Live-Animal Sports Mascots That Fans Just Love
Real-life animals are incredibly popular as sports mascots across the U.S. They bring a personality to athletics that costumed mascots just can't match. Whether it's a happy dog on the sidelines or an eagle soaring over fans, these living mascots capture the hearts and imaginations of fans from every walk of life.
While some fans are concerned about the ethics of keeping wild animals as mascots, many teams and universities have worked to improve the care and facilities for their animal muses. They even participate in conservation programs or education plans that help raise awareness about rare or endangered species.
Here are our favorite animal mascots across professional and college sports. Just look at how these pups, cats, birds and bovids represent their teams and bring school spirit to their fans.
Rise and Conquer
Sports Team: National Football League's (NFL) Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens have three known mascots. Their costumed mascot, Poe, is probably more recognizable than Rise and Conquer, the two African Ravens who serve as the team's live mascots.
Rise and Conquer usually live at the Maryland Zoo, but, just like Poe, they attend every Raven's home game to meet with fans for pictures and educate them about African Ravens.
Sports Team: NFL's Cleveland Browns
Swagger Jr. is a Bull Mastiff that is the current live mascot of the Cleveland Browns. He was named after his father, who joined the team as their first live mascot in 2014.
Swagger Jr.'s duties include running through the tunnel and into the field before every home game at FirstEnergy Stadium as well as meeting with fans. His father weighed 145 pounds, giving his son rather large paws to fill. However, the pup seems to be having the time of his life, supporting his hometown team.
Sports Team: NFL's Denver Broncos
Before every Denver Broncos game, Thunder III takes to the field, running out of the tunnel with his rider, who usually waves a flag in the wind. Thunder also joins the crowd in celebrating every scoring drive with a sprint across the field.
For 27 years, the Broncos have enlisted the help of three white Arabian Horses as their live mascots. The current horse, Thunder III (who usually goes by the name "Shadow" with friends and family), has traveled with the team during the Super Bowl and does community events around the Denver area.
Sports Team: NFL's Seattle Seahawks
While the Seattle Seahawks costumed mascots, Boom and Blitz, are usually meeting with fans and roaming the stands, their live mascot is the real show stopper. Taima, a Buteo Hawk, is genuinely a part of the team. He leads the charge out of the tunnel before every game, soaring low into his long-time handler Dave.
Just like a football player, the hawk has a specialized diet and goes through regular training to ensure that he's in tip-top shape for his routine flight at CenturyLink Field.
Sports Team: University of Texas at Austin Longhorns
Anytime you think about a live college mascot, you probably think of Bevo. A live longhorn steer has served as the mascot for the University of Texas for more than a hundred years, which means there have been 15 Bevos to date — the most recent of which was introduced in September 2016.
These longhorn cattle have represented the university at home, bowl games and even at the White House. Bevo XIV attended George W. Bush's inauguration for his second term in 2005, showing just how special this particular bull is.
Sports Team: University of Georgia Bulldogs
Uga, is the bulldog mascot of the University of Georgia and is one of Bevo’s more well-known competitors. All 10 bulldogs that have represented the university (to date) have gone by the name "Uga" (a clever take on the UGA acronym), but the current Uga is also known as "Que." These bulldogs are all from the same lineage, dating back to Uga I’s introduction in 1956, in an effort to keep the honor in the family.
Uga's rivalry with Bevo started during the pre-game festivities at the 2019 Sugar Bowl when Bevo charged through the barricades at Uga in a rare moment of anger. Uga was uninjured and unphased by the situation, thanks in significant part to his handler's quick-thinking.
Sports Team: Texas A&M Aggies
Another one of Bevo's rivals is the rough-coated Collie that serves as Texas A&M's mascot, Reveille. The first Reveille was originally a mix-breed pup found around campus and adopted by students in 1931. However, since the third Reville, only rough-coated Collies have served as the mascot.
