When I give tours, I always start out with the story of our mascot, Jumbo the elephant. The history of jumbo is well-publicized--came over to the States with Barnum & Bailey Circus, died in tragic-yet-heroic fashion while saving another elephant, lived on in a natural history museum on the Tufts campus, now survives as a pile of ashes that was salvaged from a fire. That’s the gist, and most Tufts students can tell the story on command.
I get mixed responses from visitors when I give this spiel. Some laugh at the silliness and endearing aspects of it all. Some look confused as to why this information is necessary for them to know. Some seem genuinely concerned about the fact that we’ve spent so much time thinking about our mascot’s place in our University’s history and culture. It does feel rather odd at times--on a tour last week someone asked me to identify our main cheer for sporting events, and I quickly replied, “Go ‘Bos,” and received puzzled looks as I quickly attempted to explain that it was an abbreviation for Jumbos. They were not satisfied with my answer.
I give this part of my tour with pride, though. I love telling people that we are not named after elephants, we are named after a particular elephant, and that particular elephant is the reason why we use the word “jumbo” to mean “big.” I love telling people that we’re the only mascot in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and that it’s one of the more unique mascots in the NCAA.
Is it the best mascot in the country, though? Can I comfortably tell people that we have the best college mascot in America?
I decided that any repeat mascots--Panthers, Tigers, Wildcats, Eagles, and the like--are not in the running. With all due respect to the typical-mascot schools out there, you aren’t in the competition. Any mascot that is in the same conversation as the Tufts Jumbos has to be intimidating, supremely unique, good-looking, and aptly-named, as Jumbo is all of these things. In order to challenge the ‘Bos, the mascot has to belong to one school, and one school only.
There are plenty of mascots out there that score high when it comes to unique names, but they don’t always cut it when it comes to intimidation factor. The University of California--Santa Cruz Banana Slugs come to mind. Awesome, weird name? Yes. An obscure animal reading Plato as a mascot? Not pretty, nor intimidating. Lack of intimidation is the limiting factor for most of the unique mascots that I put up against our beloved Jumbo. The Whittier College Poets aren’t exactly scaring their opponents off the field, and it’s not like the Ephs of Williams College do any better. Even though it has “fighting” in the name, the Delta State Fighting Okra leaves a lot to be desired, and the Franklin & Marshall Diplomats aren’t causing the other team to quake in their cleats. I know that this penguin is trying very hard to be fearsome, but Youngstown State doesn’t cut it, either.
Plenty of schools have awesome, intimidating names, but have logos that ruin it. The Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils are right on track with their one-of-a-kind, absolutely terrifying name, but their logo shouldn’t see the light of day. The Cincinnati Bearcats sound incredibly promising (have you ever seen a Bearcat?!), until a boring initial is all that they put forth. The Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne Mastodons are similarly exciting: an extinct beast! So much opportunity! The result is a seemingly exhausted hairy elephant that resembles Ray Romano’s character in Ice Age.
The University of Saint Louis Billikens take the cake here for close-but-no-cigar. Have you ever heard of a Billiken? Neither has anyone else. It was a character invented by an artist over 100 years ago, a character that is “a good-luck figure who represents ‘things as they ought to be.’” I guess things ought to resemble a winking, overgrown baby.
There are plenty of good-looking and intimidating mascots that have tired names, and it’s a shame. The University of Pittsburgh has one of the coolest, scariest mascots around, but . . . they’re the Panthers, the most typical mascot out there. The Creighton Blue Jays fall victim to the same problem. It’s a shame, these schools have mascots that work in every other way.
There are some truly excellent mascots that go toe-to-toe with the Jumbos. The Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University check all of the boxes: it is unique, intimidating, and named after the state lizard of Texas. The Marshall University Thundering Herd are likewise impressive; nice colors with an intimidating and unique team name. The Texas Tech Masked Riders (reminiscent of Zorro) is also in the upper echelon. The University of Arkansas Razorbacks are likewise a great mascot. They all pale in comparison to our beloved elephant, though.
After careful deliberation, in my completely unbiased opinion, the Tufts University Jumbos take the cake for The Best College Mascot In America. Jumbo is the full package: he’s a personal story connected to the school in a tangible way, he’s intimidating, and there’s only one Jumbo.
Just ask the dictionary.