Why Me? Why Write? Why Now? Why Not?

The Me is Doug Curran…Douglas M Curran…Douglas Metcalf Curran. Douglas is Celtic for “dweller by the dark stream”. Curran in Gaelic means “little spear”. And Metcalf? Scottish for “I met a calf”? Hey I don’t know! I don't have all the answers. I'm still trying to get the questions right. At least I seem to be a spear fisher by some dirty water. Or maybe I'm a Druid. And that Curran thing may not even be as Irish as my Irish American wife, Colleen Fitzsimmons, hoped it was when she married me. Ok, I might be a Viking. It's like this. I was reading this book, The Lion Of Ireland, see, and the author, Morgan Llewellyn, recounts a last battle between Brian Boru and the Viking invader king, to regain Irish dominance again throughout the island and kick the fureners out. The Viking king's name? Olaf Cuaran? Cuaran? Curran? I'm a Viking now, so I am? And a descendent of one of those marauding and murderous pillagers and plunderers? I've never pillaged a thing in my life...well, maybe a book or two from somebody. I'm really just a gentle giant who loves books and music. Ok, I bought a sword recently, but only as a wall decoration to enhance my Irish family history coat of arms! Honest! Viking, Schmiking, so rest my Irish soul! Or my wife will have my old bald Irish head!

October 18, 2009

My mascot can beat up your mascot...

Now that football season is in full swing and basketball not far behind, here's one of my related columns I couldn't resist...

Now that I’m older and “wiser”, I have a lot more questions than answers. Like where did they get those college mascots? And those sports announcers to spout them out like they are household names. The arrogance! Every time football or basketball season rolls around, I am always struck, my intelligence insulted, my cognitive faculties assaulted and barraged by sports announcers’ arcane references to teams and their mascots as if they are something we deal with everyday. Just what is a Nittany Lion for instance? I have lost sleep over this because I am expected to know. I thought about attending Penn State once, but I just couldn’t square my collegiate identity with being a Nittany anything? Is it indigenous to the rolling hills of PA? Not that I ever saw in my several forays up the river Susquehanna to my dad’s hometown Williamsport as a kid. Doesn’t sound Native American to me. Almost sounds like a ninny lion and therefore a little too pansy for me.

What does Nittany mean and why do those sports guys throw it around like they know, they expect us to know, and if we don’t, well tough, they’re not going to tell us on the air. Honestly, how can some announcer try to inflate his ego by expecting me to have done my research on each team’s mascot? All I want is a clarification before each game on tv, something in writing on the screen while the announcers are giving their pre-game hype, that gives a simple definition and history of the mascot and how it was chosen. Then I could really get into the identity of it, the culture and the history of it, and stand in front of the screen and yell “Go Nittany’s!” Like the Vermont Catamounts, for example. I have to do a whole library and Google search – and I still don’t know what it is! Do I therefore want to yell for their team? Or even be one? They couldn’t recruit me with a mascot I can’t tell is animal, vegetable or mineral – and I don’t have time to play 20 questions.

And how about those Fighting Illini? Is that the plural of Illinois? What does Illinois even mean anyway? I’m guessing Indians, but maybe it’s French trappers fighting over some skunk pelts. And that other team from Illinois – the Salukis? The what? And then there’s those Indiana Hoosiers. What the heck is a Hoosier? Or a Georgetown Hoya for that matter? No, I’m just supposed to accept hearing about them without question, like I’ve been dutifully doing most of my sports-watching life, and act like I get it and know who these guys are talking about and play along to impress my other sports watching comrades!

Odds are they themselves probably only know because of the script they’re reading for that game, but they act like it’s all common knowledge, like we’re supposed to buy into and connect with some state’s nebulous and deep-rooted traditions! Give me a break! I just can’t be at a computer looking it up so I can stay with these guys. They spout off this school stuff because it’s supposed to pump up our juices and tap into some lost nostalgia now recalled and repeated annually, to really get us into the game, produce some artificial sports euphoria, and sell product for the station, the real bottom line. Sorry, not buying!

And there are so many more mascots now. And where did the need for mascots come from anyway? I’ll bet those announcers don’t even know where the word mascot comes from – a French word meaning “talisman”, usually an animal that becomes a symbol for any group wishing to associate itself with that animal’s power or other qualities and derive some magical or mystical power from it. What was the first one in collegiate annals? The Harvard Hamsters? I don’t know - but I’m sure you’re not supposed to use someone else’s either, though it seems to be allowed by the mascot screeners. Like the Washington State and BYU cougars? Especially when they play each other? Now there’s an announcer’s nightmare. “And the cougars win the game!” Happy now?

And I bet they love to call the games for those non-count mascots, like the Stanford Cardinal, which is a tree, not a bird - one tree. How is a team one tree? And the Golden Hurricane of Tulsa – one hurricane, especially in Oklahoma where they don’t have hurricanes, and more so, golden ones. Miami is rightfully the Hurricanes, because they have so many of them – duh! But maybe the Golden Hurricane hasn’t happened yet and that’s why it’s golden and singular – it’s a myth waiting to happen! Works for me.