Much like Uga, Reveille has had some stressful experiences at the hand of the University of Texas (UT). In 1993, a group of students from UT (Texas A&M's rival) snuck into the school and kidnapped Reveille VI. After about a week, she was returned unharmed and continued a very successful life as the Aggie mascot, eventually becoming a movie star in a film about her life before retiring in 2006.
Sports Team: University of Colorado Buffaloes
Most people probably think that Bevo has to be the largest live-animal mascot until they see Ralphie. The University of Colorado at Boulder is home to Ralphie VI, a 1,200-pound female American Bison who joined the team in 2007.
Before every game, she and her team of "Ralphie Handlers" take to the field, running to the endzone, where she spends the rest of the game. Because bison can run at more than 25 mph, her team of handlers is made up of varsity student-athletes to ensure that they're strong and fast enough to keep up.
Sports Team: University of Tennessee Volunteers
Smokey, a Bluetick Coonhound, has served as the mascot for the University of Tennessee Volunteers for nearly 70 years. Smokey X currently leads the team onto the field during football games. Smokey got his name from the original mascot, "Brooks' Blue Smokey," which was the name of the original Bluetick Coonhound who won the mascot selection contest in 1953.
Like any student-athlete, he loves the time he spends with his student family. Smokey X is a member of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, whose members serve as his game-day handlers and caretakers.
Sports Team: University of Connecticut Huskies
Both the University of Connecticut's costumed mascot and live Huskies are named after the last colonial governor of Connecticut, Jonathan Trumbull. The university has traditionally had a white Husky as a mascot, but in 2014, they made a live mascot transition when they changed their logo to have a black and white dog at the helm.
That's when Jonathan XIV, a classic black and white Husky with blue eyes, joined the team. He was selected because he looks like the image used on most of UConn's branding. He lives with the former mascot, Jonathan XIII. Fans can often see the two pups walking together on campus or via his Instagram account with 33,000 followers and counting.
Sports Team: Florida State University Seminoles
Before every Florida State University (FSU) football game, Renegade charges onto the field while his rider, Osceola, wields a spear designed to look like it's on fire. They run to the center of the field and plunge the spear into the ground, paying tribute to the Seminole tribe, which historically ruled the southeastern United States.
This might be one of the most dramatic (and controversial) scenes in college football, but it's all made possible by Renegade VI, a white Appaloosa horse with brown spots. It’s important to note that FSU refers to Osceola and Renegade as "symbols" rather than mascots. Because Renegade and Osceola are intended to be a respectful depiction of the Seminole people, Osceola and Renegade only show up at football games rather than other university events.
War Eagle VIII
Sports Team: Auburn University Tigers
OK, this is a unique situation in which the university mascot actually differs from the live animal used to rally crowds at games. The idea of having a “War Eagle” represent the Alabama team is said to date back to 1892, the first time Auburn played Georgia in football when a Civil War veteran was sitting in the stands with an eagle he had kept as a pet since finding him on a war battlefield.
Much like the Seattle Seahawks’ Taima, the War Eagle soars around the stadium before every game, amping up the crowd for an exciting event. Aurea, a female Golden Eagle, took over from her predecessor, Nova, in November 2019, becoming the eighth Golden Eagle to serve as the War Eagle since the tradition started in 1930.
Aurea lives at the Southeastern Raptor Center at Auburn with her partner, Auburn's Bald Eagle mascot, Spirit. They share the center with Nova, and the new Auburn Bald Eagle-in-training, Indy, who will take over for Spirit when it's his time to retire.
Sports Team: University of Southern California Trojans
It's hard to miss the Trojan warrior riding a white horse at every USC game. The Trojans have employed a white horse as their mascot for more than 60 years. Each rider is a USC alumnus, while the horses are all Spanish Andalusian horses. The current Traveler is known as Traveler IX.
Traveler and his rider represent the soldiers of Troy who fought in the Trojan War. Much like Thunder III, Traveler and his rider gallop down the field after every score by the Trojans, sending the fans into a fervor.
