Skip to content
 

My Father, My Mascot: The Surprisingly Frequent Phenomenon of Sports Mascots with Families, Vol. 1

With Father’s Day this coming Sunday, old pal/reader and contributor Kary Klismet returns once again with a very special article I’m pretty sure has never been covered on Uni Watch: sports mascots and their families! I mean, you didn’t think Mr. & Mrs. Met were DINKs*, did you? Of course not.

So please, sit back and enjoy yet another fantastic piece from Kary!

*DINK=Double Income, No Kids

• • • • •
My Father, My Mascot: The Surprisingly Frequent Phenomenon of Sports Mascots with Families, Vol. 1
by Kary Klismet

Greetings, fellow Uni Watchers! We’re coming up on one of my favorite holidays on the uni calendar – Father’s Day. What makes it such a special occasion, you ask? Well, for the better part of the last dozen years or more, it was the day that Phil furthered one of the great traditions of this website when he shared readers’ photos of – and tributes to – their fathers and grandfathers in uniform.

Now that Phil has taken his talents to the weekdays, I’ll be eager to see how new Weekend Editor Jim Vilk puts his personal spin on the custom. He has some big shoes to fill, of course, but I’m more than confident he’ll do the holiday justice!

As we prepare to celebrate the institution of fatherhood this weekend, many of you may not be aware that another holiday of particular significance in the uni-verse is not far behind: National Mascot Day on June 17th! Not sure how to, ahem, “dress for the season?” No worries! Here’s a store that has you covered! You might need to ask for expedited delivery at this point, though.

With these two important holidays being so close to one another, it seemed only fitting to explore their juxtaposition through a phenomenon that’s more common than you might realize: mascots who have “children!” Yep, there’s a decent chance that the lovable fluffball who gets you fired up to root for your favorite team has a costumed mini-me lingering around somewhere. If you find this revelation as fascinating as I do (or even if you don’t but are willing to humor me), come along as we launch what I anticipate might be a recurring series over the next few years called, “My Father, My Mascot.”

When talking about fathers and family, I can’t think of a better way to start off than to go back to one’s roots. For me, that means taking a trip down memory lane to my formative years growing up and going to college in Iowa. The Corn State doesn’t have any major league teams, but their rich history in college athletics has proven to be fertile ground for finding fathers in fake fur.

Let’s kick things off by sharing a couple of photos of the University of Iowa’s mascot, Herky the Hawk, with his son back in 1981.

That little Herky Jr. is definitely a chip off the old block! He may even have one up on his dad with his excellent striped sock game.

And I can’t be sure, but I think this might be a photo of Herky Sr. as a young chick with his own dad (“Grandpa Herky”?) many years prior.

If that is Grandpa Herky, you gotta admit, he’s aged gracefully!

And could this old-timer:

…be Great Grandpa Herky?!

It’s interesting to see how, now that he’s all grown up, the current torchbearer for the Herky family heritage has ditched the helmet tradition of his forefathers.

To be fair, though, he and his kin have been known to go helmet-less at basketball games and other sporting events for decades now. And frankly, when his current helmet option looks like this:

…it’s not hard to see why sometimes less is more.

If you travel 90 miles northwest on Interstate 380 from Herky’s home in Iowa City, you’ll find yourself in Cedar Falls, home of the University of Northern Iowa. Also known as UNI, it’s long been a favorite of the Uni Watch crowd (for obvious reasons). And with a mascot familial history every bit as complex as their collegiate counterparts downstate, the Panthers deserve a turn in the holiday spotlight.

UNI is represented at sporting events by T.C. (short for “The Cat”) and his sister, T.K. (aka “The Kitten”).

T.K. is a relative newcomer to the scene compared to her brother, having debuted in 2010, while T.C. has been around since the mid-1980s. But Northern Iowa’s tradition of Panther mascots dates back to the 1930s, so they must have a dad out there who prowled the sidelines before them, right?

Turns out, following these furry felines’ family tree is fraught with fuzzy photographs of fishy-looking forebears. Thankfully, however, we have positive proof of paternity based on these classic photos of father and child at what must have been some of T.C.’s earliest appearances before growing up to take on the mascot role full-time:

Now if only we could figure out how some of those other characters fit into the Panther genealogy! It appears that none other than the Pink Panther himself might fill the role of the drunken uncle. Meanwhile, a few of the distant relations look like they’re from the cougar or wildcat sides of the family. And is that a weasel in T.C.’s lineage? Because I don’t care what anyone calls it, there’s no way that’s a Panther!

