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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Why are Duke’s Devils blue and other mascot-related questions

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Why are Duke's devils blue? In 1921, Trinity College* football team needed a nickname. Wanting to utilize the school's official dark blue color, newspapers editors suggested Blue Titans, Blue Eagles, Polar Bears, Blue Warriors or Blue Devils. (Not sure how Polar Bears got in there.) Though some at the Methodist campus were worried about going with the demonic moniker, the managing editors of The Trinity Chronicle eventually decided to call the school's teams the Blue Devils. The name references a group of famed French alpine soldiers from World War I who were known as the "les Diables Bleus." (* Trinity became Duke University in 1924.)

What's a jayhawk? The mascot of the University of Kansas is a mythical bird whose origin goes back to the pre-Civil War days. The term "jayhawk" was coined to combine the qualities of two birds -- the blue jay, which was "noisy and quarrelsome" and the sparrow hawk, an adept hunter. Both pro-slavery and abolition forces were initially referred to by this name, but it eventually was adopted by the anti-slavery factions. When Kansas became a free state, the people began referring to themselves as Jayhawkers and the Jayhawk became a natural mascot for the state university's athletic teams. In 1886, the Jayhawk was honored in the famed "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" chant. Twenty-six years later, a student cartoonist took the first try at drawing the mascot (right). The present version, the sixth, was adopted in 1946. {YSP:MORE}

Who had tar on their heels? The University of North Carolina provides two possible explanations for their Tar Heels nickname. The first goes back to the Revolutionary War when the British troops led by General Cornwallis waded through the North Carolina rivers and found tar on their heels (either from the state's pine trees or clever residents who dumped it there to slow them down). A better, if equally apocryphal, story involves Robert E. Lee, who was said to have threatened Confederate deserters by sticking tar on their heels to make them stay in battle.

Are Ohio State sports teams named after a nut? Though the buckeye is a small, shiny nut that comes from the official state tree of Ohio, the Buckeyes nickname has a deeper meaning in the state. Residents of Ohio have been referred to as Buckeyes since 1788. It's said that Col. Ebenezer Sproat was greeted by an Indian delegation with cries of "hetuck, hetuck," the Indian word for the tree.

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