Sports Team: Western Illinois University Leathernecks
Western Illinois University is the only non-military academy in the country to have a mascot derived from a branch of the armed services. Leathernecks is a nickname given to U.S. Marine Corps soldiers. Western Illinois football coach Ray Hanson gave the team the moniker in 1927, and it's lived on ever since. With such a name, it was only fitting that the school adopt the English Bulldog, the mascot of the Marines, as their figurehead as well.
The first four-legged Leatherneck to storm the field was the original Colonel Rock in 1959. Since then, four different dogs have represented the university, the most recent being Colonel Rock VI, who took over in 2018. He lives with Western Illinois' residential and auxiliary facilities director and his predecessor Colonel Rock III. They can be seen at football games and on-campus events together.
Cam the Ram
Sports Team: Colorado State Rams
When Colorado State students voted to call themselves "The Rams" in 1945, they quickly did what most colleges do — they found a ram to serve as their mascot. The first Cam the Ram came to the college nine years later, and since then, 25 rams have helped cheer on the school.
While the mascot for the Colorado State Rams is actually a bighorn sheep, Cam is a domestic sheep, selected for his calm demeanor. He lives on a farm close to campus with a small herd of other sheep, including an understudy named Mac, who can do gameday duties if Cam isn't feeling well. A group of students cares for Cam, doing everything from sheering his fleece to mucking his stall and bringing him to school events.
Boomer and Sooner
Sports Team: University of Oklahoma Sooners
Sometimes, going to a football game at the University of Oklahoma might seem more like a historical reenactment than a football game. Their two white Shetland Ponies, Boomer and Sooner, are partially to blame for that. Every time the Sooners score, Boomer and Sooner pull an old Conestoga Wagon, the Sooner Schooner, across the field, celebrating with the fans.
OU introduced the Sooner Schooner and its pair of prancing white ponies in 1964. The current team is the fifth set of ponies to lead the charge.
Sports Team: University of Arkansas Razorbacks
While, technically, Tusk is a Russian Boar, the Arkansas Razorbacks' mascot has been a native Arkansasan for more than 20 years. The Stokes family breeds the boars used as mascots for the team in the rural town of Dardanelle, Arkansas, which is about 100 miles away from the university.
The original Tusk was a wild hog found in 1997, who became the team's first mascot. Since then, all of the hogs have been descendants of that original wild boar. Tusk lives in a massive facility, which includes indoor and outdoor areas. He is a fan-favorite at football games and is known to give fans kisses through the walls of his enclosure!
Sports Team: North Carolina State Wolves
Wolves do not make good mascots. They’re shy, nocturnal creatures, so they do not do well in an athletics environment. North Carolina State's athletics department might know this better than any other university. After trying for several years to bring a wild wolf on as a mascot, they went a long time without having one at all.
When they wanted to try again in 2010, they abandoned the idea of bringing on a wild wolf entirely and instead recruited a domesticated stand-in. Enter Tuffy, a Tamaskan. This dog breed is a cross of German Shepherds, Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies, which results in a very wolfish-looking dog.
Sports Team: Georgia Southern Eagles
The Bald Eagle that serves as the mascot for Georgia Southern University had a rough start to life. In Maitland, Florida, a good samaritan found Freedom after he was knocked out of his nest at only a few weeks old. He was rushed to a local rehabilitator, who helped bring him back to full health, although permanent damage to his beak made him unfit for release back into the wild.
Georgia Southern University acquired Freedom in 2004. Three years later, he took over from his predecessor, Glory, as the team's mascot, starting all games by flying over the field. He lives with Glory at the Lamar Q Ball Jr. Raptor Center on the GSU campus.
Sir Big Spur
Sports Team: University of South Carolina Gamecocks
In a world where football mascots include everything from dogs to cows, Sir Big Spur is a bit of a standout. The Black-Breasted Red Gamecock (or rooster) has been a fixture at South Carolina games for more than 20 years. Several Sir Big Spurs have served as the mascot to the South Carolina Gamecocks, all from the same farm.
Sir Big Spur’s owners, who have a 16-acre estate in Edgefield, South Carolina, bring him to every home game. Two hours before kickoff, he meets with fans for pictures before driving down to the field on his motorized field-goal post.
