – let’s see that full dance floor!
The (16) Liberty Flames over the (1) Louisville Cardinals
It’s always nice when you get a nice apples-to-apples comparison. Two birds. Both red. Now, one is a songbird, and the other a symbol of strength and freedom worldwide. One has teeth (?!?), and the other has a hooked beak designed to rip flesh. One has a little scowl, the other is burning with hate for Commies. One is red because of its feathers, the other is red because its plumage is made of flames.
Hey, what can you say? Just because you’re the overall 1 Seed doesn’t mean you can forget to pay attention the essentials.
The (9) Missouri Tigers over the (8) Colorado State Rams
Let’s be honest – neither of these guys looks particularly fired up. It’s like the Battle of the Meh. Both of them should be far more badass than they present here, but they’re kind of phoning it in. As a Nevadan, I wish I could see something that resembles a bighorn sheep – pretty badass as far as ungulates go – and give them a pass against the tired and generic tiger. Alas, as cool as those horns could be, the weight, claws, teeth, and cunning of this largest of cats is a recipe for mutton stew at the end of this game.
The (5) Oklahoma State Cowboys over the (12) Oregon Ducks
You have to give Oregon some credit – in the past, they’ve done some cool stuff to try to amp up the badassity of their sad little water fowl. I loved the
tire tracks Pacific Northwest Native tribe stylization of the duck wings on their football uniforms. But in the end, there’s just too much money coming from Disney. Donald himself can’t even outbadass a mouse with a rather off-putting falsetto, and he doesn’t stand a chance against this crusty cowboy, for all the tantrum skills he brings.
I have to love this cowboy, too, especially next to Donald in full rage mode. It reminds me of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy just shoots the crazy dude with the sword.
The (4) St. Louis Billikins over the (13) New Mexico State Aggies
Here’s another Agricultural student, but at least this one brought a gun, and has a sweet mustache. I guess everyone back then grew a few crops on the side, so you could make him do pretty much whatever you wanted. It’s a safe choice, but a solid one. It should be able to handle… OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT THING WINKING AT MY SOUL!?!?!?!?
The Billikins made it to the Tournament last year, and I was perhaps too quick to dismiss them. Or maybe that shapeless horror just took awhile to associate itself with the hellscapes of my nightmares. Here’s how it started:
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.
Sure, that sounds harmless, if a bit insane. But now? <shudder> I feel like that Aggie’s bullets will just be absorbed, winked to death in some alternate dimension where all hope and joy have been banished from my heart. But hey – there’s an alternate Aggie logo with a lasso, which is more creatively badass than just a gun. And maybe that creepy winking picture is just a boogie man trying to cover up a run-of-the-mill costume. Let’s try it again:
The (11) Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders over the (6) Memphis Tigers
The (3) Michigan State Spartans over the (14) Valpraiso Crusaders
These would seem pretty evenly matched, right down to the plume on their helmets. But it’s hard to pin down just who should represent the Crusaders in historical context. Volunteers from all over medieval Europe? The Knights Templar? Sean Connery and Harrison Ford?
Pound for pound, it’s hard to match the concentrated badassity of a city-state whose entire culture revolved around them making war. And their historical record against Middle Eastern armies is far superior. This is a pretty easy call once you look under their respective helmets.
The (10) Cincinnati Bearcats over the (7) Creighton Bluejays
Not even the porn ‘stache on this weird hybrid reject from Dr. Moreau can bring Cincinnati down to THIS level. The Blue Jay is weak even for a weak songbird – at least Louisville’s cardinal bothered to bare his teeth.
The (2) Duke Blue Devils over the (15) Albany Great Danes
You have to feel for Albany here – Satan practically invented badassity. But they didn’t do themselves any favors with this particular mascot – why does he look like he’s wearing a hood and welding goggles? It’s too bad, too, because any dog you could saddle up for a hobbit has some serious badass potential. Instead, though, it seems they went with the cartoon canine who showed up to his audition too coked up to get the part in Scooby-Doo.
