Fans of obscure team nicknames and unusual mascots were left with mixed feelings after the first day of play in the Men's NCAA Tournament. The Salukis of Southern Illinois University were swamped by Alabama's Crimson Tide.
(The fact that the Saluki, identified with ancient Egypt, is the oldest pure bred in the dog kingdom, apparently did the basketball Salukis no particular good.)
On the other hand, the Jaspers prevailed. A Jasper is a player for Manhattan, the team that upset Florida on Thursday. The nickname comes from a fellow named Brother Jasper, who introduced a number of sports to the institution when it was young, and also invented, perhaps inadvertently, the seventh inning stretch, which spread from the campus of Manhattan to the polo grounds, and then to all the known baseball universe.
Anyway, the Jaspers live to fight and stretch again. They next play Wake Forest.
In the women's tournament, the 14th seeded team from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay is prepared to rise from its almost certain defeat at the hands — or claws - of the Cougars of Houston. The Wisconsin/Green Bay team is nicknamed the Phoenix.
Campbell University, which last appeared in the NCAA Tournament 12 years ago, fields teams known as "the Fighting Camels." There are any number of schools with mascots such as tigers, lions, bears...even demons and devils...but so far as I've been able to determine, only Campbell has "Fighting Camels." Likewise, I think the University of California at Irvine has the only "Fighting Anteaters." Inspired, I suppose, by the sound the anteater in the comic strip B.C. makes when his tongue finds lunch, Irvine's fans cheer by shouting "Zot!"
I've always been a sucker for any team nicknamed "The Fighting Saints." That's what they call the men's teams at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. The women's teams are, not surprisingly, the Lady Saints, though not, officially, the fighting lady saints.
I rarely root for Duke, since the Blue Devils are usually a favorite, and I prefer underdogs, but if the competitors retained their original nickname, the Methodists, I might relent.
If I ever find myself attending a game involving a team from Mary Baldwin College, I will cheer for it. Mary Baldwin's athletes are known as the Fighting Squirrels.
Incidentally, while our analyst, Charlie Pierce, was peering over my shoulder at this commentary in progress, he told me that he once attended a game involving Penn High School in Mishawaka, Indiana. That might not seem immediately significant, but consider that the teams there were known as the Cavemen...and the Lady Cavemen.
This program aired on March 20, 2004. The audio for this program is not available.