Sports Team: North Carolina Tar Heels
The North Carolina Tar Heels have three rams that serve as their mascot, Rameses. One is a cheerleading team member, one is a costumed ram that travels with the football team, and the most popular is a Dorset Horn Sheep with his horns painted blue.
A ram has been the mascot of North Carolina since 1924 when the athletics team manager purchased the first Ramses in Texas. Since then, more than 22 rams have served as Ramses, a beloved addition to the North Carolina team.
Sports Team: Temple University Owls
While she's usually a long-term resident of the Elmwood Park Zoo, Stella, the Great Horned Owl, also serves as the live animal mascot of the Temple Owls in Philadelphia. Stella is not on exhibit at the zoo and is instead one of their animal ambassadors and travels to different locations as part of their educational programming. That means taking lots of trips to the football field to make appearances and support her hometown team.
Stella has been Temple’s official mascot since 2013. She does select meet and greets where Temple fans can get up-close and personal with her to learn more about Great Horned Owls. In a rather unique turn of events, Stella was actually married to her longtime partner, Sherlock, in a ceremony.
Bill the Goat
Sports Team: U.S. Naval Academy
There's a long history of Navy shipmen keeping goats onboard seafaring vessels, usually as a source of milk, meat and companionship. So, when the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, started playing competitive college football, a goat was the likely mascot choice.
The first goat represented the Navy during the 1893 football game against the Army. Different goats appeared at the historic Army-Navy football game throughout history, bringing luck to the seafaring team. However, there wasn't a full-time Bill the Goat until the early 1900s (most goats served as a mascot while also doing their other, more practical duties aboard naval ships.) The current Navy mascot is Bill XXXVII, an Angora Goat that has gold- and blue-painted horns and wears a blanket with the same colors.
Ranger III, Stryker and Raider
Sports Team: Army West Point
While most teams with knights as their mascots have horses or ponies, the Army Black Knights have three mules at their football games. Ranger III, Stryker and Raider are the names of the current mascots for the Army based in West Point, New York.
According to Army history, selecting a mule as a mascot came serendipitously during the 1899 Army versus Navy game when the Army Black Knights needed something to oppose Navy's Bill. Now, the mules are a symbol of strength, heartiness and perseverance virtues held among all cadets.
Sports Team: University of Washington Huskies
Even though many people might assume this, the University of Washington mascot, Dubs, is not a Husky. The ultra-fluffy 75-pound dog is actually an Alaskan Malamute, born to a local breeder. Like most mascots, Dubs lives with his family during the week and regularly travels to university events.
The athletic department selected Malamutes as mascots due to their size and strength and because they are the largest of all Nordic breeds. The current Dubs was born on Jan. 4, 2018, and he is the 14th live mascot for the team. He loves running and happily leads the charge out of the tunnel during every football game.
Sports Team: Yale University Bulldogs
Many universities don't change their mascot species or breeds often. However, after more than 130 years of using English Bulldogs as live mascots, Yale recently changed their mascot's breed for health reasons. Handsome Dan XVIII, also known as Walter, is the first Olde English Bulldog to serve as the Yale mascot. This bulldog breed is relatively new, developed in the 1970s to combat some of the health conditions caused by overbreeding English Bulldogs.
Handsome Dan is a fixture of campus life in New Haven, Connecticut, and loves living with Assistant Athletics Director of Facilities, Operations and Events Kevin Discepolo, where he enjoys going for hikes and playing in the backyard.
Sports Team: U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons
The Air Force Academy, located in Colorado, has a team of eight falcons that serve as the athletic teams’ mascots. The mascots are part of the school's falconry program and perform at events and sports games.
The most well-known mascot of the group was Aurora, who was the longest living mascot in the United States at 23 years old. Since her passing, Ziva, a white Gyr-Saker Falcon, has taken over the job of entertaining fans during half-time at Air Force football games.
Sports Team: Southern Methodist University Mustangs
The small black Shetland Pony representing Texas’ Southern Methodist University originally got his name from a prohibition-era medicine that was high in alcohol content. At the time, the name "Peruna" was a double-entendre referring to "spirit."
