Soar On, Eagles

The distinguished career of Emory's athletics mascot

The Big E: Emory's Swoop on parade.
Kay Hinton

The score stands Eagles 26, Bears 23 . . . Tigers 20, Hawks 14, Wildcats 10. Oh, and Panthers and Wolves tied at 11.

That’s an informal tally of the most common mascots for US colleges and universities, according to one website that comes up on a Google search.

Let us focus for a moment on those eagles, apparently the alpha species of the mascot kingdom. Symbolizing athletic prowess, school pride, and transcendence over graphic-design challenges, mascot eagles take wing with often earthbound names. They are called Archibald, Awesome, Azul, Baldwin, Beaker, Big Stuff, and Clawed Z.

At E we find a veritable aerie—Eddie, Eli, Ellsworth, Eppy, and Ernie (I and II, for Bridgewater College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University).

Moving on, we have Freedom, Golden, Gus, MoHarv, Monty, Sammy D., Scrappy, Screech A., Sparky. The most clever eagle name belongs to Seymour D’Campus (Southern Mississippi). Skipping over the name Swoop for the moment, we round out the list with Tuffy and War Eagle VII. It is quite a double baker’s dozen of mascots.

But back to Swoop. He is, of course, the Emory eagle, or more appropriately, the Emory capital-E Eagle. You may have seen a photo of a bird purporting to be him on the back of the last issue of this magazine. That bird was a fly-by-night imposter. We are not sure how he slipped his image past certain sharp eyes, but we believe he may have ended up at Athletic Director Tim Downes’s home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Emory’s real Swoop shares a moniker with the red-tailed hawk of the University of Utah, the eagle of Eastern Washington, the bald eagle of Eastern Michigan, and the “RedHawk” (whatever that is—no such creature graces the leaves in Audubon’s collection) of Miami University.

Let’s face it. We seem to have, in this flight of eagles and this whoosh of Swoops, either a lack of imagination or a genre that has grown stale and predictable. So many eagles. So many Swoops. Where is the creativity, the distinction, the institutional character captured in a single cartoon-like being?

Yes, some universities do strive to display their collective chutzpah by choosing outlandish mascots. But, really, what sense is there in cheering on the Fighting Okra (Delta State) or Sammy the Banana Slug (U.C. Santa Cruz)? And what fan of any sport other than hockey is going to root for Puckman, the walking hockey puck with a hard hat who represents Rensselaer Polytechnic? As for WuShock, Wichita State’s walking shock of wheat—please.

Within Emory’s own athletic conference, the University Athletic Association, Emory athletes regularly compete against Bears (Wash U.), Yellowjackets (Rochester), Spartans (Case Western Reserve), and Bobcats (NYU). Those are some threatening opponents. Let us not forget, however, that NYU also calls its teams the Violets, while Brandeis presumably puts up some sort of balanced contest as the Judges. And I am sorry, but there is something just not right about competing against the Maroons of Chicago or the Carnegie Mellon Tartans. How can any self-respecting team try to defeat a color or a plaid skirt? 

Better than Nothing: David Kross chose the Eagles to represent Emory while sports editor for the Wheel in 1960. Kross played right wing and was captain on the university's first soccer team, and he said that other schools "just calling us the 'Emory nothings' was not enough."

Which brings me back to the Emory Eagle. This mascot dates back to 1960, when Emory Wheel sports editor David Kross 62C felt the absence of a decent representative for the university’s intramural athletes and the few intercollegiate teams that Emory then fielded (track, tennis, swimming and diving, soccer, cross-country). The mocking, or possibly merely self-deprecating, names of earlier Emory teams—the Hillbillies and the Tea-sippers—simply would not do. After proposing the alliterative Eagles and hearing no objection, Kross announced the fait accompli. For more than half a century the name has stuck.

But wait. Were there not other “E” possibilities that Kross might have turned to? My undergraduate alma mater (Lehigh) at one time fielded the Engineers, but Emory’s only engineer is our president, and even Lehigh recognized the preposterousness of that mascot and changed it more than a decade ago to a Mountain Hawk named Clutch. Several schools give battle as the Elephants, and Tufts even names its teams for one particular elephant—Jumbo.

My desultory research, however, turns up not a single mascot who is an egret, earwig, emu, emperor penguin, English shepherd, or Epagneul Pont-Audemer. There was room in this list for stamping Emory’s athletes with a difference. Mr. Kross chose more wisely.

In the end, I am left to conclude that our Eagles are all right. While there are others, Emory Eagles distinguish themselves by their combination of athletic skill and intellectual acumen. And while there are other Swoops, this Swoop, who in an earlier incarnation resembled Tweety Bird, has matured into a raptor of imposing, if not fearsome, dimensions. I can’t put my finger on it, but thanks to Swoop and the Eagles, I’ve got a peaceful, easy feeling.

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