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IU’s 16 actual or proposed mascots, ranked

yeah, we didn’t know IU had that many mascots either

Photo by Elwood Martin “Barney” Cowherd | Courtesy of Indiana University Archive

It’s officially Week 5 of quarantine and when you combine the typically slow offseason news cycle of the money-making college sports with the shutdown of society at large, you’re guaranteed to only read about the most creative of blog topics.

(I’m not sure if that last part was serious or not yet, I’ll leave that for you to decide 2,000 words from now.)

We could write about this guy, but it’s not worth the time or energy to argue with his incorrect, funhouse mirror financial numbers on college athletics.

That leaves us with the timeless topic of mascots, specifically IU’s mascot, or the lack thereof.

The Venn diagram between opposing fans who ask, “What even is a Hoosier anyway?” and those who say “Hoosier Daddy” when their school’s basketball team takes, like, a 20-14 lead against IU at the under-8 timeout in basketball is a perfect circle.

Sure, I get it. It might be kind of confusing when a school has a nickname (e.g. Hoosiers) but no physical mascot to represent it. But better to be nicknamed something original in college sports like the Hoosiers, Banana Slugs or Gauchos, than the 47th school named the Wildcats or Bulldogs.

But guess what ... IU hasn’t always been mascot-less.

In fact, the school has had at least 16 actual or proposed mascots in its history.


I was stunned when I heard that stat. That meant I had to do some actual journalistic research.

Luckily, Jennifer Nailos did the heavy lifting for us in a paper published by the Journal of the Indiana University Student Personnel Association titled “The Rise And Fall Of Campus Mascots At Indiana University.”

I encourage you to read it if you’re a fan of IU history and random sports trivia.

Having someone research and report on a generally light-hearted, trivial topic like college mascots while wearing polished, academic gloves is great for college sports nerds. The piece has references and in-line citations – everything you hated doing in AP U.S. History.

Now I’m just waiting to read the published journal study on Fortnite drop locations.

“Salty Springs is a quaint neighborhood located in the west-central region of the island with a median income of roughly $89,000 and is home to upper-middle class families. The only common complaint among residents is the frequent sound of cartoon gunfire and the scarcity of wood in the area.”

Anyway, I was able to nail down these rumored 16 actual or proposed IU mascots thanks to Jennifer. Like any good blogger during the offseason, it’s time for some good, old fashioned rankings.

Here are IU’s 16 actual or proposed mascots, ranked:

16. Raccoon

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1909

Here’s a true story: I’m quarantining in the home of some of my relatives and they have a raccoon that lives in their backyard. He’s a massive, spiteful creature that was sent here by dark, mysterious forces.

He has chewed through my family’s back porch so many times that one of my relatives eventually waved the white flag and cut a little door in the deck for him and even laid out some stone blocks to create a pathway for the raccoon to enter his home.

They’re terrible animals with only one attack (Rabies: -3 damage), but it’s easily neutralized by a routine vaccine.

15. Mr. Hoosier Schoolmaster

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1951-52

Get this Scrooge McDuck lookin’ ass out of my sight.

14. Owl

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1908

Google tells me the homemade Russian street drug Krokodil is the world’s strongest drug.

Hearing a live owl lead a “Hoo Hoo Hoosiers” chant inside Assembly Hall at the under-4 timeout with IU leading No. 11 North Carolina 83-62 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would probably have a similarly powerful effect as Krokodil.

13. Mr. Hoosier Pride

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1979

First off, what are thooooooooooose?

There’s a lot going on with Mr. Hoosier Pride, from the combat boots to the egregious butt chin, to the hat that reminds me of Nebraska’s mascot, to his creepy little bug eyes.

From our expert researcher Nailos:

“Children enjoyed Mr. Hoosier Pride, but students, alumni, and fans were not happy with the forced mascot.”

I can understand why parents were concerned by how much their children enjoyed Mr. Hoosier Pride and vice versa. I’m sure they always remained within a safe distance of their kids when he was around.

By the way, the mascot concept of Mr. Hoosier Pride was created by former IU AD Ralph Floyd, according to Nailos, and I can only imagine if, say, Fred Glass had tried to pitch a new mascot and it flopped that fantastically today.

