Texas A&M University has a reputation for having the most extensive history of rituals, from Aggie Yell Practice to the now off-campus bonfire. But this is Texas. If you think only the Aggies have whacky traditions, think again.
In 1914 the student body at Baylor voted to have the bear represent them as the “Patron Saint of all Baylordom,” beating out such options as the Baylor Bookworm or Baylor Ferret. In 1974 the decision was made to call all mascots “Judge” in honor of Judge Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, the university’s namesake. Baylor has been home to more than fifty North American Black Bears since the first one arrived in 1917, and the current residents, Judge Joy Reynolds and Judge Sue Sloan (“Joy” and “Lady” to students), live on display in a million-dollar bear habitat, which has become the campus attraction. True to their hometown, the bears were fed with Waco creation Dr Pepper until the nineties, when this was stopped out of concern for the bears’ teeth.
The Immortal Ten
One of Baylor’s most important homecoming traditions is the annual remembrance of the Immortal Ten. On January 22, 1927, the Baylor men’s basketball team was on its way to Austin to play against UT in a game that would hopefully propel them to the 1927 Southwest Conference championship. But it wasn’t meant to be. Constant rain hampered the bus driver’s view, and in Round Rock, a train hit the side of the vehicle, killing 10 of the 21 people onboard. Especially known for his heroism is James Clyde “Abe” Kelly, who saw the train just before impact and pushed his roommate, Weir Washman, to safety out of a window before his own life was taken. Every year at homecoming, freshmen hear the story of the Immortal 10 before participating in a candlelight ceremony and building a commemorative bonfire.
Baylor was woefully without an official hand signal until 1960, when the school’s yell leaders introduced the “Bear Claw” along with the “Sic ’Em Bears” yell. The gesture and phrase floundered for years until legendary Baylor football coach Grant Teaff arrived in 1972 and heartily endorsed both, pushing them to their status today.
UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON
When John W. Bender arrived in Houston as a professor after being head football coach at Washington State University, he still couldn’t let go of WSU’s mascot, the cougar. When it came time for U of H to name its newspaper, Bender’s suggestion—the cougar—was chosen, and by 1927 every athletic team had also adopted the cougar.
U of H also has a female mascot, Shasta. The cage that Shasta had proved fateful, as its door severed one of Shasta’s toes when it closed on the way to Austin for U of H’s inaugural game against UT in 1953. At the time, the two were the largest schools in Texas, and Longhorn fans mimicked the injured cougar by holding up their hands with the ring finger bent down. UT won the game 28—7, and the Cougars appropriated the hand sign as a reminder of the payback they owed UT. The gesture, officially made by bending your ring finger down with your thumb, appeared fifteen years later when the Cougars tied UT, 20—20. Finally, at their third meeting in 1976, the first year Houston was in the Southwest Conference (they are now in Conference USA), Houston committed the “Dad’s Day Massacre” in front of 77,809 spectators by upsetting UT 30—0. This defeat signaled the end of UT coach Darrell Royal’s career and proved the power of the Cougar Paw.
SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY
Football at SMU is an all-day event, evident from everyone going Boulevardin’ on SMU’s Bishop Boulevard in the hours before a Mustang home game. “The Boulevard,” as this tradition is known, is a huge tailgate party.
During the game, fans are treated to the presence of Peruna, a black stallion Shetland pony (a type of miniature horse) named after an old tonic with a strong alcoholic “kick.” A live Peruna was first introduced in 1933, and to this day a black pony appears at Ford Stadium led by four trained students known as the Peruna Handlers, who cross the field with her between quarters.
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
And Bevo Is His Name-O
Thanksgiving Day is usually a date reserved for hefty turkeys, but in 1916 UT presented Texas A&M University with its new mascot, a 1,200-pound Longhorn named Bevo. UT defeated the Aggies 22—7. One year later, a group of Aggies branded 13—0 on the steer to remind UT of its 1915 defeat at A&M’s hands. A common misconception is that UT students turned the 13 into a B, the hyphen into an E and inserted a V before the zero, effectively branding the steer with its new name, BEVO. This explanation for the mascot’s name would fit neatly if Ben Dyer hadn’t already dubbed the animal Bevo in an article for campus magazine The Alcalde a year before the branding. Another theory is that Dyer had Bevo, a low-alcohol beer marketed during Prohibition, on the brain. The origins of Bevo’s name remain a mystery, but the important thing is that over the years, UT has been proudly represented at football games by a lineage of fourteen Bevos.
The Texas Flag
Anyone who’s been to a UT home game has seen a the Running of the Texas Flag. The tradition started on January 1, 1961, when the Longhorns faced Mississippi at the Cotton Bowl. In a rare display of halftime graciousness, the Mississippi Rebel Band took to the field and unfurled a giant Texas flag, which was subsequently presented to Texas governor Price Daniel, who gave it to the Longhorn Band in celebration of UT’s win. The band turned the flag over to co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, and members ran the flag at that year’s game against A&M (and continues to run the flag today). The current flag, measuring 75 feet by 125 feet, is not surprisingly the largest state flag in the world.
The Texas Cowboys, guys decked out on the field in hats, bandanas, and chaps, can be seen during football games firing Smokey the Cannon, which makes a loud bang each time Texas scores or makes an exciting play at home. Be sure to look out for the cannon at Dallas’s Cotton Bowl, where the Longhorns take on the Oklahoma Sooners every year. In fact, UT’s mechanical engineering lab first built the cannon in 1953 as a response to traditional shotgun blasts from the Sooner side at Texas—OU games.
In 1955 UT head cheerleader Harley Clark (it was an elected position back then) got an idea for a hand sign while watching his colleague Henry Pitts make shadow puppets on the walls of the Texas Union. A few nights later, Clark introduced the sign, an approximation of Bevo’s horns made by raising the pointer and pinky fingers while holding the middle two fingers down with the thumb, at a Gregory Gym pep rally. The next day’s game against Texas Christian University saw the first sea of Hook ’Em Horns from one side of the stadium, and the symbol has transcended the sports arena to become a bond among Longhorns of all breeds.
TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY
In 1936 student George Tate, dressed in black riding clothes and riding a black quarter horse, surprised the crowd by leading the football team out onto the field before he and his horse fled the stadium. Appearances of the Masked Rider continued as student pranks until the 1954 Gator Bowl, when the formerly unrepresented Red Raiders were led onto the field by Joe Kirk Fulton on a horse named Blackie. As Ed Danforth of the Atlanta Constitution wrote: “No team in any bowl game ever made a more sensational entrance.” This surprise mascot was a stunning success and the beginning of a storied tradition. (Texas Tech beat Auburn in the bowl game that day.) When the selection committee chose Anne Lynch in 1974 to be the next Masked Rider, the controversial decision made national news and sparked heated discussions at Tech. Lynch served out her term, though, and today one-third of the Masked Riders have been women, with more female than male riders since the late eighties
In 1971 the Southwest Conference enacted a rule making it difficult for teams to bring live animals to away games. The designs of late cartoonist and former Lubbock mayor Dirk West (who also designed the University of Nebraska’s Herbie Husker) provided the inspirational illustration for an alternate costumed mascot to appear at away games: Raider Red, a cowboy likened to a “Wild West” character who fires his two guns in the air after every Tech score. Raider Red did not die with the Southwest Conference, and both mascots appear at every home game under the Big 12.
The Red Raiders’ hand sign, made by extending the index finger outward while extending the thumb upward to form a gun, was claimed for Tech in 1972 by a former Red who was living in Austin at the time. The gesture was quickly adopted by Tech cheerleaders and spirit squads, and fans have put their guns up at every Red Raider game since.