The (1) Gonzaga Bulldogs over the (16) Southern University Jaguars
There are way too many bulldogs in this tournament every year, greatly lessening the badassity factor for all of them. But you have to give the Zags credit for having the best one, and I swear I’m not just saying that because The Wife went there and I have to. It’s full of attacky rage, it doesn’t wear a stupid hat, it’s not a weird color, and they avoided the temptation of having a tongue lolling out of its head. It looks mean, dangerous, and focused.
This cat, on the other hand… I can’t tell if it’s laughing or scared or just what – thoroughly unimpressive.
The (8) Pittsburgh Panthers over the (9) Wichita State Shockers
This one breaks my heart a little. The Shockers originally got their name because farmers would cut wheat and bundle it into “shocks”. If we lived in more innocent times, there wouldn’t even be a discussion here. But we don’t, and the chutzpah that it takes to embrace and own the obscene gesture your school’s nickname has become is commendable.
But as plucky as that all is, they’re facing an opponent who also decided to up the badassity of an otherwise relatively weak mascot. Look at that thing – it’s terrifying. It looks like 300 pounds of pure muscle, unburdened by compassion or a soul, ready to tear through anything in its path or die trying.
The (5) Wisconsin Badgers over the (12) Ole Miss Rebels
As a Minnesota alum, I’m contractually obligated to despise seeing Wisconsin win anything anywhere. I have to admit, they have some serious pound for pound badassity potential. Badgers are tough, ornery little critters (made more badass in popular culture by their association with YouTube sensation Honey Badger), but then they put that lame sweater on him, overplay said YouTube clip, and force him to be from Wisconsin, taking it way back down the Ladder of Badassity.
Fortunately for the cheeseheads, he’s up against the lamest looking bear to ever cheer on a sports team. This bear looks like a dorky tourist dad that would make Clark Griswold shake his head in judgment and shame.
Ole Miss’ mascot is pretty new. It used to be this guy, Colonel Reb, until they finally decided celebrating a guy who for in favor of slavery probably ought to be toned down a bit. There was a campus-wide campaign and vote to select a replacement, and here’s where Ole Miss really dropped the ball. Apparently there was a big push to take the “Rebel” name in a completely new direction, and name him after Star Wars Rebel Alliance hero Admiral Ackbar.
Alas, they went with the least offensive thing they could find, throwing all badassity out with the “peculiar” bathwater, leaving the Badgers to win by default.
The (13) Boise State Broncos over the (4) Kansas State Wildcats
The (11) Belmont Bruins over the (6) Arizona Wilcats
In the ordinary course, pretty much any bear would beat pretty much any small cat, wild or otherwise. But this matchup is particularly lopsided with the Belmont Bruin bringing an extra bear-sized helping of Crazy Eyes.
The (3) New Mexico Lobos over the (14) Harvard Crimson
You’d think people as smart as Harvard grads are expected to be would understand that a color alone is virtually incapable of being badass. How do you represent it? It just… is. If any color could be badass, it would be some shade of red – the color of blood, demon eyes, fire, and the Republican Party. But sitting all by itself without further context just does nothing. Wolves are pretty badass on their own, but even a lowly Gopher could beat a mere color.
But hey – wait! I understand Harvard has an on-field mascot they use to supplement their otherwise formless nickname!
The (10) Iowa State Cyclones over the (7) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame is pretty middle of the road when it comes to badassity. On the one hand, you have to love a torqued off leprechaun wanting to just fight everything it sees. On the other hand, he’s probably suffering from Napoleon Complex, and that’s just sad. And then, of course, there’s their indifference to negative racial/cultural stereotypes, which could be a plus or minus depending on how important it is to you to stick it to The PC Man. It’s a safe, conservative choice, albeit with a little baggage.
Iowa State, though, is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, you have one of the most fearsome, unpredictable, and destructive forces of nature on the surface of our planet. And then sitting on top you have a… songbird?
