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Wednesday, March 13, 2002
Updated: March 19, 2:03 PM ET
Eagles, Tigers and Gorloks, oh my!

By David Lloyd
Special to Page 2

While stumbling through a Georgia-Mississippi State highlight one winter night (" ... the Bulldogs ... er, the Georgia Bulldogs outrebounded the Bulldogs ... hah, hah ... the, um, Mississippi State variety ..."), it struck me just how many infernal Bulldogs and Wildcats there are in college sports. I decided to do some research.

Pepperdine Wave
So this is what a Pepperdine Wave looks like.
Well, actually, a fellow named Adam Joshua Smargon did the research, and I read it. Adam, if you're within the sound of this keyboard, my heartfelt thanks for the painstaking attention to detail and comprehensive nature of your work ... and, by God, man, bake some cookies, aerate the lawn, do anything, but let the college nicknames thing go. Again, many thanks.

With Adam's list of NCAA and NAIA schools in hand, I set off in search of nickname nuggets, snuffling for a scent like the Bloodhounds from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

From Aggies to Zips, there are 518 different nicknames.

At first, I just wanted to find out the most popular college nickname in the country. I started counting, a sport that combines all the flair and excitement of rolling pennies. Wildcats was a disappointment, garnering just 29 schools. Bulldogs did better (38), but there was still bigger game out there. Some 43 different schools went with Tigers, the second most-popular nickname.

... And the No. 1 answer is ... (imagine with me as Richard Dawson whirling and pointing dramatically at the board, his lips pursed, as always) ... Eagles. No less than 56 different universities, presumably swept up in a wave of patriotic fervor, enlisted Eagles as their nickname -- and that's just plain ordinary Eagles, which doesn't include the Bald, Crimson, Golden, Marauding, Mean Green, Purple, Running, Screaming and Soaring varieties of Eagles.

Then my search took me a little deeper.

  There's a subversive quality to some nicknames. The Rhode Island School of Design gave us the Nads, and, just guessing here, the chant, "Go, Nads, Go." RISD also gave us the Talking Heads, who urged us to stop making sense, but I can't help it. Why would a nice school like the University of Mary go with Marauders? The Mary Marauders sounds a bit callous, no?  
  
I plunged into an anthropomorphic Lucy-in-the-Sky-with-Diamonds world of Runnin' Rifles and Hustlin' Owls, a bad fairy tale filled with Trolls and Ichabods, Rosemonsters and Gorloks.

Natural enemies abounded. CSU-Northridge Matadors locked up with South Florida Bulls, the Oakland City Mighty Oaks tried to pass protect against the Loggers of Puget Sound, the South Dakota Coyotes chased the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners all over the court, and the "Generation Gap" game pitted the Utah Utes against the St. Olaf Oles. What would the line be if the NYU Violets took on the Bethel College Threshers? In Nickname-Land, the Idaho Vandals would never schedule the Brandeis Judges, for fear of reform school.

One could dress from head to toe in college nicknames. Your headwear would be supplied by the Stetson Hatters, and you could don a UAB Blazer, a stylish pair of UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos over some Pacific University Boxers, with Presbyterian Blue Hose slipped into a pair of Florida Southern Moccasins, which, as I recall, was the outfit Boy George wore to the 1983 Grammys.

Some profound metaphysical questions reared their ugly heads ... like, If the Runnin' Rebels compete in a speedwalking event, are they automatically disqualified?

Then I happened upon an old favorite -- the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. The banana slug is a slimy bright yellow (or banana) mollusk indigenous to the redwood forest surrounding the Santa Cruz campus. The students adopted the slug as a mascot back in the '60s as an ironic comment on the hyper-competitive world of college sports. The university actually tried to foist a new, less ridiculous nickname -- Sea Lions -- on the school in 1980, but the administration was shouted down by a student body whipped into a full lather over the debate.

There's a subversive quality to some nicknames. The Rhode Island School of Design gave us the Nads, and, just guessing here, the chant, "Go, Nads, Go." RISD also gave us the Talking Heads, who urged us to stop making sense, but I can't help it. Why would a nice school like the University of Mary go with Marauders? The Mary Marauders sounds a bit callous, no? The Centre College Prayin' Colonels have an image problem right off the bat: If your Colonels are Prayin', that doesn't bode well for the guys in the trenches.

Ryan Sidney
Boston College's Ryan Sidney is an Eagle, but then again, who isn't?
Some schools' nicknames have a noble pedigree. Oglethorpe University went with the Stormy Petrels. As legend has it, James Oglethorpe, while crossing the Atlantic in 1732, was struck by a small, gutsy seabird that accompanied his ship on the crossing. So, inspired by the stormy petrel's hang time, Oglethorpe disembarked and, without stopping in baggage claim, marched right off to found the state of Georgia. (Coincidentally, on a ferry ride to Nantucket in my youth, I too was spellbound by the seagulls that followed our craft. So, inspired, I marched right off to get my peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, which I fed in chunks to the gulls. Then a big kid told me if you threw Alka-Seltzer at the birds they'd eat them and explode.)

The most esoteric nickname comes from the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, which takes the playing field as the Eutectic, defined by Webster's as "having the lowest melting point possible." I can hear the call from press row: "Johnny, we're only 14 seconds in, and Dow Chemical's pressure has been negligible, but jiminy, the Eutectic are already melting under the heat!"

I encourage you to study your college nicknames. Not being able to attach a nickname to a school is like not being on a first-name basis (literally, in the case of the Central Missouri State Jennies).

Not since the Second Continental Congress has this nation put together such an assemblage. There are Poets and Prophets, Statesmen and Diplomats, Professors and Presidents, Royals and Lords.

And yes, Rhode Island College gave us that most noble calling of all -- the Anchormen. Their mascot could be a really healthy head of hair.

David Lloyd is an anchorman for ESPNEWS.