Schwartz: A Biased Ranking of Big Ten Mascots

April 18, 2019

Written by David Schwartz

I’ve been saving this column for a slow week, when there’s not a whole lot of interesting Hawkeye news to write about (sorry, Andrew Francis).

I love sports mascots. I love everything about them, from the way kids flock to them to the way they symbolize programs. I even love when they suffer or fight each other – what can I say: it makes me laugh. I also love their commercials.

Three Big Ten programs don’t have official mascots: Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. So here’s a ranking of the remaining 11, from 11 to 1.

An obvious caveat: As an Iowa grad and fan, I’m partial to Herky, but I’ll try my best to be impartial. (Spoiler alert: I am not impartial.)

11. Herbie Husker, Nebraska. Raise your hand if you thought Nebraska’s mascot was actually Lil’ Red, the inflatable party doll who hobbles around and tries not to get blown over at football games. Nope, it’s Herbie. The sad truth: Lil’ Red is more fun.

10. The Nittany Lion, Penn State. Looks less like a college mascot than someone wandering around Times Square in a knockoff Elmo costume

9. The Knight, Rutgers. No jokes here. I didn’t even know this fella existed until I started writing the column. Rutgers’ website claims “The Knight is very well known around the state and the country.” Really?

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8. Brutus Buckeye, Ohio State. In theory a mascot that’s supposed to be a nut at one of the nation’s most successful universities for sports should be a slam dunk, but Brutus is boring. If you’ve seen Brutus at a football or basketball game wandering aimlessly, you’ve pretty much maxed out his potential, although it’s pretty impressive that whoever is playing Brutus is able to flip while in full uniform.

7. Bucky Badger, Wisconsin. The logo Bucky is iconic. The mascot? Its features are hard to see from more than 25 feet away. To be fair it’s not entirely the fault of the university. Badgers have flat heads and tiny eyes – not ideal for mascotization.

6. Willie the Wildcat, Northwestern. Willie is everything the Penn State Nittany Lion isn’t: well maintained and occasionally dry cleaned. It’s like a big stuffed animal come to life, which is great for kids. Some serious thought and cash went into Willie’s cuddly, photogenic head.

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5. Testudo, Maryland. Great look. Cool history – possibly the coolest of any Big Ten mascot. Seriously, click through that link and learn something. 

4. Purdue Pete, Purdue. Iconic, but Pete loses a couple of points for not being the official mascot. Purdue’s actual mascot? A big train.

3. Sparty, Michigan State. A bit overrated but still a great mascot, Sparty is the conference’s clear clubhouse leader among “human” mascots (joining Herbie, The Knight, and Pete). Sparty looks great, but if you’re looking for a personality, you’re gonna be disappointed.

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2. Goldy Gopher, Minnesota. Just an attractive, well-designed mascot from head to toe. And in true great mascot fashion, Goldy isn’t afraid to take a few physical risks or demolish a kid who dares get in his way.

1. Hercules “Herky” the Hawk, Iowa. Who else, right? Am I partial? Of course. Are there any other Big Ten mascots who have as many outfits to fit the sport they’re supporting as Herky, who can be decked out in football, basketball, wrestling, OR Captain America gear? Nope. Plus there’s this iconic photo, taken by the UI.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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