I guess with that chaotic collection of cats in his clan, it should come as no surprise that T.C. has not been particularly precise about properly pairing the purples in his Panthers uniforms. What’s that, you say? It’s not relevant to this story about mascots and fathers? Point taken, but old habits die hard.

If you think sorting out the genealogy of Herky and T.C. is thorny, Iowa State University’s Cy the Cardinal says “hold my beer!” Why a team called the Cyclones has a bird as a mascot:

…is confusing enough. And given the varying visages of ISU’s mascots over the years, one might be forgiven for concluding that all these ornery ornithes are orphans. But a closer look at Cy’s pedigree firms up the feeling that there’s a father to this flock.

Here’s what we know for sure: the original Cy – we’ll call him “Cy Sr.” – burst on the scene (or hatched, you might say) in 1954. Despite his awkward, vaguely rooster-like appearance – or perhaps because of it – he had a confident strut that tagged him as a big mascot on campus.

It should come as little surprise, then, that “Baby Cy” had arrived by 1978.

This youngster (“Cy Jr.,” if you will) entertained Iowa State crowds alongside his father through the mid-‘80s, when he abruptly disappeared. In 1989, a new, larger mascot – “Clone” – took Cy Jr.’s place as the youthful counterpart to Cy Sr.

Unlike Cy Jr., who looked almost like a perfectly miniaturized version of the original Cy, Clone was hardly a clone of his father. With a nimbler, more athletic physique, Clone could perform antics on the sidelines that the older, stiffer Cy Sr. was simply incapable of.

I initially suspected that Clone was actually a teenaged Baby Cy, still a bit gangly on the backside of puberty, who’d adopted an alias. The fact that Clone’s look changed slightly after he’d been around the program for a couple of years:

…seemed like confirmation of my theory that he was just in the process of physically maturing.

Heck, I continued to believe this after the elder Cy gave way to a new, even more buff mascot after a program rebrand in 1995. The body was similar to Clone’s, but the face bore a closer resemblance to Cy Sr. I figured this must have been Clone, now fully grown out of his adolescent phase. Unfortunately, my theory didn’t hold up to the photographic evidence, as this family reunion portrait from the mid- to late ‘90s demonstrates.

So does that mean that the new Cy is actually Baby Cy, having officially taken the mantle from his father after several years out of the limelight, bulking up with a regular gym routine and protein shakes? It seems like there’s no mistaking his bloodlines based on appearances at least.

But what happened to Cy Sr. and Clone? Could the elder statesbird of the family have needed a caretaker at the old mascots’ home and taken Cy Jr.’s brother with him for help in his retirement? Or did Clone set off to seek his fortune as a mascot for another team? Or maybe he finally did grow into his looks and settled down to start a family of his own.

We may never know all the answers to those mascot mysteries, but it’s always heartwarming to see mascot fathers and sons together in photos like the ones highlighted above. In fact, if you know of any mascot families or father-child combinations, please be sure to mention them in the comments below! I have a few ideas squirreled away for the future (including some that just might involve squirrels), but I’d also love to hear some of your favorites! And whatever you’re commemorating in the next few days – whether it’s Father’s Day, National Mascot Day, or, like these convivial costumed characters, both! – may your celebrations be joyful and memorable!

• • • • •

Thanks, Kary! Yet another wonderful deep dive and a great way to kick off Father’s Day!

OK readers — got any mascot families or father-child combos? Let us know in the comments below.

 
  
 
Comments (0)

    So, glad to reach the bottom of this article and see an attempt to connect Herbie Husker and Lil’ Red on a family tree. That would be Husker heresy!

    Hi, Greg! Great find! This is the first time I’ve seen that photo of “Grandpa Herky,” and I totally would have included it if I’d known of its existence.

    I’ve been to many homecoming games at Kinnick Stadium over the years but, admittedly, none since I moved to Denver back in the early 2000s. (I’ve been back to Iowa for other games, but none lined up with Homecoming Weekend.) So I somehow missed this version of “Grandpa Herky.” I did include a photo of a “Grandpa Herky” in the story above, but he simply looks like the current version of Herky wearing a cardigan and “old man slacks.”

    I’d love to know more about the white-bearded mascot you referenced. That’s the version of the football-specific Herky costume that was retired before the 2014 season. Is it still trotted out now, even with the new version of Herky on the sidelines? And when did “Grandpa Herky” debut, if you know. As someone who feels like I have a pretty strong knowledge of Iowa’s sports history and traditions, I feel surprisingly in the dark about this new (to me) revelation!

    D’oh! Sorry, Greg! I meant this to go below under J. Wagner’s comment, but lost where I was in the Comments section and got it all screwed up. Anyway, I’ll post it below, so please disregard it here. And I do have some thoughts about Li’l Red that I’ll get to momentarily.

