March 23, 2011
College athletics feature some of the most unusual mascots in all of American sports. Take the teams in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament for example. Mascots included the Peacocks (St. Peter’s), Sycamores (Indiana State), Zips (Akron) and Gauchos (University of California, Santa Barbara). With the Sweet 16 upon us and all our brackets in complete disarray, the Around the Mall crew combed through those remaining mascots with a Smithsonian connection.
1. San Diego State Aztecs
The Aztecs are relative newcomers to the tournament but the men from the land of 70 and sunny are into their first Sweet 16 in team history. For casual fans filling out their brackets the Aztecs were a mystery, just like the crystal skull sent to the Smithsonian Institution in 1992. An anonymous letter accompanied the skull stating it was from the Aztec empire. Even though this myth preceded the Indiana Jones film, Natural History Museum anthropologist Jane Walsh took it upon herself to debunk the anonymous letter when she discovered the skull was made with modern tools.
2. Richmond Spiders
One of two teams from the city of Richmond left in the tournament—the other being Virginia Commonwealth University—the Spiders are proud of their unique mascot; the only school who feature the eight-legged arachnid on their uniforms. The Smithsonian prefers to keep their spiders behind glass but there are a couple places to get up close and personal with them. The National Zoo’s Invertebrate Exhibit and the Natural History Museum where you can watch a live tarantula feeding.
3. Connecticut Huskies
Connecticut, more commonly known as UConn, can credit their mascot to the actual Yukon where huskies are native. Next door to the Yukon is Alaska where mail carrier Ed Biederman used a dog sled to deliver mail (on display at the National Postal Museum) along the 160-mile route between Circle and Eagle, Alaska.
4. Florida Gators
When you create Gatorade, you kind of have to be good at sports. The Gators are the last team to win back-to-back national championships and they even made their typical mascot special by taking the official state reptile and dressing it in a bright orange turtleneck sweater. The National Zoo’s alligator isn’t nearly as fashionable, but fascinating, nonetheless.
5. Butler Bulldogs
Fresh off of last year’s run to the national championship game—where they lost to Duke—the Butler Bulldogs are poised to make another run down the road to the Final Four. Another bulldog that is all to familiar with roads is Bud the bulldog whose goggles are currently on display in the American History Museum. Bud accompanied H. Nelson Jackson and mechanic Sewall Crocker in 1903 as they made the first transcontinental automobile trip. Jackson acquired Bud in Idaho and as they traveled Jackson bought goggles so the dust from the rugged western terrain wouldn’t irritate Bud’s eyes.
That’s our list. Are there other mascots left in the tournament with a Smithsonian connection? Let us known in the comments.
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