photograph by Fian Arroyo

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Our State.

North Carolina Tar Heels
Rather than confront the stark difficulty of humanizing a foot, UNC went with Rameses the Ram in 1924, borrowing the nickname of star fullback Jack “Battering Ram” Merrit. The mascot stuck when a kicker hit a game-winning field goal in the presence of a live Rameses the university had ordered. From Texas.

Duke Blue Devils
In 1921, the student newspaper led a write-in campaign to choose a mascot, and no clear favorite emerged, so they were all like, fine, let’s just go with Blue Devils, and it stuck. The name is connected more closely to a unit of elite French soldiers than it is to any nefarious biblical figure; hopefully that’ll help you sleep better before the game.

N.C. State Wolfpack
In the 1940s, students actually got a real live timber wolf to appear at football games. It snarled a lot. It was a bit too fierce. Since then, no live wolves. In 2010, the university instead began using Tuffy the Tamaskan dog, who looks a lot like a wolf but isn’t closely related to one. Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Wuf are still around. And plush.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Look, a top hat and tails might seem like a bit much for the sidelines, but this guy’s been wearing the same thing since 1941. It’s like he’s formal, but he’s here to party, too.

East Carolina Pirates
Elementary school students, not ECU students, chose the mascot and his name, Pee Dee the Pirate, in 1983. The name Pee Dee was dropped, but the Pirate remains, and he now makes his way from Greenville to the coast by using U.S. Highway 264 instead of the Tar River.

Campbell Fighting Camels
His name’s Gaylord, and he’s a hairy dromedary, ladies. You have to travel roughly 4,000 miles from Buies Creek before you can hope to find a camel in the wild, unless one gets loose from a petting zoo.

Western Carolina Catamounts
A catamount is a wild cat like a cougar or a lynx, which sounds fierce until you learn that WCU’s mascot is named Paws (awwwwwww). Before 1933, the college’s athletic teams were known as The Teachers.

N.C. A&T Aggies
An aggie is just a nickname for a student at an agricultural and technical school, so in a way, they’re all mascots. But A&T’s been using a bulldog as a mascot for as long as anyone can remember, which means everyone can blame themselves for eating their own homework.

Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs
Bulldogs don’t so much run as lollop along quickly, jowls bouncing. It’s safe to say that the athletes in Boiling Springs are a bit more graceful.

Davidson Wildcats
During the winter of 1892, some students pulled a prank by making a wildcat out of rags and wire and fooling their buddy into shooting it. Let this be a lesson, students: If your prank is good enough, your college might fashion it into a mascot.

N.C. Central Eagles
The university’s founder, Dr. James E. Shepard, used to explain it thusly: “And while a Sparrow clings to its flock, an Eagle soars alone.” There’s no I in team, though, nor in eagle.

Elon Phoenix
Elon’s only been the Phoenix for 14 years. The name alludes to the school’s recovery from a 1923 fire that ripped through campus. Before that they were the Fightin’ Christians, but the bearded mascot who roamed the sidelines didn’t seem like the fisticuffin’ type.

Appalachian State Mountaineers
Yosef first appeared in the student newspaper as a drawing, because an editor needed to fill some white space. Since then, he’s grown a beard, donned overalls, and has been known to beat back Wolverines from time to time.

Charlotte 49ers
UNC Charlotte became a two-year college in 1949. California’s gold rush happened in 1849, years after Charlotte’s. N.C. Highway 49 runs by the university. The mascot’s name is Norm the Niner, which rhymes with miner. I think you get the idea.

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Jeremy Markovich is a digital manager, writer, and podcast host at Our State.