    All right, let’s try this again…

    Hi, Greg! I assume you mean that you were glad to get to the bottom of the article and *NOT see an attempt to connect Lil’ Red and Herbie Husker.

    As a former longtime Iowa resident (who went to both Iowa State and Iowa) but who ALSO lived in Omaha for awhile and have other ties to the state of Nebraska, I have complex feelings about the Nebraska Cornhuskers. While I am always glad to see my favorite college teams come out with a win in the series against the Huskers, I respect Nebraska’s athletics program’s history and the passion and loyalty of the fanbase.

    One thing that’s NOT complicated for me, however, is how I feel about Lil’ Red. I despise him with every fiber of my sports-fan and uni-watching being.

    Let’s start off with his name, which contains an apostrophe catastrophe of the grammatical kind (if not the stylistic kind – link). The contraction of “little” has historically been “li’l” (e.g., “Li’l Abner”) because the apostrophe indicates what part of the word is being removed in the contraction – in this case, the “tt.”

    One could argue for “li’l'” (with an apostrophe after the “e”), I suppose, but the “e” is silent anyway, so an extra apostrophe is not needed there to indicate something that is being left out of the word’s pronunciation. “Lil” (with no apostrophes – e.g., “Lil Wayne”) is also acceptable since it represents how the colloquialism is pronounced. But there’s no reason for “Lil'” (with the apostrophe after the second “l’) to exist because the apostrophe in that instance isn’t indicating any part of the pronounceable word that’s being contracted. Musical artists like t Lil’ Bow Wow or Lil’ Kim notwithstanding, “lil’) strikes me another example of something wrong being used and repeated so often that it’s become accepted, like “all right” vs. “alright” (link) or “I couldn’t care less” vs. “I could care less” (link). Therefore, “Lil’ Red” fails as a threshold matter on account of the horrible construction of his name alone.

    That’s not the only thing wrong with his name, though. Lil’ Red is hardly little (or li’l, or lil, or lil’). He towers over Herbie (link)! I know that sometimes terms like “Li’l” or “Tiny” can be ironically applied to a person of very large physical stature as something of a humorous appellation. but that doesn’t seem to completely fit with Lil’ Red, since he’s clearly designed to look like a kid, with his chubby cheeks, sideways hat, and youthful features. Instead, he feels more like an action figure made to a larger scale that’s been dropped into a different playset (link).

    I also hate the weird, jerky movements that come from the inflatable suit. I guess it can work with certain mascots, but it just seems inexplicable for a mascot that’s presumably a youthful farmhand. It’s just creepy!

    Finally, I am mystified at how neurotic Husker fans are about Lil’ Red. I know plenty who hate him. But when I casually mentioned to some that I think he’s kind of weird, they leapt to his defense like I’d just insulted the quality of their state’s corn! I guess that’s all a long way of saying you probably won’t be seeing Lil’ Red in a future installment of this series!

    The Columbus Crew’s long-time mascot Crew Cat has a son named S.C. (no one really likes S.C. and thankfully Crew Cat returned after a short hiatus by the former bastard ownership)

    I can’t believe Kary left off Grandpa Herky who makes an appearance at every Homecoming game with the alumni band.

    link

    Hi, J.! Great find! This is the first time I’ve seen that photo of “Grandpa Herky,” and I totally would have included it if I’d known of its existence.

    I’ve been to many homecoming games at Kinnick Stadium over the years but, admittedly, none since I moved to Denver back in the early 2000s. (I’ve been back to Iowa for other games, but none lined up with Homecoming Weekend.) So I somehow missed this version of “Grandpa Herky.” I did include a photo of a “Grandpa Herky” in the story above, but he simply looks like the current version of Herky wearing a cardigan and “old man slacks.”

    I’d love to know more about the white-bearded mascot you referenced. That’s the version of the football-specific Herky costume that was retired before the 2014 season. Is it still trotted out now, even with the new version of Herky on the sidelines? And when did “Grandpa Herky” debut, if you know. As someone who feels like I have a pretty strong knowledge of Iowa’s sports history and traditions, I feel surprisingly in the dark about this new (to me) revelation!

    I’m not sure of the history but as a season ticket holder to Iowa football for the last 20 years, I remember “Grandpa Herky” being a fixture at the homecoming game every year for some time. He(?) comes out with the alumni band and performs. I assume it’s a someone who was Herky while they were in college and gets to come back and perform just like the alumni band. That was the only picture I could find on a quick search but it’s really just the Herky costume with a long grey beard added.

