The University of Missouri is the largest public institution of higher education in the Show-Me State. The mascot of the school and the athletic program is the Tigers. The university is also one of the oldest in Missouri and the Tigers nickname goes back to when the loyalty of Missourians was tested in the most extreme way.
1) Football team origins: The Missouri football team was founded in 1890. The athletic committee chose to honor the Civil War militia unit known as the Missouri Tigers by naming athletic teams the Tigers. The Columbia Missourian states the unit chose the name Tigers because of the "fierce and desperate nature of the members."
2) Real Missouri Tigers: "Real" tigers exist in the wild in Asia. However, during the U.S. Civil War there was a military unit from the Columbia, Mo., area known as the Tigers. The Missouri Civil War Museum reveals the first Missouri Tigers were Union guardsmen from the local area around Columbia. They were tasked with keeping the city and university safe from bands of Confederate raiders who lived in and around Missouri.
3) Presence of the Tigers: The unit took up residency at the University of Missouri in 1864 due to the nearby presence of the notorious "Bloody Bill" Anderson. Students were sent home and classes canceled for a semester until the threat passed. Because the town was so well-prepared for any military incursion, Columbia wasn't attacked late in the Civil War. The Missouri Tigers were credited with saving the city.
4) Athletics program started: The first intercollegiate contest featuring the University of Missouri was a baseball game against Westminster College in 1873. But it wasn't until football arrived on campus that the athletic program developed the Tigers nickname. To honor the ferocity and preparedness of the city's protection, the legacy of the Missouri Tigers lives on in the university's nickname.
5) Rivalry with Kansas: The rivalry with the University of Kansas in football also traces its roots to the Civil War. Raiders from Kansas frequently crossed the border and killed Missourians during the bloody conflict. The gridiron was seen as an extension of that rivalry, which ended in 2011.
6) Tigers vs. Jayhawks: The Kansas Jayhawks also borrow their mascot's name from the Civil War. After 120 games on the gridiron, Missouri claims it owns a 57-54-9 record over Kansas. According to CBS Sports, that figure is disputed because of an ineligible player used by KU against the Tigers that ruined Missouri's chances at a national title.
7) Tiger evolution: The Tiger image has changed over the years. It wasn't until 1984 that the official athletic mascot got a name. Truman the Tiger is the mascot seen at all football and basketball games.
8) Tigers vs. Bears: A controversy arose in the mid-2000s as Missouri's second-largest public university lobbied the General Assembly to change its name from Southwest Missouri State to just Missouri State University. Athletic teams from MSU are known as the Bears. One assertion pointed out by local fans who called in to sports radio shows in southwest Missouri was that "there are no tigers on the Missouri flag." The state flag of Missouri has two bears on it because the large mammals used to roam freely throughout the state before Europeans settled the area.
9) Popularity of Tigers: The tiger is a common college mascot. According to Jim Wegryn's compilation of college nicknames, there are 45 institutes that have the tiger as a mascot. In Missouri, Lincoln University in nearby Jefferson City has the nickname "Blue Tigers." There are even two other teams in the Southeastern Conference with a tiger in their tanks; Auburn and Louisiana State bring the tiger tally to three schools out of 14 in the SEC.
10) Compared to other cats: Tigers are even more popular than Lions. On the same list maintained by Wegryn, there are 42 institutions with a lion mascot for the second-most total. Panthers get 37 colleges and universities. Wildcats have 33 schools, including the University of Kentucky.
William Browning is a lifelong Missouri resident originally from St. Louis. He attended the University of Missouri in the late 1980s and is a fan of all Mizzou Tigers sports. He currently resides in Branson.