A Tale of Two Mascots: Arkansas vs. Alabama
The Razorbacks play the Crimson Tide on Saturday, but what does that even mean? Have you ever wondered why Arkansas’ mascot is a pig or what the elephants even have to do with the Crimson Tide?
Razorback football first began in 1894. From its inception in 1871 to 1910, the official mascot of Arkansas was the cardinal, named after the official school color, cardinal red, according to the UA admissions webpage.
The term Razorback came into being when football coach Hugo Bezdek called the team “a wild band of Razorback hogs” after a 16-0 win over Louisiana in 1909, according to arkansasrazorbacks.com.
After that incident, Bezdek continued to refer to the team as “razorbacks,” due to the ferocious and unrelenting nature of the wild animal, and the name stuck. In 1910, the student body voted on changing the mascot from cardinal to Razorback, and it’s been that way ever since, according to arkansasrazorbacks.com.
As far as the hog call goes, its origin is unknown, although according to arkansasrazorbacks.com, it most likely began some time in the 1920s. Traditional calls for boars in the wild usually have a form of “Sooie” in them, so presumably the hog call originated from that.
Alabama, meanwhile, took longer to stick with a mascot, although they weren’t so lucky to have the serendipity of a nickname that doubled as a mascot.
Alabama received the “Crimson Tide” moniker after a game against Auburn in 1907 that was played on a red, muddy field, according to rolltidebama.com.
In 1907, Alabama defeated the favored Auburn, and Hugh Roberts of the Birmingham Age-Herald coined the famous term. Before the team was the Crimson Tide, they were known as the “Thin Red Line,” the varsity or the Crimson White, according to collegefootballhistory.com.
The chant “Roll Tide” logically followed from the Crimson Tide moniker.
Alabama became associated with elephants during a game on Oct. 8, 1930, when an excited fan yelled, “Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,” in reference to the size of the players, according to rolltide.com.
The Alabama team went on to win the national championship, and more and more reporters began to call the Alabama linemen “Red Elephants,” the color referring to the school’s official color, crimson.
Melford Espey Jr. was the first person to don the iconic elephant head in the 1960s, according to Tide fan blog alcrimsontide.com. Espey was close to iconic Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and the two worked together to create the mascot we know today.
The elephant you may see walking along the Alabama sideline is aptly named “Big Al,” which came from a student vote. In 1979, the official elephant mascot as we know it was debuted during a Sugar Bowl victory for Alabama over Penn State, according to alcrimsontide.com.
Big Al is known for his energy and silliness at Alabama sports events. But he doesn’t stop there: The grey-and-red mascot is available for rent at birthday parties, charity events and even weddings. While there is only one Big Al, multiple people wear his costume, allowing him to delight and entertain wherever he is summoned.
There are actually four different Razorback mascots, all of them hogs. Big Red is the traditional mascot and is symbolic of “the intimidating fighting spirit of the Razorbacks,” according to the UA admissions webpage. Sue E is the female hog mascot, and Pork Chop is the tiny kid mascot. Even the inflatable hog you see on campus has a name: Boss Hog. He’s 9 feet tall and the most recent addition to the so-called “family” of mascots.
Of course, there is also a live mascot. Tusk III, the current “razorback,” who attends every home football game, is actually a Russian boar. The only real razorbacks that exist today are located in the Australian Outback, according to hogwired.com.
Arkansas’ live mascots have a colorful history. Wild hog Ragnar heroically killed seven rattlesnakes, a coyote and a 450-pound domestic pig during his tenure as mascot. Big Red III, a mascot from the 60s, escaped its confinement and ravaged the countryside before finally being shot by a farmer, according to hogwired.com.
Alabama, meanwhile, does not have an actual live elephant, but not even Nick Saban’s vaunted defenses could keep one under control should they bring one inside Bryant-Denney Stadium on game day.
Although both mascots are popular within each school and are quite unique, neither has ever won the Capital One Mascot Challenge, which uses votes on its website to tally the best and most original mascot. Alabama was considered in the 2002 mascot challenge but ultimately lost to Monte of University of Montana.
However, the Razorback was ranked No. 2 in Sporting News’ “Mascots You Want on Your Side in a Bar Fight,” where Big Al went unranked. So we’ll call it even.