Leo Morris

There is distressing news from Indiana University.

In the Daily Student newspaper, the headline tells the sad story: “Forty years have passed since IU sported a mascot.” The university is one of only three of the 14 schools in the Big Ten conference, along with Michigan and Illinois, to have no mascot.

No Purdue Pete or Brutus Buckeye or Herbie Husker to growl and prowl the sidelines, impossibly big heads always seeming on the verge of toppling off.

No Herky the Hawk or Willie the Wildcat seething courtside while the cheerleaders soak up all the glory.

Not even a Bucky Badger or Goldy Gopher to act as role models for all the anthropomorphized woodland creatures deemed too creepy at the Sesame Street auditions.

How heartbreaking for the students. No one to get them on their feet when their school spirit lags. No one to jazz them up with taunting insults of the other team. No one to console them on another dreary Monday when the shame of another loss surrounds the campus like a shroud.

All that pent-up frenzy from the life-and-death struggles of athletic competition and no totem for the clan to dance around while they ask the sports gods for mercy. What empty lives they must have. No wonder they’re turning to socialism.

It’s not that the school hasn’t tried. Over the last century, the athletic teams have flirted briefly with numerous mascot attempts.

An owl.

A raccoon.

A bald eagle.

A goat.

A bulldog.

A Border collie.

No chipmunk or crow, though, and no French poodle, so perhaps they didn’t try hard enough.

The most effort went into a student government-sponsored move in the 1960s to make a bison the team symbol, borrowing the idea from the state seal.

The school nixed a plan for a live bison for football games (not in the gym, one presumes) because of cost concerns.

The first effort at a bison costume was deemed a failure because it had no arm or leg holes. A redesign with the assistance of a Los Angeles firm (after Disney Studios refused a plea for help) was scrapped because the student wearing it complained of not being able to see or breathe. Wimp.

The last hurrah came in the 1970s with a proposed addition to the Big Head Brigade, Mr. Hoosier Pride, who sported a cowboy hat and a red beard. He looked like a demented cousin of Paul Bunyan. “The most asinine and ridiculous-looking character anyone could have ever dreamed up,” complained a letter to the editor from a student, apparently not grasping the point of having a mascot.

I spent some time coming up with suggestions if IU wants to remedy the situation. Since the teams of late aren’t doing so well, how about the Hummingbirds, because they expend so much energy to stay in the same place? How about the Sheep, to honor the university officials who follow the lead of coastal elites?

Borrowing from the state seal has been done, but how about paying tribute to elected politicians? The Snakes, or perhaps the Vultures? Personally, I can see a winning future for the Hoosier Weasels.

But I finally thought of The Rileys, in honor of James Whitcomb Riley, the poet laureate of bad verse.

The mascot could wear a scarecrow outfit, complete with tattered straw hat and corncob pipe, and shout out, “Ain’t no frost on THIS punkin” every time the team scores.

And he could periodically taunt the visiting team with sneers of “fodder’s in the shock, fodder’s in the shock,” which is silly and pointless but sounds sort of vulgar.

Which is a good place to stop. Time for a night of peaceful rest before I hear that rooster’s hallylooyer.

Hoosier Roosters? He shoots, he scores, cock-a-doodle-do! Some possibilities there.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.

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