“I know Fred has done some tremendous stuff like the Student-Athlete Bill of Rights, his support of all 24 sports IU has to offer, incredible facility upgrades like Bart Kaufman Field and the closing of the bowl in Memorial Stadium, but I thought his new mascot sketch of Jerry Hoosier – the Kelley marketing student from New York who only got into his fraternity on the Extension because he was a legacy – lacked taste and compelling design elements so I’m not sure how I feel about his overall tenure as athletic director.”

That’s roughly what some IU message board creature would post on a premium forum somewhere on the Internet if Mr. Hoosier Pride debuted in 2020.

12. Henry Hoosier

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1980

He was a candidate on the 1980 mascot voting ballot that was later postponed. I was unable to find a design of what this mascot would look like and I’m cool with that.

11. Rooster

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1980

I Google’d “facts about roosters” because I’m really reaching for straws here. In an article called 12 fascinating facts about roosters, Fascinating Fact No. 4 states, “You can have more than one rooster.”

I’m floored, I thought there was a one-rooster cap in this country.

Fascinating Fact No. 5?

“Roosters have hardy sperm.”

I think we’re done here.

10. Bulldog

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1959-65

Maybe IU basketball would have some vague, played-out, corny slogan like “The Indiana Way” if it still had a bulldog as its mascot.

Wait a minute, before I make fun of Butler too much, Brad Stevens coached a team named the Bulldogs for six seasons and even though it’s unlikely he’ll ever return to the college game given his prominent coaching position in the NBA, his relative success with the Celtics and the likelihood that he would still receive two more head coaching offers in the NBA even if Boston were to fire him, given that he is just 43, Stevens could reasonably coach basketball for 30 more years, give or take, which means there’s a future timeline in which he returns to the state of Indiana to coach the Hoosiers in, say, 2032 and if his affinity for the bulldog mascot makes him even one percent more likely to coach IU, the school has to consider bringing back the mascot.

Sorry, not sure what happened there, just zoned out for a second.

9. Collie

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1935

The IU students from the Washington D.C. area who didn’t get into Georgetown or Virginia, and who wore a bright red blazer to the tailgate fields their freshman year after watching one I’m Shmacked video from Ole Miss think this would’ve been a sick mascot.

They’re wrong.

8. “A Tasmanian devil-like character”

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1980

When IU blows a 25-point lead in roughly 20 minutes at home against Rutgers

7. Gargoyle

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1908

Archie Miller, watching all of the future Mr. Indiana Basketball award winners grow up in his kingdom, ensuring they’ll commit to IU in the 2030s.

6. Goat

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1923

During my junior year, my fraternity had some sort of barnyard-themed date party and we “rented” a goat for the day. I put rented in quotes because some pledges found a family that owned a farm nearby that was selling a goat on Craigslist and the pledges bought it for the party and quickly realized they weren’t capable of properly and responsibly raising a goat on North Jordan, so they returned it the next day.

But for that one night, that goat – Wally – became a legend. I can only assume a campus-wide goat figure would be similarly received.

5. A golden eagle named “Jim Watson”

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1916

When I was in high school, there was a tradition that at every pep rally and school-wide assembly, everyone would chant “JJ Roth.”

The golf team wins state.

“J-J Roth! J-J Roth! J-J Roth!”

We’re gathering for Easter mass.

“J-J Roth! J-J Roth! J-J Roth!”

People would lose their shit just to chant JJ Roth.

It didn’t really matter the context of the assembly, but tell enough high schoolers they get to miss some class, put them in a crowded gym for 45 minutes and that’s what happens.

I don’t think I ever knew the full story behind JJ Roth – the person or the chant – and I’m not sure anyone does, but my understanding was that he was a kid who went to my high school four or five years before me who – with all due respect – was just a normal, otherwise unremarkable kid, according to the urban legends that were passed down, but he somehow became a folk hero in Cincinnati in the late aughts when he got 1,500 kids to chant his name a couple times every semester.

That’s the kind of unbridled passion I imagine when I think about a world where IU’s mascot is a golden eagle (which was shot and nursed back to health, by the way) whose name was Jim Watson.

IU men’s soccer is in double overtime at home against No. 2 Maryland.