Well, at least it looks like he’s been hitting the gym.
Still, in this case I must defer to their actual name, and give it to the killer weather. Coming from a land of soggy, dreary weather, that angry little Irishman just won’t know what hit him when he finds weather getting its badass on.
The (15) Iona Gaels over the (2) Ohio State Buckeyes
In this battle of the, “What the hell is your Mascot?” teams, Iona is the obvious winner. There may be no weaker, lamer, less badass mascot than Nut Head over there. Anyone or anything can beat it easily – even a weird red leprechaun with the wrong color suit and suffering from jaundice. At least he’s got a stick to swing around at his opponents, tree nuts and otherwise.
The (16) LIU (Brooklyn) Blackbirds over the (1) Indiana Hoosiers
Blackbirds are creative, smart, and punch above their basass weight, but ordinarily they’d still be pretty vulnerable. But Indiana just has… nothing. Nada. Zilch. No one even knows what “Hoosier” actually means or where the word comes from, and the best consensus out there is that it’s a midwestern version of a redneck bumpkin.
Indiana really ought to change – plenty of teams have done it (although they’ve usually gone backwards). Until they do, they’re going to keep losing, and there’s only one thing that can save them in the future!
The (8) North Carolina State Wolfpack over the (9) Temple Owls
Sitting as I do here in Reno, there’s something awfully familiar about that nickname generally and that mascot in particular. There’s nothing badass about thievery of intellectual property, NC State! There’s…
Oh. Never mind.
Owls are under appreciated in their badassity as far as birds of prey go. But an entire pack of wolves is far more intimidating and effective as a combat unit than a single bird no matter how badass (they really gave up a lot when they quit being dinosaurs), and the “pack” denotes a level of sophistication and coordination beyond the regular animal nickname.
The (5) UNLV Runnin’ Rebels over the (12) California Golden Bears
I’ve lived all over this country, and have circled the globe a couple of times. But per capita, there is nowhere else but the state of Nevada where they grow mustaches as badass as the ones they grow here. UNLV’s mascot is well designed, and that mustache alone is a Badass multiplier of the highest order.
But can that facial hair and the also undeniably badass chin underneath it out-badass a bear? It probably wouldn’t win in a fight – not without it’s favorite sidekick Tom Selleck – but again, that’s not the end of the analysis. In this case, Cal’s bear just looks tired, old, and not particularly fearsome. UNLV takes this one by a whisker.
The (13) Montana Grizzlies over the (4) Syracuse Orange
The (11) Bucknell Bison over the (6) Butler Bulldogs
There are a fair number of teams represented by North American bison, and for good reason. Growing up in South Dakota, we’d laugh at the tourists every year who thought they were just big dumb tame slow cows, and would then add to the local economy via out health care delivery sector.
This poster was posted all over in the Black Hills, and it says it all. Plus, that little image never fails to make me chuckle.
In this matchup, I can only imagine a dog barking away right up until it finds itself flying in an arc a few feet above the bison’s head. And the Butler logo even already comes pre-shell shocked!
The (14) Davidson Wildcats over the (3) Marquette Golden Eagles
This is the ultimate race to the bottom of Generic Gorge – there’s really not much redeeming about either of these. But when all else fails, cartoon hierarchy rules apply – dogs eat cats, cats eat birds and rodents.
The (10) Colorado Buffaloes over the (7) Illinois Fighting Illini
I’ve already hit on the badassity of Bison/Buffalo, but this still would have been a hard one ten years ago. There’s a lot of history between native peoples of North America and this great prairie beast. But this logo is officially out of date – Illinois doesn’t even have a mascot right now, and that makes this an easy win for Colorado.