    Very cool! If I do another story on the “mascots as fathers” topic again next year, I’ll see if I can add a little Hawkeye-specific addendum to it to mention this version of Herky. That’s the kind of fun detail that I specifically envisioned for this series. Thanks again for sharing it!

    I love the DIY aesthetic of the older mascots. “Let’s pin an I to the chest and call it good!”

    That photo of the Cy family with proud mom and dad is perfect.

    Agreed, Joe! I love those old mascot costumes, too. One of my motivations for creating this series was to find a fun and whimsical way to highlight some of those great old photos of mascot costumes. Thanks for the kind words!

    Clemson has the Tiger and the Tiger Cub. Not sure if they are “officially” related but there’s a height difference and the Tiger typically wears number 1 and the Cub usually wears 1/2.

    link

    Iowa State was, way back in the “day”, the Cardinals. Then they beat a heavily favored Northwestern football team on the same day there was a tornado outbreak in the area. The newspaper headline was “Northwestern Hit by Iowa State Cyclone.” The rest as they say is history. I was at the basketball game in the last 80’s when Clone was “hatched” out of a giant egg.

    Yep! Thanks for the excellent history lesson! I mention in my article that it’s confusing why “the Cyclones” would have a bird as a mascot, and to the casual observer, it is. But there’s not much to the story other than what you mention, Yooper, and the fact that those behind creating a new mascot for Iowa State thought that a cartoon cardinal would be an easier character to draw and turn into a costume than a weather phenomenon would have.

    On Sundays, the Brewers’ racing sausages hand off to the “little weenies” (actual kids in miniature sausage costumes) for a relay. link

    I don’t know if, canonically, the little weenies are the children of the racing sausages — or if there even is a sausage canon. But it fits with this theme.

    Sausage canon — we’re all thinking the same thing, right? There should, nay *needs* to be, a sausage CANNON firing encased meats into the crowd at Brewers game.

    I might never miss a game if they did that! And I live in Denver!

    A friend of mine had the job as Herky when he went to Iowa in the 90s. He got fired.

    The reason he got fired? Well, what I was told was that he got a DUI riding a moped across campus while wearing the Herky head.

    I meant to ask him if this was true for years and when I finally did, he laughed and said “no, but I wish that was the real story.” The actual reason was that he threw snowballs at some Wisconsin fans and hit a kid whose parents got upset and complained about it.

    Fascinating story! I certainly don’t wish harm on anyone, especially a child, but I’m not inclined to cry too many tears for Badgers fans. When I was 14 or 15, my family and I were subjected to a barrage of full beer cans thrown at us as we walked down Fraternity Row in Madison while wearing black and gold on our way to an Iowa road game at Wisconsin. None of them hit us, but a couple came within inches.

    I am so confused. Perhaps because it is hot here… I thought there were actual family mascots – like the mascot’s living son also becomes the mascot – which I agree was hard to believe. But are we talking about times when past mascots join for a Homecoming or are there actually little mascots or both???

    Don’t get me wrong – this is a great topic. I just want to know what the actual phenomenon is.

    Hi, Susan. This article – and any additional installments in the series, if it continues – is meant to be a fun and whimsical look at the phenomenon of teams creating miniature versions of their costumed mascots, which are normally filled by kids, given the size constraints, and which the teams then invariably refer to as the main mascots’ “sons” (or sometimes “daughters”).

    This rarely involves human fathers and their real-life kids performing together as mascots, although when I do find examples of that happening, I’d certainly be happy to include them in the series. I’m already aware of one such instance of a real-life father-and-son combination who have performed as the same mascot, and I am hoping to cover that next year. (I could only fit so much in this installment.)

    So, if you know of any examples of actual fathers and their kids performing as mascots, by all means, I’m all ears! Heck, for that matter, if you know of live animal mascots who have their own offspring take over the role, I’d love to know about that, too!

    But, in any event, the whole point of this is to have fun exploring teams’ costumed mascots, especially when those mascots have miniature versions we can characterize as “junior” or “offspring.” And when that gives us an excuse to explore some of those teams’ great old mascot costumes, I’ll be happy to go down that rabbit hole! I hope that helps clear everything up!

    Thanks, d! I appreciate the kind words! I certainly do hope you get the chance to read the rest of the article with all the pictures intact!

    The Red Sox mascot, Wally the Green Monster, has a sister named Tessie. Also a mother and father whose names I can’t remember. They show up every year when Wally celebrates his “birthday.”

    Excellent! Thanks for the heads-up on that! I’ll add that to the list for consideration in future installments.

    Didn’t the San Diego Chicken once gave a “hatching party” at a Padres game, introducing a second generation ?
    I don’t remember the details…

Comments are closed.