But they do have Sooners in Oklahoma? And sooner or later someone is going to tell me what that is. And don’t tell me it’s a tornado. Actually I think it derives from prairie schooners, in which people ran over each other trying to stake a land claim. So why not the Squatters then? But that still doesn’t explain what “schooner” means. I don’t know of any schools in the Midwest with a tornado mascot, though my Omaha-born wife used to hide from them all the time. To me, that’s a lot more intimidating than a Cornhusker. Aren’t you afraid of being husked to a pulp? Or a cob? And I love the mixed religious meaning of those Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Are they demons? Or deacons? Are they enticing you to pray and then prey upon you? Those hypocritical oxymorons!

There are of course those wimpy mascots trying to be scary, like the menacing Horned Frogs of SMU? Or those terrifying Terrapins of Maryland, snapping turtles to you and me, to tear your toes off in a pileup. And they are called the Terps for short, another crazy name-shortening just so they don’t have to say Terrapins – which has no referent in the real world. And I would not like to be hooted to death by those Temple Owls either, or put in a ring with those angry South Carolina Gamecocks and get pecked to pieces.

And I love those politically incorrect references to the original natives of our continent who, because they were fighting for the land we were taking away from them, we choose to try to make it up to them by giving some of our schools names - like Florida Seminoles and Utah Utes. They are still fighting us about it. But why not those really bloodthirsty ones that are always in the movies, killing our cowboy ancestors mercilessly, those cunning and clever ones that used to ambush and annihilate and scalp us and leave us tied to stakes up on anthills in the hot sun? Or legs tied to two different trees and let fly? I don’t see any schools revering them with mascots - like Pawnees, Apaches, Mohawks, Commanches, and Sioux. Shades of Little Big Horn! Or maybe we could get more ancient and mysterious with the Anasazi or Mayans or Incas, to spook teams into defeat.

Then there are mascots for those who work the land and sweat in the factories – like the Aggies if you’re an agricultural college, which I think is a real mascot cop-out. I mean, will you really cower before an “Aggie”? And we have other farmer types like the Beetdiggers, Cornhuskers, Lumberjacks and Boilermakers, who try to intimidate us with their big muscles from toiling and tilling. I know I’m shaking. I wish there were more high-tech mascots that reflected the information age we live in instead of the past industrial one – like the Programmers, or the Telemarketers, or the Stock Brokers. Why are there no everyday guys like the Coroners or the Grocers? What, not scary enough?

Of course, you could just try to creep your opponents out with crawlers like the Earthworms, the Scorpions, the Army Ants, the Centipedes, the Killer Bees or Mormon Crickets. And we could get down and dirty with the Las Vegas Strippers or One-Armed Bandits or Mustang Ranchers! How about the LA Scandals or the Hollywood Pimps? There could be some more picturesque mascots like the Niagara Falls or the Smokey Mountains or the Mount Rushmores - or the Mt St Helens Lava Flows!

But I think the way to really get more threatening and ominous and go beyond the zoo dwellers or house pests is to create mascots that strike real fear and would cause people to wear surgical masks to games, that represent the real terror-filled world around us - like the Ebola Virus for instance - or the Hepatitus A’s , the E Coli’s , the Anthrax? Or how about the Hanta Virus Flesh Eaters , the HIV’s, or the Bubonic Plagues? Some mascots could actually be some of the wonder drugs to do battle on the field with these incurable diseases, like the Penicillins or the Polio Vaccines or the Antibiotics! Now we’re getting somewhere! Forget all attempts at propriety and tradition – let’s go for what’s in the news, like the Freaking Al Qaedas, or the Iraqi Insurgents or the Taliban Terrorists !

We need to bring more of the outside into our little provincial games and show everyone that we know what’s going on around us rather than keep glorifying these antiquated little mascots nobody really knows anything about. I used to be a sports editor in high school. You need a good mascot that you can write descriptive language about. We were the Montgomery Blair Blazers, and though it looked like a red devil, how does that translate to Blazer? Hard to describe what we did in victory – fork them to death? Of course, like most teens, I was oblivious at the time. I also did some sports writing at BYU-Hawaii many years later - and though I helped develop the long canoe and paddle guy logo existing today, it was hard to translate that into a Seasider, the longtime benign, amorphous mascot name that just wouldn't go away. We tried other more indigenous names like Paddlers, Long Canoes, Oarsmen, Outriggers, and such - but no takersl.

I think we should have a national college mascot referendum and evaluation day so universities can finally change their names shamelessly and opt for something more real world, more pertinent, more conciliatory or pugilistic? A lottery perhaps! But get over those golden days of a century ago when mascots were gentlemanly and irrelevant. And I have to mention the time when I was singing with The Lettermen at the University of Arkansas in 1969, and we got a big, long “Sooooey Pig” that nearly “p”- popped us off the stage with that labial wind blast from 10,000 students. Wow! That’s how I found out what a Razorback is! I was impressed. But I still want to know what a Nittany Lion is. Nittany, Nittany boo boo!

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