Beyond the Buckeyes: Ohio’s other nutty mascots

D’Artagnan and the Big Blue Blob cheer on the Xavier University Musketeers at sporting events.

Aesculus is hardly a word that would strike fear into anyone’s heart. Yet Ohioans take pride in their Buckeyes — the traditional nickname for the sports teams at The Ohio State University that was formally adopted in 1950, but informally used before even the turn of the 20th century. The nickname was derived from the innocuous-looking native tree nuts that can be poisonous to Gophers, Badgers, Wolverines, and many other more fierce-sounding mascots across the country.

As unusual a mascot as it might be, however, Brutus Buckeye has lots of out-of-the-ordinary company, even within the state of Ohio. With football season in high gear, here are our choices for the most unusual mascots around the Buckeye State — Brutus not included.

5. The Big Blue Blob

Xavier University’s teams have been known as the Musketeers since 1925, honoring the Cincinnati-based institution’s French origins and culture. Its primary mascot, D’Artagnan, projects a powerful presence when he roams the sidelines at basketball and soccer games (XU does not field a football team). But the university made a not-particularly-startling discovery in 1985: Characters from 18th-century novels by Alexandre Dumas don’t always appeal to children the way, say, big, hairy blobs of blue fur might. Hence, the creation of The Big Blue Blob.

“Blobby,” as he/she/it is affectionately called, is well-known for both his friendly demeanor and his 22-inch tongue, which he uses to gobble up tickets, crackers, or whatever props might be handy — including, during an iconic “This Is SportsCenter” commercial on ESPN, the Hall of Fame jacket of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, after Blobby defeated him in a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

4 and 3. Fightin’ Quakers and Battling Bishops

Wilmington chose its “Fightin’ Quakers” nickname and mascot to pay homage to the school’s roots, having been founded in 1870 by members of the Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers. Of course, Quakers hold pacifism as one of the basic tenets of their belief system, so “Fightin’ Quakers” makes for quite the unlikely moniker.

Ohio Wesleyan’s “Battling Bishops” is almost as much of a contradiction. The Delaware school has long been affiliated with the United Methodist Church, so the bishop part makes sense, though Methodist theologians are not normally known for their pugilism. Interestingly, the mascot underwent a facelift in 2010 to become less friendly looking.

2. Zippy the Zip

There are not many modern-day college marketing departments that would even consider an overshoe as a mascot. That was the choice, however, in a 1927 contest to pick a mascot at the University of Akron. The winning entrant had suggested the “Zippers,” in reference to a popular rubber overshoe that was then manufactured in Akron by the B.F. Goodrich Company. The name was trimmed to the “Zips” in 1950.

The idea of a large rubber overshoe prowling the sidelines, however, seemed neither inspiring to U of A teams nor intimidating to foes, so in came Zippy the Zip, a red kangaroo — one of the fastest mammals on the planet. Zippy captured the Capital One Mascot of the Year Challenge in 2007.

1. Student Princes

Heidelberg University in Tiffin took the rare path melding college athletics and musical theater to produce its nickname, the “Student Princes.” As legend goes, the school’s publicity agent was strolling around Tiffin one evening in 1926 when he came across a marquee promoting The Student Prince of Heidelberg, based on Sigmund Romberg’s operetta. Butcher liked the name so much that he began using it to promote the school’s football team. It spread to all of the university’s athletic teams, and eventually replaced the former nickname, the “Cardinals,” as the school’s official moniker.

Siggy, the orange-plumed, armor-clad mascot with arched eyebrows and a self-satisfied smirk, fought off an attempt to change mascots again in the 1990s, when officials pondered “The ’Bergs of Heidelberg,” as a nod to the school’s oft-used colloquial nickname, but popular demand kept Siggy on his throne. One other fact to note: Women’s teams at Heidelberg are called, interestingly, the Student Princes.

Best of the rest

Here are a few other interesting Ohio college mascots and nicknames:

Dayton Flyers: One of only a handful of colleges in the country with this nickname, UD pays homage to Dayton native sons Wilbur and Orville Wright, who created and flew the first powered airplane, and to nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Kent State Golden Flashes: Winner of a 1926 contest to replace the former nickname, the “Silver Foxes.” There is apparently no significance to the name other than the fact that it won the contest.

Youngstown State Penguins: The nickname came as the result of fans describing the players on the school’s basketball team before a January game in 1933, when the players stomped their feet and swung their arms to warm up.

John Carroll Blue Streaks: The college’s original name was St. Ignatius, and its teams were referred to as the “Saints,” which was no longer appropriate after the name changed in 1923. A dying alumnus watching football practice described the team as a “Blue Streak” in 1925, and the name stuck (it remained singular until the mid-1930s).