The mascot debuted in 1932, and the name remains 60 years later. You better believe this little horse still has all the spunk and compunction one would expect from a pony named after a bootlegging operation. In fact, the athletics department reports that Peruna is a handful who requires a strong team of caretakers to handle his antics.
Sports Team: Western Texas A&M Buffaloes
The University of Colorado isn't the only team to feature a bison as a mascot. Thunder XIII is the latest bison to serve as the mascot for the Texas A&M Buffaloes. Bison have served as the mascot for this team since 1922. The first two were a bonded pair, named Charlie and Mary Ann. After their passing, the school went without a mascot until 1977, when they welcomed the first Thunder to campus.
While Thunder's job is to pump up the fans and support the Athletics team, he has his own team that supports him. West Texas A&M's Herdsmen is a student organization that provides for Thunder's care and escorts him in a run across the football field after every touchdown.
Sports Team: Houston Baptist University Huskies
After voting to call their mascot the "Huskies" in 1965, Houston Baptist University took nearly 30 years before they had a true Siberian Husky as their mascot. Up until that point, an Alaskan Malamute and four Samoyeds served as the "Husky" behind the Houston Baptist Huskies.
Then, in 1995, the first Wakiza came to campus, finally bringing an official Siberian Husky to the university. The current Wakiza, known as Kiza III, lives on campus and is supported by the Sled Team, a group of students responsible for her care. They ensure that she's adequately exercised, fed and in attendance at university sporting events and extracurriculars.
Sports Team: University of Cincinnati Bearcats
Many people might not know that a bearcat isn't a kind of bear or cat. The correct name for a bearcat is a Binturong, an arboreal omnivore that is related to cats. And that’s what Lucille is.
Lucille, who lives typically at the Cincinnati Zoo, attends the University of Cincinnati football games as their live mascot. Her regular handler accompanies her on all outings, where she meets with fans as an animal ambassador for her species. Lucille is new to the zoo, acquired in 2019 after her predecessor, Lucy, retired.
Sports Team: Southern Illinois Salukis
While Brown Dawg and Grey Dawg are the Southern Illinois University (SIU) official mascots, you'll probably see a few smaller furry ambassadors walking around football and basketball games. Those are the Saluki Dogs that are an integral part of the community due to Southern Illinois Native Vicki Blair, who has been recognized for contributions to the campus community.
Blair owns more than 10 Salukis and brings members of her pack to every SIU game where they meet and interact with fans. Salukis are ancient dog breeds, whose likenesses have been seen in artifacts from ancient Greece and even in Egyptian tombs.
Sports Team: University of Houston Cougars
Live cougars served as the mascot for the University of Houston between 1947 to 1989. At the time, cougars lived on campus and were kept by a student organization known as the Cougar Guard. However, after 1989, the University of Houston abandoned live mascots and only had their costumed cougar, Shasta.
But things changed again in 2012 when the university initiated a relationship with the Houston Zoo to bring a live mascot back to Houston Athletics. Shasta lives at the Houston Zoo, but her ties to the university remain strong. The wild cougar presides over class rings before biannual ring ceremonies. University of Houston students can visit Shasta and the zoo free of charge thanks to this partnership.
Sports Team: Kennesaw State University Owls
Sturgis, the Great Horned Owl, was introduced to Georgia’s Kennesaw State University family in 2013 during "Flight Night." The university picked the name "Sturgis" for their mascot to pay homage to Kennesaw's first president, Horace Sturgis.
Unfortunately, the owl was essentially let go in 2019 after the university and Sturgis' trainer, Daniel Walthers, were unable to reach an agreement during contract negotiations.
Sturgis lives at Winding Woods Ranch with his trainer, who is well-known in the avian mascot community for training the Baltimore Ravens’ mascots, Rise and Conquer.
Will Sturgis be signed on again in the future? It's too early to tell, but there's a long time to figure it out. After all, owls can live to be 60 years old.