When Did Cardinals Get Teeth?

August 4th, 2007 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Haley school mural cardinal headPassing the Haley School in Rozzie, I have often noticed the inner-city cardinal on the mural. It looks tough and made me recall the shame of my own high-school mascot.

In my scholar life at Plainfield (NJ) High, I didn’t even consider our mascot. But as wrestling and swimming jock, and sports editor of the paper, I was less than thrilled by our cardinals. We had good teams, state championships, Olympic champion graduates and such, but forever linked to nut-cracking, worm swallowing birds.

We played against and I knew a lot of kids whose mascots were feral beasts. Those who had birds at least had raptors. Somehow, I doubt that a single human has feared the wrath of the cardinal. Was this some blue hairs’ committee idea of the mid-19th Century when that school opened?

Two of my sons went to Boston Latin — the wolfpack. Other high school and college teams tend toward fierce animals. Even my first college, South Carolina, picked a nasty bird, the gamecock. The big cheer I recall was, “Rip ’em up. Tear ’em up. Cocks give ’em hell.” What would that be for cardinals, “Steal their millet! Eat their seeds! Poop on their heads!”?

In fairness, some teams have fun with their mascots. Some are lame, naming them for an ethnic group (Scots or Irish), or conceptual and historical allusions (Macabees or Medics). Those with some healthy detachment from athletics include:

  • Mary Baldwin squirrelsBanana slug tee-shirt
  • Arkansas-Monticello boll weevils
  • Hawaii-Hilo Vulcans
  • Akron zips
  • UC Irvine anteaters
  • Oregon ducks
  • Hampshire frogs
  • And my personal favorite, the UC Santa Cruz banana slugs

You can see a slighty outdated list (Native American nations still included) here.

Meanwhile, the flighty, skittish cardinal has transformed in many places to a more formidable critter. Leading this seems to have been professional teams, like the NFL Arizona and MLB St. Louis cards.

Their human-filled mascots may be jolly and round, but their logos are not. Look at the examples below from high school, college and professional teams.

Ball State Ball State
St. Louis mascot St. Louis MLB
Beverly Mass Beverly, MA, High
Louisville Louisville
PHS mascot PHS mascot with uncustomed Peggy, 2006
PHS cardinal Current PHS cardinal from website

There’s a clear trend toward adding feral features, and another for teams borrowing heavily from the art of professional and college teams. The Lawson Missouri schools clearly researched, as the expression goes, and drew on the Louisville cardinal, down to the teeth (and when did grain-eating birds get teeth?), but the high school version got muscles too.

My own high school’s round, pleasant and anthropomorphized bird as a costume is in the mold of the baseball cardinals, as the Beverly High one is clearly a relative of the Arizona football version.

Yet the real trend is that the drawings are looking meaner, stronger, tougher, more awe-inspiring, at least as much as a tiny toothless bird can be. Alfred Hitchcock had a take on the concept, but that would require a large flock of cardinals to equal the fear power of a single big cat or canine.

It’s funny that they have never changed the mascots, just made them less like their true nature. Yet, I have every reason to believe that a cardinal would win the fight with a banana slug.

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4 Responses

  1. Ryan says:

    Cardinals are down-right fierce compared to my high school’s “mascot.” What was my school’s logo?

    The Swampscott “Big Blue.”

    Big Blue what?

    The was always the subject of fierce disagreement. Some said whales, some said ocean, some said Big Blue Blobs. No one quite knew. We used to have a different theme, but the legendary football coach from Swampscott back in the day, who won about a thousand of games, decided to change the name – so the name was changed.

  2. Rob says:

    Yes, I have often wondered how the “Lawson Cardinal” obtained teeth???? Doesn’t matter I guess, what’s so fierce about a Cardinal anyways? At least ours is on steroids it appears.

    Missouri High Schools do have some fun mascots, including the West Plains HS “Zizzers”. What’s a Zizzer??? We may never know. How about my personal favorite, the Putnam County HS “Midgets”? That’s a unique on in itself.

    However, someone answer this question for me: What is a BEARCAT?

  3. Flu-Bird says:

    Gives a more fierce appearence to a otherwise ordinary backyard songbird awsome

  4. Caitlin says:

    The “Lawson Cardinals” mascot has teeth cause Cooper is just that awesome, plus it doesn’t matter that he is a Cardinal cause the sports programs are a LOT better than most schools

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