“Ji-im Wat-son (clap) (clap) (clapclapclap)”

It’s the final hour of IUDM.

“Ji-im Wat-son (clap) (clap) (clapclapclap)”

Does the name, or the mascot, really make sense?

No – but that’s part of the beauty of it.

An inside joke that overcomes the odds to become big enough that everyone is a part of it.

The mystery and confusion behind it is part of what makes it special.

4. Red dragon

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1980

This was one of five mascot designs collected by the SAB in the fall of 1980 after the failure of Mr. Hoosier Pride, according to Nailos, but the IU administration postponed the voting to “continue the search for stronger mascot designs.”

So IU’s red dragon mascot got abandoned in beta testing and we’re all worse off because of it.

3. The toddler son of former IU athletic trainer “Bernie” Bernstein

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1912

Look, maybe you and I had different experiences during our time as undergraduates at IU, but this feels like it might be the most IU mascot imaginable, in ways that I can’t completely put into words.

Just picture a two or three-year-old dressed in tiny candy-striped pants walking past the IU bench in Memorial Stadium with a sideline credential around his neck, wearing those bulky ear protectors made for little kids, while he has his mom’s old rose gold iPhone in one hand and a fidget spinner in the other. He’s wearing custom Jordans signed by Victor Oladipo.

Five-thousand drunk students behind him are just roaring his name.

He has 356,000 followers on Instagram. Roy’s infringes on his rights with a shirt bearing his likeness that’s handed out on a Thursday night during Homecoming week.

IU scores a touchdown late in the third quarter to take a four-point lead against No. 3 Ohio State and you have a 28-month-old dabbing on the jumbotron and making 37-year-old grown men from Columbus who are wearing scarlet and grey body paint from head to toe (who didn’t even go to Ohio State by the way, they actually went to Ohio Dominican University) blood-red mad that this little toddler exists.

Growing up as one of Bloomington’s famous sons has sometimes led to trouble, so you’re probably going to have to find a new toddler mascot every 2-3 years before they get Milkshake Duck’d.

2. Fire-breathing bull

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1956

I’m intentionally not looking up what IU’s fire-breathing bull mascot did/would’ve looked like because it looks perfect in my imagination.

1. Bison

Year(s) adopted/suggested: 1965-69

This is the only right and accepted choice for No. 1 in these power rankings.

It’s a little sad when you realize IU’s bison mascot (1965-69) was one of the school’s longest-running mascots with a term of [whips out calculator] four years.

But if it wasn’t the best.

It has some historical connection to the state with the bison that’s on the Indiana state seal, it’s the logo of one of Bloomington’s best establishments, and the geniuses and scholars who thought of the idea for a bison mascot originally wanted a living, breathing bison on IU’s campus.

From the Pride of IU website:

“There were problems with the bison from the beginning. First, IU students wanted to purchase a live bison that would run around the field at games. But this was cost prohibitive, so they had to settle for a bison costume. Unfortunately, the bison costume was poorly designed, and students did not want to wear it. It was uncomfortable, held a lot of heat, and the mask was very difficult to see through – the only opening being the holes in the animal’s nostrils – which meant the wearer had to be led around the field by cheerleaders holding a rope. For these reasons, the bison was discontinued in 1969.”

A meme:

IU students: “Mom, can we get a bison?”

Mom: “We have a bison at home.”

The bison we have at home:

IU Photo Archives

The bison mascot is also the perfect representation of so much of the last 10-plus years of IU football.

It was doing great for the first 50 to 65 percent of the way, then sort of imploded on itself but it’s still lovable and you wouldn’t trade it for the world.

The dream of a powerful but graceful, real-life bison mascot, which was apparently originated by SPEA — not Kelley — students if the cost was an issue, that ultimately became a man-worn costume with a terrible hunchback, poor visibility and retained dangerous levels of heat :: IU football taking a 21-20 lead in its season-opener over No. 2 Ohio State late in the third quarter, only for Parris Campbell to score a 74-yard touchdown on the next play as the Buckeyes score the final 29 points of the game and win in a rout.

Both the bison mascot and IU football are a beautiful and inexplicably flawed creation that you’ll emotionally invest in a little too much, making them the perfect fit for each other.