Illinois is choosing a new mascot, though, and some of the student proposals are just awesome. I love the Lincoln with the axe or the WWII soldier about to bayonet an enemy, but the real standout is obviously this:
The (2) Miami Hurricanes over the (15) Pacific Tigers
What is it with small birds coupled with Nature at her windiest and deadliest? I suppose you have to cut Miami a little slack – it’s hard to dance around in a wind suit, although they could at least try. But Sebastian the Ibis is at least unique, and was chosen for its badass last-out-first-back-in attitude when taking shelter form the storm. More on this later, but for now it’s an easy win against the oh-so-generic Tiger.
The (1) Kansas Jayhawks over the (16) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
It’s hard to imagine a mascot that couldn’t wipe the floor with the decidedly not badass Jayhawk, but fortunately for Kansas, Western Kentucky is up for the challenge. It’s hard to know what’s dumber, that red blob they have waving towels around, or the nickname itself. “Hilltopper” comes not from the fact that a bunch of mountaineering hillbillies charged and took a hill in the face of enemy forces or something, but merely that they built the college on top of a hill. Seriously. It’s not even a big hill – it’s only 232 feet high!
The (8) North Carolina Tarheels over the (9) Villanova Wildcats
Independent of that, I have a lot of respect for people who take epithets, dip them in badassity, and then wrap themselves up in it as a way to stick it to their tormentors. Such is the history of “Tarheels”. And the ram they use along with it understands (in ways that teams like VCU do not) that extra curls in the horns equals extra badassity.
The (12) Akron Zips over the (5) VCU Rams
This was a very, very close call. Both of these animals are badass beyond expectations, but only one has a history of challenging humans to actual fistfights and then destroying the humans. They’re also amazingly fast. Watch the video at the link – it speaks for itself.
A ram might be bigger and stronger, but a kangaroo is faster. It would run circles around those horns, wear ‘im out, and then kick the crap out of the sheep. This one is close, but Akron wins it. Now if they can just do something about the fact that the “Zips” nickname sounds just a bit too uncomfortably close to a racial slur…
The (4) Michigan Wolverines over the (13) South Dakota State Jackrabbits
As a native South Dakotan, I love that the real SDSU is once again in the big dance. But pound for pound, there may not be a more badass mammal than a wolverine. The poor widdwe bunny just can’t compete with the claws and the snarling and the rage and the killing.
The (6) UCLA Bruins over the (11) Minnesota Golden Gophers
Every year my own Minnesota struggles to make the tournament, and every year they get trounced in the first round because they’re a ground rodent. Sigh. Other weak mascoted teams get to play even weaker foes in the first round! Where’s our “Orange”? Where are our Hilltoppers? Where are our Blue Jays?
The (3) Florida Gators over the (14) Northwestern State Demons
Ordinarily the forces of Darkness do well in this bracket – say what you want, but the Devil comes ready to play. But Alligators are primordially badass – they outlasted dinosaurs, continental drift, and frickin’ 6 mile across space rocks hurtling from the deepest reaches of space with mass extinction on their mind.
Still, what are they against the supernatural? Well, not all of Satan’s minions are created equal, and this weird logo combines the worst in fashion sense from coffee house hipsters and the Jersey Shore. He looks like he spends way too much time in clubs trying to shout his one-liners to chicks over the techno music to be in any way intimidating. The Gators take this in an upset.
The (7) San Diego State Aztecs over the (10) Oklahoma Sooners
Let’s see… Jumping the gun on a legal start time to claim land, or ruling from sea to shining sea in southern North America while building huge, complex stone temples without the benefit of modern heavy machinery and then ripping the hearts out of your enemies on top of said buildings?
The (2) Georgetown Hoyas over the (15) Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
It’s a shame we have to end the first full round of Badassity Battles with a race of the weak and generic. Between the cartoon animal hierarchy and the fact that “FGCU” kind of feels like that little tiny eagle head can’t spell his swear words very well, this one goes to Georgetown.
And you may have won this time, Georgetown, but c’mon – you’re better than this! You’re the “Hoyas” – you can pick anythign you want to actually represent you. Something that’s already in your name. Maybe some undeniably badass historical figure…
Tune in tomorrow night for the rest of the tournament, including the ultimate winner revealed!