Gridiron Rhetoric: Week 2

[Cross blogged for Leland Quarterly]

This week, Stanford football is slowly easing itself into the season with an away game in Durham, North Carolina, where Stanford takes on Duke in a game ESPN’s Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller is calling the “SAT Bowl.” In fact, Duke and Stanford have a lot in common on and off the football field—small private schools, top-ten academic rankings, huge land holdings (Duke’s is 8600 acres, albeit spread over three campuses), massive endowments, and dominance in some kind of sports arena (Duke in men’s basketball, Stanford in everything else).  Both were founded by wealthy industrialists in memory of a deceased loved one.  And both have bizarre mascots.

This week’s Gridiron Rhetoric will take a look at the Stanford Cardinal (and the phrase I’m sure you’re all used to saying: “the color, not the bird”) and the Duke Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils first.  Duke was founded as Trinity University with strong Methodist ties—so where the hell did this devil come from?  Apparently it’s actually a reference to French mountain infantry, making Duke the only Division I school I know of to invoke the heart-stopping terror of the French military to intimidate their opponents.  Duke named its athletics program shortly after World War I, when the (real) Blue Devils were fighting in trenches or having downhill skiing shootouts or doing whatever it is that specially trained mountain infantry do—and apparently doing a good enough job at it to attract the interest of a small, private university in the heart of America’s thriving tobacco industry.  Jamais être pris vivant! …Especially by lung cancer.

Some other mascot nominations that didn’t quite make the Duke cut:

  • The Methodists
  • The Grizzlies (too western North America)
  • The Polar Bears (too northern North America)
  • The Badgers (again, not indigenous to North Carolina, which appears to be home only to cuddly animals not appropriate for sports mascots)
  • The Catamounts (I had to look this up, but apparently a catamount is a “medium-sized wild cat,” such as a cougar—which also don’t live in North Carolina)
  • The Dreadnaughts (had potential for the best mascot costume ever, as well as the best opposing jeer: “we sunk your battleship!”)
  • The Blue Titans
  • The Blue Eagles
  • The Blue Warriors (they settled on a theme pretty quickly)

The blue obviously won out, but was paired instead with a French devil and his roguish goatee.  This isn’t just blue though—no pedestrian cerulean for Duke.  No, it’s “Duke Blue,” and it has its own hex code (#001A57).

And don’t you forget it.

Stanford is equally particular about its particular shade of red.  Unlike Duke, though, the Cardinal-color-not-bird moniker has been hanging around the university since its inception.  At the first Big Game against Cal, Stanford’s team had no mascot—and so the local newspapers picked the color of our uniforms and ran with it. “Cardinal Triumphs O’er Blue and Gold” was (naturally) the headline after the game, and the nickname stuck.  In 1930, though, students wanted more from Stanford—a more tangible mascot, not a lofty, high-brow concept mascot like the Cardinal-color-not-bird.  So for the next forty-two years, Stanford became the Indians.

And no one complained.

Dropped after numerous complaints were filed with the university, the hunt for a new mascot begun.  Some names that didn’t win over the students and/or faculty:

  • The Trees (revenge served in our on-field mascot)
  • The Cardinals (the bird, not the color)
  • The Railroaders (better than Duke’s abandoned Tobaconeers)
  • The Griffins
  • The Spikes
  • The Huns (sorta out of left field, this one)
  • The Robber Barons (one of ole Leland’s less flattering cognomens)
  • The Thunderchickens (my personal favorite, and the nickname of our defensive line in 1971 and 1972)

With no consensus ever reached, eventually we reverted to the Cardinal-color-not-bird name that confuses the hell out of every SEC fan who’s learning about Stanford for the first time this season.  Intellectual football at its finest.

Finally, a look at some rhetoric from around the internet: